The freedom to make your own hours, work where you want, and have more time for family and friends while making a good income. Those are just a few of the benefits more and more people are choosing with the more flexible lifestyle of working from home.
A 2016 survey of 15,000 Americans showed that 43 percent of this sample had worked remotely, which was a 4 percent point increase in comparison with statistics collected in 2012. This shift is undeniably the result of an increasing number of people looking for work that allows flexibility.
Here we’ll take a comprehensive look at the various factors associated with working from home, examine the benefits of virtual work and provide some advice on succeeding — and thriving — in the rapidly emerging work-from-home culture of modern business.
Several terms are used when people are talking about working from home.
- Remote Work. Connotes working away from the traditional workplace.
- Online Work. Work is done online without having to be in the office.
- Virtual Work. Tasks are done in a virtual environment.
- Digital Platforms. Sites that allow the selling of goods or renting of assets.
- Freelancer. An individual who works on his or her own besides lacking a continuing commitment to one company.
- Independent Contractor. A person or entity who avails goods or services under agreed-upon terms, such as Avon Independent Sales Representatives.
A Closer Look at The Work-from-Home Model
As the work-from-home model has gained traction around the world, it’s increasingly being classified as the future of worker-company relationships.
As anyone who has experience with remote work will know, the benefits of working from home for individuals and businesses are numerous:
- Productivity. Many individuals who work remotely report that their productivity increases, particularly because they are in control of their own workspace. For example, those who struggle to work in a loud office environment may be able to find a quiet spot in their home or at a local coffee shop or restaurant with fewer distractions.
- Work Satisfaction. This is especially evident among workers with childcare responsibilities, as having greater flexibility to work from their houses makes it easier to spend time with their children and manage their schedules better.
- Work/Life Balance. An additional benefit of working remotely is the ability for individuals to strike a good work-life balance. When individuals work remotely, they typically find it easier to make time to manage medical appointments or other commitments, which may be challenging if they worked in an office. This doesn’t just benefit workers, though: freed from their 9-to-5 schedules, individuals are now more inclined to work more flexible hours.
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How Does Working From Home Work?
For those wishing to work from the comfort of their own home (or the coffee shop down the road, the petting zoo with the free WiFi or literally anywhere else where connectivity is available), there are numerous forms of remote working to be aware of.
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One option when it comes to managing remote workers is freelancing. This is an increasingly common lifestyle and one that millions of Americans have adopted since the advent of the Internet and remote working technologies. Freelance workers fit into one of the five categories mentioned below:
- There are independent contractors who are not devoted to any sole company and offer their services from project to project.
- There are moonlighters, who may still maintain a traditional job, but engage in freelance work during their free time.
- There are diversified workers who have several sources of income from an array of traditional jobs and freelancing.
- There are temporary workers, who work for a single company or client for a temporary amount of time.
- Finally, there are freelance business owners. This category comprises people who identify as freelancers and who operate small businesses of one to five workers. All members of a freelance business tend to engage in freelance work as they share the reward of earning more and realizing a more flexible schedule.
Technology has made freelancing easier for many since a majority utilizes the internet to look for freelance work today. Four in ten freelancers have engaged in an online freelance project, meaning that they sourced and completed the work online. In addition to the challenge of finding work, freelancers typically struggled with issues including late payments. However, with the widespread use of the internet in business today, a new infrastructure has emerged and dramatically improved the working conditions of this workforce through freelancer support and benefit groups, social networks, online workplaces, co-working spaces, and skill exchanges. These avenues have created excellent platforms for freelancers to find work, connect with other people and make contacts. Today, there are various online sites that allow clients to post projects, and freelancers to apply for the work. From the number of the proposals they receive, the client can choose one person to undertake the work, and once the project is completed to the client’s satisfaction, payment can be released.
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The Future of Working from Home
Traditional workplaces are unlikely to continue as before due to the realities of business today. Many companies are now contracting individuals to work from home, with most indicating that they intend to increase the number of remote workers in the coming years. Additionally, the number of people looking for work that allows such flexibility has increased significantly, which has led many to describe the remote working phenomenon as the future of worker-company relationships. These conversations are happening in organizations across many industries, which will inevitably translate to more individuals working remotely.
