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Remote IT jobs: 4 downsides and how to beat them
Working from home is the number one perk that IT pros want. Let's examine the pros and cons of remote IT jobs – and how employees and employers can beat the challenges
When Dice surveyed technology professionals about the job benefits that matter most, two perks rose to the top, outpacing items like job title, stock options, or gym memberships. The ability to work from home ranked on par with health benefits, and it actually received one more vote – making it the most popular perk that tech professionals seek.
If you are considering ditching your office job for a work-from-home gig, the benefits are certainly alluring. But for most of remote work's famous perks, there’s a flip side that can be challenging for employees who have never held a remote job. It's worth weighing both the pros and cons before you accept a remote position.
[ Want to beat the competition for these coveted slots? Read our related article, How to interview for a remote IT job. ]
If you're already working remotely, you can always use fresh advice about dealing with the downsides. As anyone who has worked at home for several years will tell you, you can rise to the challenges.
Let's delve into four pros of working from home – and the cons that go hand in hand with them. If you are an employer, also listen up, because you can take steps to eliminate these challenges and tip the scales in favor of the remote workers. And with today's IT talent challenges, what employer doesn't want to attract – and retain – a wider talent pool?
Pro: Avoid the commute. Con: Work longer days
Giving up the morning commute is one of the biggest perks of a work-from-home job. Not many people enjoy sitting in rush hour traffic, no matter how well curated their podcast feed. “No commute means you can be more productive in your job,” points out Pamela Kurko, recruiting partner with Heller Search Associates, an executive search firm specializing in CIOs and other IT leaders. “You can sleep in. You won’t have road rage – so you will probably live longer.”
In addition, no commute also equals more money in your pocket. “Consider this,” says Nicole Latimer, CEO of StayWell, a health empowerment company with a workforce of 64 percent remote employees, “If, on average, an employee commutes 20 miles round trip, based on the 2018 IRS standard mileage rate of 54.5 cents per mile, that person could be saving around $2,600 a year if they work from home.”
There is a downside, however. Most people fill up the time they would be stuck in traffic with extra work, often putting in more time than their office-bound colleagues. “Remote workers are often available to work early morning and late evening hours to complete work and collaborate with team members in other time zones,” says Carol Lynn Thistle, managing director at Heller Search Associates. While good for managers, this aspect of remote work can be draining on those who struggle with work/life balance.
Sticking to regular office hours is the obvious solution, but remote workers often feel pressure to overachieve to earn the respect of their colleagues. Says John Watkins, CTO and VP at inRsite IT Solutions, "Even if you are the kind of person who can fully focus on your work-related tasks, there always seems to be a need to do more work than you would in the office to put off any negative comments or perceptions from those working from the office.”
You can ward off these perceptions by being transparent about your schedule and responsive to your counterparts in the office, Watkins adds. “While working remotely, it's essential that you are available when you're on the clock. If you are constantly missing phone calls or taking hours to respond to chats and emails, your coworkers will start to believe that you are taking advantage of the situation and not working,” he says.
Pro: Minimal work distractions. Con: More home distractions
Working from home is an ideal setup for anyone who needs time and space for quiet, focused work. Collaboration and water cooler chit-chat are great, but when you need to put your head down and get stuff done, nothing beats the peaceful, secluded silence of your own space. “There are no distractions with people dropping into your office unexpectedly,” says Thistle. “Low distraction equals a higher level of concentration and productivity.”
Low distraction doesn’t mean no distraction. Your dishes from breakfast, the laundry that needs folding, and your next door neighbor can become distractors, pulling your focus and attention away from your work. “You are at home, so getting distracted by housework, unexpected guests etc. is a real possibility,” says Kurko. “Your family and/or friends might think that working from home means you have time to catch up on the phone or a lunch break. You need to make it clear that you are working and can’t socialize,” she adds.
Creating a dedicated work environment can help minimize distractions like these, says Latimer. “Before accepting a remote job, I encourage individuals to think through a dedicated workspace. If possible, it’s important for them to set up an office in a room away from the living area and other distractions. Having a door to close at the end of the day is a huge bonus and helps to create separation between work and home life. If an employee is able to set up a workspace, the rest comes naturally,” she says.
Latimer suggests that there is a way to tackle household chores without letting it eat into your productivity. She encourages remote employees to schedule five-minute breaks throughout the day. “Instead of a lap around the office to clear your head, try a run of the vacuum through the bedroom or unloading the dishwasher,” she says. “It’s amazing how much a quick break can clear the mind and allow you to get back to your desk and finish up a project you are struggling with.”