3 common misconceptions about telecommuting

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When I tell people I work from home, they often give me an envious stare and ask the inevitable question: “How do I get started?”

The idea of not having to squeeze into uncomfortable shoes or sit in traffic has an instant allure to almost anyone who has held a traditional 9-to-5 job. It seems like perfection, a dream come true, a breath of fresh air and a life saver.

But reality soon shatters the immediate appeal.

Yes, working from home means you may get to forfeit your slacks and styling gel, but it’s still work. It’s still a job with its own set of trials, tribulations and days when you wish you could just cover your head with your pillow and call in sick.

I have referred a few friends to oDesk since I started my virtual adventure roughly two years ago, and almost all of them have told me working from home is not for them.

Here are some common misconceptions associated with working from home, and the truths that paint a more realistic picture of what it’s like:

1. You get paid for lounging around all day.

A lot of people have unrealistic expectations about working from home. Their imaginations go wild with fantasies of getting paid to sleep, watch TV and eat cereal in their pajamas.

The truth is some days I work the morning, some days I work the evening and sometimes I work the weekend—even Sunday if need be. I don’t get a set schedule every week, and I definitely don’t work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour for lunch like I did back in my office days.

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With freedom comes responsibility. You are 100 percent accountable for time management because no one is there to micromanage you or tell you when you should do something.

2. Being on the computer all day is fun, not work.

I used to be this person. Now I relish the moment I turn off my computer.

It takes a lot of time to stay competitive as a telecommuter—personal time spent researching, learning new skills and keeping social media profiles up to date. This is time you have to invest yourself, and you won’t necessarily get paid for it. The payoff comes in gaining new clients and more work.

Your computer becomes your livelihood. If it breaks or gets stolen, that means unpaid down time. I’ve had it happen, even with a backup. This means you constantly need to be mindful of what you download or install onto your computer, as well as what websites you visit. Also be mindful of your online behavior.

3. People who work from home make more than office workers.

Telecommuters may make less per hour than those at traditional 9-to-5 jobs. You don’t have a guaranteed salary, and get paid for exactly what you work. Also, sick days and vacation are generally unpaid.

Financial responsibility for work-related necessities will generally fall on you. There are no monthly Office Depot deliveries (unless you’re paying) or automatic upgrades to your workstation.

You can’t get something for nothing.

That’s the bad news in a nutshell.

In my case, telecommuting has been worth the trade-offs. Back in my office days, I constantly had to take time off due to family obligations like doctor appointments and parent/teacher conferences.

Since I started telecommuting, my productivity has increased enormously. I am now able to schedule my work and appointments in a way that allows me to have the best of both worlds. I may make less per hour, but when I broke down my expenses for working outside the home, it evened out. In the old days, I worked three, eight-hour days just to pay for childcare and gas.

In today’s plugged-in society, telecommuting is becoming the norm for many people. Some companies only have remote workers. But that doesn’t mean everyone is cut out for it. It takes discipline, motivation and realistic expectations to succeed.

What is your take on telecommuting? What common misconceptions about remote workers have you observed? Please share in the comments.

Karelyn Lambert is a virtual assistant and self-proclaimed geek who is also into fishing and cooking. She is based in the metro New Orleans area. A version of this article originally appeared on Waxing Unlyrical.

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