Industries Offering Work from Home
The research is clear: flexible work arrangements, such as the choice of when and where to work, result in workers perceiving the organizations they work for to be more supportive, which leads to better job satisfaction and commitment. Many organizations are aware of this fact, which has led to many of them allowing some or all individuals to work from home. Such entities can be found in most industries. The technology that is available today makes remote work easier and thus accommodates a myriad of industries.
Many industries have managed to restructure their workplaces in such a way to allow individuals to work from home. To start with, people in customer service usually assist consumers via email or phone calls — something which they could do from anywhere. In essence, these workers could work from home as long as they avail timely support and address customer concerns in a timely and appropriate manner. Secondly, persons in sales usually promote a product or service to potential customers. Communication can be through email or phone, which makes it easy for them to work remotely. Thirdly, individuals who are in the information technology field are tasked with several responsibilities such as programming, software development, website maintenance, and computer repair among many others.
As long as one’s computer skills are adequate, it is possible for one to work from home. Lastly, many responsibilities of those in an administration position can be done online, such as managing projects, scheduling, and process communications. Finance and accounting is another industry that is accommodative of remote work, as the handling and auditing of accounts, processing of financial data, or filing of taxes can be done from home without disruption.
Freelancers can also avail their services to organizations in various industries. For example, arts and design, an industry that comprises graphic designers, musicians, and craft and fine artists, is perfectly suited to a remote working setup. Freelancers can also work in the Information Technology field by offering their services as web developers, programmers, or software developers. Here, freelancers are hired to undertake a single task such as coming up with a new kind of software. The media and communications field also features many positions suited to remote work, such as technical writers, translators, and transcribers among many others. The jobs in this industry tend to be project-based, and are usually easy to deliver electronically.
Cosmetics & Beauty
Individuals in the cosmetics and beauty industry can also work remotely, a concept that Avon has adopted. The organization encourages cosmetics and beauty professionals, or even those who have an interest in these industries but don’t necessarily work in them, to join as independent representatives while working full-time or part-time remotely. Workers can earn either through selling products or by engaging in the Sales Leadership program, which involves selling products and recruiting others to join the organization. All representatives engage in direct sales, where they can promote the company’s offerings through one-to-one interactions or on online platforms. The representatives are also given numerous training opportunities through mentoring and access to free online courses through Avon U.
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Setting up a Work from Home Office
For freelancers or individuals who work from home in any industry, having a dedicated workspace is essential. There are several tips one can follow to design a home office that promotes maximum efficiency. Mirroring a conventional workplace is important — working in a home office that feels too casual could inhibit one from getting things done, and, as such, one must ensure that the design of the office is appropriate.
To start with, consider the equipment that will be necessary for working. Speed and efficiency are also essential in the home office. Therefore, one needs to purchase the fastest equipment if possible to make sure no time is wasted waiting for things to function. It is also advisable to contact insurance companies to get coverage for this equipment.
Secondly, good lighting is critical. The more natural daylight that gets into the room, the better. Daylight serves as the best evenly balanced source of white light. If space’s design does not allow much daylight, one can install general and task lighting. Light is very important since sitting in a room with low lighting consistently can cause symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
The third essential aspect is privacy. Working in a room where there are continuous interruptions or background noise makes it difficult to be productive. If a separate room is not available, consider using headphones to cancel out the noise and portable screens to isolate the work area.
Additionally, the layout of a work from home office is crucial. A desk surface will aid in supporting the computer and other items. The organization of your desk is also important — ensure that your workspace is clean and tidy and that you don’t have piles of unnecessary papers littering your desk.
The ergonomics of your workspace are also important. A chair that enhances comfort and adjustability goes a long way towards increasing productivity. One can also consider footrests and soft keyboard pads that allow the wrists to remain relaxed. Ultimately, the more comfortable you are in your work-from-home office, the more productive and healthy you will be.
