The Ultimate Guide to Working From Home

Everything you need to work remotely—for an employer or yourself

Even before the global pandemic of 2020 made working from home commonplace for millions, a growing number of employees had been saying goodbye to their onerous commutes. Thanks to ever-evolving technologies like Skype, FaceTime, Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts, authenticator apps, and cloud computing—not to mention texting and email—it’s no longer necessary to be in an office full time to be a productive member of the team. Many types of work can be done just as effectively, if not more so, from a home office.

As appealing as remote work is to employees, employers also recognize the benefits from their side of the desk. Companies with work-from-anywhere policies can boost employee productivity, reduce turnover, and lower organizational costs, according to recent research at Harvard Business School. Telecommuting workers with very complex jobs who don’t require a lot of collaboration or social support can perform better than their office-based counterparts. Also, in the event of a natural or manmade disaster, a distributed workforce is in a better position to keep operations running, even if some of the group goes offline.

Key Takeaways

  • For employers, working from home can boost productivity, reduce turnover, and lower organizational costs, while employees enjoy perks like flexibility and the lack of a commute.
  • To work effectively from home, you’ll need to make sure you have the technology that you require, a separate workspace, internet service that meets your needs, a workable schedule you can stick to, and ways to connect with others.
  • Top fields for remote work include information technology (IT) and healthcare.

How to Work Effectively From Home

Whether you’re working remotely a few days per week or full time either by choice or because of a health situation or weather event, it’s important to ensure that your setup meets your needs.

Having a designated workspace with the right technology, such as videoconferencing, child care arrangements, pet care, and a schedule that allows for the social contact and stimulation that ordinarily comes from being present in a workplace with others make for a successful remote work experience. Here are strategies and tips for telecommuting.

Know the Ground Rules

Does your employer require a nine-to-five schedule, or is there flexibility? Are you allowed to work on public Wi-Fi? Which technology tools will you need, such as Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams for group chats, or Trello for project management?

It's important that your employer details the ground rules and ensures that you have the appropriate equipment, such as a laptop, network access, passcodes, and instructions for remote login, including two-factor authentication if necessary. Be sure to do a trial run and work out any problems that might impede your work.

Set Up a Functional Workspace

Not everyone has a designated home office, but it’s critical to have a private, quiet space for your work. If you can, separate your work area from your personal spaces and use it only for work and not for other activities.

Get the Internet Speed You Need

If you have children at home while you work, their FaceTime, TikTok, and Xbox habits may slow your connection and download speeds. Moving as close as you can to your Wi-Fi router can help or you can consider switching to Ethernet. You may need a dongle since new laptops don’t have Ethernet ports, plus an Ethernet cable to connect your computer to your router. Wondering if your most-used website is down? Check isitdownrightnow.com, which monitors key websites and services to see if they’re working.

Download Apps

If your job involves making long-distance and/or international calls, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and Skype allow you to make inexpensive telephone calls over the internet and around the globe. If both you and the person you’re calling are on the same service, the call will be free.

Minimize Distractions

A barking dog or a jackhammer outside your window may disappear with noise-canceling headphones. Arranging your schedule around your children's and spouse's schedule also helps to ensure you get the dedicated time you need for your work.

Get Outside

Some love the thought of working in solitude, but even the most introverted among us may feel claustrophobic after a few weeks at home alone, staring at the same project for long hours. Be ready for some loneliness, and be mindful to schedule some time to connect to the outside world through lunch dates or an exercise class.

25%

The percentage of professional jobs in North America that will be remote by the end of 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic led companies to evaluate remote and hybrid work options. This number is expected to increase in 2023.

Where Are the Remote Jobs?

Improved technology, low overhead costs, and the 2020 global pandemic have encouraged businesses of all sizes and in a variety of fields to create more work-from-home opportunities.

FlexJobs researches, vets, and posts remote, hybrid, and flexible jobs. Each year, the company compiles its list of the top 100 companies with the most remote job openings. It also compiles a top 30 companies with zero location restrictions. In 2022, the list included a mix of industries, computer, IT, education, training, marketing, accounting, and finance.

Remote Friendly Firms

58% of employees surveyed in 2021 said they would search for a new job if they can’t continue working from home post-pandemic according to FlexJobs. The survey caps talk of the Great Resignation. Keeping up the demand for remote opportunities and flexibility, here are five of the Top 10 companies with the most expected job openings in 2022:

  • BroadPath. Industry: Outsourcing
  • Sykes. Industry: Customer Service
  • SAP. Industry: Enterprise Software
  • Varsity Tutors. Industry: Education
  • Dell Technologies. Industry: Technology

Other Remote Opportunities

While many employees now have the opportunity to work remotely for large corporations, telework options exist for freelancers and small business owners. As flexibility increases, many companies are outsourcing and turning to these independent contractors to fill a variety of positions.

Here are some of the most common, and fastest-growing, work-from-home options. Many are entry-level positions, while others require specialized training and expertise. 

Virtual Assistants

Virtual assistants offer the traditional administrative tasks like email management, business document creation, client contact, appointment scheduling, social media updates, bookkeeping, and data entry.

Translators

Remote workers translate files and documents, or transcribe and translate conversations and conference calls. People who speak uncommon languages are in high demand.

Customer Service Representatives

These remote workers juggle inbound and outbound calls and help customers with orders or account information and require good communication and people skills.

Data Entry and Transcription

Data entry involves entering facts and figures into a software program or spreadsheets such as payroll data, catalogs, or inventory items.