Women Who Work from Home
As more organizations offer remote working arrangements, the gender gap is leveling out significantly. Most mothers look for flexible work that will allow them to earn an income while giving full attention to their kids. Now, with part-time or full-time remote work programs, women can work while maintaining their desired work-life balance. Consequently, women are also engaging in the freelance economy — and succeeding at it.
Remote Work Core Principles
As enlightening as the results of these reports are, it’s important to be cognizant of the fact that there’s no “one size fits all” rule that can be applied to the process — and indeed the results — of a remote working policy. Some organizations have experienced immensely successful work-from-home arrangements, while others haven’t accrued the same benefit from such programs. However, this difference usually emerges due to some core principles that determine success or failure.
Communication is Key
The first, and arguably most important principle is communication. Every organization requires some form of interpersonal communication — simply put, a business cannot exist without some procedure by which information is exchanged between people and conveyed through verbal and nonverbal messages. A virtual environment can make it challenging to explain complex ideas, particularly in situations where other team members don’t have the opportunity to ask questions or have discussions in real time. Because communication is usually not face-to-face in a remote working environment, social cues are limited and the opportunity for conflict is exaggerated. To avoid misunderstanding, it is important that messages be matched with the right medium. When the information is personal or complex, for example, body language should be visible, and it should be possible to convey tone in addition to what is being discussed. In a remote working context, video conferencing can be. Conversely, for small and non-urgent messages, emails or instant messaging can be utilized. It is also important to note that people are likely to use their preferred method of communication by default, which could make confrontations less productive and increase the chance of conflict. An organization may thus have to necessitate certain media for certain types of communication when individuals work remotely. The frequency of this communication is also essential. When there are regular updates, prompt responses to messages and persons are available at crucial times, a project is likely to go on smoothly.
Coordination Keeps Us All On the Same Page
The second principle is that of coordination, which involves working together toward the realization of a common goal. Genuine collaboration is achieved when continuous, meaningful exchanges exist between persons that have a mutual purpose. Coordinating workers can be challenging, but it is essential that all individuals be working in harmony. Remote working arrangements fail when people are unaware of what others are doing and how each task fits together. Collaboration is present when there are shared context and understanding. It is for this reason that organizations institute processes that facilitate the informal means by which people coordinate. The interactions ensure congruity, and without them, people do not work in harmony. Therefore, in the case of remote workers, businesses must clearly outline the mission so that every worker will be knowledgeable about when and how to provide updates, assess deliverables and make decisions. Consequently, it is not enough just to have processes in place: managers must ensure that they are comprehensively adapted across the organization. By ensuring that each virtual team member follows protocol, coordination can be ensured and no worker will ever be left out of the loop, thereby enabling the realization of common objectives.
Culture Is the Heart of Any Business
The third principle is that of culture, which entails the common values, assumptions, and norms present in an organization. For remote teams, members rarely or never meet face-to-face, which makes it easy for them to be preoccupied with their tasks while ignoring the team. This habit may work for some time, but the need to institute a culture that encourages engagement and sustains performance will undoubtedly arise in the long term. The initial step in the process of establishing trust. When the communication and coordination processes work seamlessly, cognitive trust emerges. Nonetheless, effective trust is still necessary, which is challenging to create virtually. It is for this reason that most organizations necessitate bringing team members together — even if only once a year — in an attempt to facilitate connections between colleagues. When face-to-face meetings are not possible, regular, informal calls can be encouraged. Both options ensure that remote team members can deduce the recognition of their fellow workers and that feelings and lives outside the office are understood. Even though this may be awkward at first, the establishment of personal connections and a communal identity will bring about more engagement and amplified performance. Therefore, for any individual choosing to work from home or be part of a virtual team, it is important to ensure that the three principles mentioned above are present to ensure the flawless completion of tasks.
Stand Out In a Niche of Your Own
The first principle is that of creating one’s niche. There are many services that one can offer online, and it is important for one to identify those he or she can offer. This can be done by looking at the skills, experiences, and other assets one may possess. The tasks that are available on digital platforms may be general or necessitate a particular skill set. After identifying the kind of work to engage in, it is advisable to learn from others. There are many individuals who are already doing such work and are likely to have shared their experiences online. In this way, one can identify expectations such as income or time required to complete tasks. After deciding to engage in a particular type of work, one needs to stand out from the other freelancers. Therefore, it is advisable that freelancers carve out as unique a niche for themselves as possible, both in the type of work they take on and the services they offer.
Be Proactive About Finding Freelance Opportunities
Secondly, one needs to identify the most lucrative opportunities possible. This can be done through third-party entities who offer a website or application that connects freelancers with tasks. Alternatively, one could opt to source work through networks of one’s own. Many freelancers use both strategies to ensure a steady flow of work. One should thus look for appropriate digital platforms and proceed to sign up. Here, one will likely be required to avail personal details and some information on services he or she can offer. It is paramount to ensure that the profile is complete and professional. Alternatively, one could go on without an intermediary, which also ensures more profits as platforms usually take a cut of the funds released for a given service. To this end, one could use flyers or source connections through community associations. Social media freelancer groups are also great places for finding freelance clients. Regardless of which option one uses, building one’s base is also key. Positive feedback and referrals are important, which is only possible through quality work. Therefore, optimal performance guarantees repeat business.
Be Realistic About Your Capabilities and Commitments
The third principle is that of being realistic. Freelancing requires time, budgeting, and adaptability. Therefore, one should get into this field expecting that it will take time to learn the intricacies of pursuing gigs. Reaching the point at which one gets regular work may also take some months. In other words, it is not possible to accumulate a fortune overnight through freelance work. The management of one’s money is also important. Since the gigs one gets may not be stable for some time, one needs to identify other ways of earning. Therefore, if one has a traditional job, one should seriously consider doing them concurrently before choosing to quit a full-time job and concentrate on freelancing. Financial management also comes in when one starts earning. Since freelancers do not earn a regular income, it is advisable to have an emergency fund for unplanned occurrences. Adaptability is also important, as some gigs will prove to be a bad fit. In such instances, it may be prudent to decline to undertake the task to avoid damaging one’s reputation.
Upskill, Upskill, Upskill
An additional, and vital, principle of freelance work is that of continuous learning. Work today is in a constant state of evolution, which necessitates that one remains competitive. There are several free online tutorials on numerous occupations and subjects, and by using them, a freelancer can ensure her skills continue to grow. These tutorials range from simple YouTube videos to the growing availability of Mass Online Open Courses (MOOCs), many of which are offered by renowned universities and offer students a certificate upon completion. This is not only a great way to learn about new concepts and bolster one’s understanding of areas they’re already familiar with – but they also make a great addition to one’s resume and could result in one finding freelance work more easily in the future.
It’s clear that technology has enabled the creation of virtual, persistent and computer-mediated worlds, which allow interactions of different players with the world and with each other. Technology has, in essence, created two types of the virtual world: scripted worlds that allow gaming and play in a controlled environment, and those that facilitate social interaction. The latter development is the one that is of consequence to organizations and workers. In the virtual worlds that enable social interaction, every individual that enters assumes a particular identity, and while on these platforms, persons have the freedom of coming up with their own content as they interact with others. Users can also create economies as most digital platforms are environmentally friendly to businesses, making trading and wealth building possible. Through virtual worlds, people can work from the comfort of their homes. Workers can communicate and coordinate with their colleagues to accomplish a goal. Similarly, these platforms allow freelancers to generate an income.
So what does the future hold for freelancers? If history is anything to go by, expect to see a significant increase in the prevalence of freelance workers in the coming years. As technology continues to evolve and provide more opportunity for workers to achieve more outside of the restrictions of a traditional worker-company relationship, the nature of business in every industry will adapt to accommodate more flexibility, individual responsibility, and virtual collectivism. Businesses are already becoming aware of the mutually beneficial nature of more flexible working arrangements, and it’s our bet that this trend will continue over the coming decades.
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