Transcription work involves creating documents from audio files, typically for businesses that need documentation of meetings, workshops, conference calls, or podcasts.

Project Management

The role of a project manager depends on the organization and its industry. An undergraduate degree in management is often required for project manager careers, but it is increasingly common for companies to require a master’s degree. There are also professional certifications for project managers. Some common job titles include program manager, business analyst, and technical consultant.

Avoiding Scams

Do your research when applying for remote opportunities and get to know the employer. Be sure to investigate and test contact information using online sources like LinkedIn.

As with any opening, there should be an application and probably an interview. Anybody who is legitimately looking to hire someone wants to meet—or at least talk to—its applicants.

You shouldn’t incur any out-of-pocket expenses to be hired. If a work-from-home opportunity requires you to pay a fee upfront or buy a “start-up kit” or make any other sort of sizable cash outlay, it’s probably a scam.

Tips to Combat the Drawbacks of Work-at-Home Life

Though the idea of flexibility, setting your hours, and operating within your own four walls has merit and benefits, it comes with a few drawbacks as well, for both the self-employed and the telecommuting employee. When it’s happening in the shadow of a national health emergency, like the pandemic of 2020, it can add an extra layer of discomfort and uncertainty. Here are three tips to help strike a healthy balance.

1. Stick to Your Work Schedule

Every person who has spent time working from a home base will have to deal with a lack of understanding from people who think working from home doesn’t mean working, although the pandemic has helped to change that dynamic. The burden is on you to set your working hours, stick to them, actually work during those hours, and refuse to let anyone else dissuade you from the idea that you’re truly employed.

Unfortunately, home life has its distractions that can burn precious daylight and put well-meaning homeworkers behind on important projects. In addition to the typical interruptions in the nine-to-five (vendor calls, power outages, accidents, pet or child needs), there are personal boundaries that will continue to be pushed.

Close family members have to understand that you can’t help them move during the workday or even chat on the phone for an hour. Setting limits if you have children at home can be especially tough. On the positive side, letting kids see you work hard at something you love—even at the parts that you don’t love—can greatly influence their future career choices and entire attitude toward work.

2. Beware of Workaholic Tendencies

Efficiency and flexibility are some of the top reasons why people want to work from home, along with shorter hours (what might you accomplish with eight straight hours of a keyboard pounding, uninterrupted by emails or daily staff meetings?). But sometimes flexibility is too much of a good thing. When your office is always there, waiting, with that deadline looming over your head, it’s pretty hard to just close the door and pretend that you’ve left for the day. Many home-based workers find themselves working more hours, not fewer, logging in work time on nights and weekends, just because it’s there and they can’t ignore it.

Many work-at-home professionals indeed keep a five-hour day, as opposed to eight hours. However, this does not mean that they work less. Hours are often calculated as “billable hours,” meaning that for every hour spent performing a task for which they charge, there are many minutes spent doing uncompensated administrative tasks.

3. Don’t Bet on Saving Money

Without a daily commute, mandatory lunches, and the cost of office-appropriate attire, it may seem that working from home will peel some costs off your budget. But additional outlays can crop up. The expense of setting up an office may include laptops, printers, internet service, cellphones, business cards, web hosting, business services, and software. Forget about using your existing equipment for your business if you plan on taking the full cost of each as a tax write-off. Personal and business purchases need to be kept separate to comply with tax law.

For starters, you can only deduct for a home office if you are working freelance or as a contractor. Since the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), you can no longer deduct non-reimbursed work expenses if you are an employee, including any home office deduction. That makes it especially important to try to get extra costs covered by your employer.

So, hold on before you try to deduct half of your mortgage for “office rent” or the entire cost of your internet. There are strict limits to what can be claimed as deductions or credits on your return. You can deduct valid work-related expenses, but only the percentage used for your work. So if you pay for an internet service that is also used by your spouse and children—and by you for non-work-related matters—you can’t deduct the full cost—only the (estimated) portion that is exclusive to employment-related matters. The same goes for office supplies, telephone bills, and utilities.

If you’re an independent contractor, you have to pay your own Social Security tax (the self-employment tax) and payroll taxes (an expense that most employers pay half of). You can deduct the employer half of your payroll tax as a business expense, but, generally, a sole proprietor won’t see drastic cuts to their tax bill.

The Bottom Line

Working from home can be exciting, empowering, and even profitable, provided that you are realistic about the pros and cons. Whether you are a freelancer, a company part-timer, or a full-time employee who just doesn’t hit the office on certain days or at all, it’s a way to escape the daily commuting grind.

But added responsibilities come with freedom, not to mention planning, foresight, self-discipline, and focus—and, yes, hours of uninterrupted hard work. As many home-based employees will tell you, it’s not easier to work from home; it’s just a different location.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Harvard Business School, Working Knowledge. “How Companies Benefit When Employees Work Remotely.”

  2. Journal of Business and Psychology, via Springer Link. “Unpacking the Role of a Telecommuter’s Job in Their Performance: Examining Job Complexity, Problem Solving, Interdependence, and Social Support.”

  3. CNET. “Home Networking: Everything You Need to Know.”

  4. Forbes. "Remote Work Is Here To Stay and Will Increase into 2023."

  5. FlexJobs. “Top 100 Companies to Watch for Remote Jobs in 2022.”

  6. Forbes. "Work Home or Anywhere."

  7. FlexJobs. “7 Fastest-Growing Remote Jobs to Watch for in 2022.”

  8. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions.”

  9. Internal Revenue Service. “Self-Employment Tax (Social Security and Medicare Taxes).”

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