Even before the global pandemic made working from home routine for millions, increasing numbers of people had been saying goodbye to their onerous commute to work. 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. In fact, many kinds of work can be done just as effectively, if not more so, from a home office.
As appealing as remote work is to employees, it wouldn’t be such a strong trend if employers didn’t 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, according to another study. 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.
- 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 work space, 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; positions include customer service representatives, sales representatives, project managers, and more.
- A variety of top firms, including CVS Health, Dell, and Salesforce, offer remote work opportunities, but it's also important to be aware of scams.
How to Work Effectively from Home
Whether you’re working remotely one day per week (or more) or full time—by choice or because of a health situation or weather event—it’s important to ensure that you are set up to be productive. This includes having a designated work space with the right technology; ways of dealing with kids, pets, and other potential disruptions; and a schedule that allows for the social contact and stimulation that ordinarily comes from being in a workplace with others. Here are strategies and tips to be successful as a remote worker.
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 tech tools might you need, such as Zoom for videoconferencing, Slack or Microsoft Teams for group chats, or Trello for project management? If you work for someone else, it's important that your employer spells out the ground rules and ensures that you have the appropriate equipment, such as a laptop, as well as network access, passcodes, and instructions for remote login, including two-factor authentication. Be sure to do trial runs and work out any problems that might impede your work. If you work for yourself, then you may need many of the same tools.
Set up a functional work space
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 just for work, not for other activities.
Get the Internet speed you need
If you have kids, their FaceTiming, TikTok and Xbox habits may slow your connection and download speeds. Moving as close as you can to your Wi-Fi router can help (devices that are distant tend to draw on bandwidth), or you can consider switching to Ethernet. You'll likely need a dongle since laptops don't have Ethernet ports these days, 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.
Use phone apps
If your job involves making long-distance and/or international calls, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and Skype all let you call over the Internet around the globe on the cheap. And if you and the person you're calling are on the same service, then the call will be free.
If you have a barking dog or a jackhammering worker outside your windows, consider investing in noise-canceling headphones. And if the kids are home and you're without childcare (say, during the summer or a natural emergency), see if you and your spouse (or a neighbor in a similar situation) can take turns with care—which may mean you have to talk to your manager about working evening hours.
Plan extra social interactions
Some folks love the thought of working in solitude, but even the most introverted among us can start feeling a little claustrophobic after a few weeks at home, alone, staring at the same project for long hours. It can get lonely. Be ready for that, and try to schedule some connect-with-the-outside-world time, like a lunch date (even if you take it at 3 p.m.), a video chat with a friend, or an exercise class.
As the number of Americans who are vaccinated increases, infection rates drop and the economy reopens, companies are evaluating their plans for remote work. Some want everyone back, but many are looking at hybrid or remote-by-choice options. Others, particularly tech companies, are allowing employees to work remotely indefinitely, if they choose. Twitter and Salesforce are two examples.
Where Work-From-Home Jobs Are
Job-hunting site FlexJobs vets its telecommuting/part-time/freelance listings for legitimacy and conducts periodic surveys of where the growth in flexible work is. Here are some of the top fields and companies it has iidentified in 2021.
Health and medical services
In the health sector, the leading companies with work-at-home employment include healthcare giants Humana, CVS Health, and UnitedHealth Group. The job titles they have sought to fill include healthcare information specialist, medical transcriptionist, medical coder, medical billing, and insurance representative.
Computers and information technology (IT)
A less surprising work-at-home-friendly category is computers and IT, which is known for its progressive approach to virtual offices. Some employers—such as Red Hat, Salesforce, and SAP—offer job listings in high-tech sales (sales being one of the original flex-time professions). Other job titles that tech companies often seek to fill with remote workers include positions such as project manager, web designer, and software developer.
According to FlexJobs, the 10 fastest-growing remote job categories in 2021 are: marketing, administrative, human resources and recruiting, accounting and finance, graphic design, customer service, writing, mortgage and real estate, Internet and e-commerce, and project management.
Thousands of legit companies, even some of those listed on the Fortune 500, offer a wide array of telecommuting jobs, from positions requiring advanced degrees and experience all the way down to entry-level gigs. The following companies represent a great place to start when looking for a work-at-home job that actually pays the bills.
Headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, Dell offers work-at-home jobs as well as flexible jobs that include both office time and working remotely. The company is known for an assortment of other employee-friendly perks, such as compressed workweeks. Dell has work-at-home job openings in many fields that require various levels of education and experience, from outside sales to tech support to marketing management.
Health insurance company Humana, the nation's third largest, employs roughly 48,000 people both on-site and working from home. The latter are doing everything from sales management, which requires great people skills but has no hard-and-fast educational requirements, to physical therapy, which requires additional years of post-college coursework.
CVS Health, which acquired Fortune 500 healthcare company Aetna Inc. in 2018, is the largest provider of healthcare services and prescriptions in the U.S. The company has hired for remote jobs beyond medical and health, including account management and customer service jobs.
Salesforce.com, a customer relationship management (CRM) technology platform, has been named by Fortune magazine as a top 100 company to work for, and by Forbes as one of the world's most innovative companies. Prior to the pandemic, 20% of its employees worked from home. In February 2021, the company offered its employees three options: work remotely full time, come to the office, or a hybrid of the two. Its CEO estimates that 50% to 60% of its workforce will choose to work from home. Available jobs range from sales to technology roles.
Automatic Data Processing
Automatic Data Processing (ADP) provides outsourcing and payroll solutions to businesses around the world. Most of its work-at-home job openings are in sales and customer service, which means entry-level candidates have a chance at being hired. Others are in software and application development, which pay more but require specialized technology skills.
Common Types of Work-From-Home Jobs
Not all work-at-home jobs are for corporate employees. Many people work for firms as freelancers, choosing to form their own businesses. As noted in several instances above, companies are increasingly turning to these independent contractors to fill a variety of positions.
Working from home also offers the opportunity for those who have the time and organizational skills to manage two or three jobs at once. It is not uncommon for enterprising types to eventually turn a freelance work-from-home job opportunity into a small business, even to the extent of employing others.
Here are some of the most common, and fastest growing, work-from-home options. Some are more on the unskilled/entry-level side, while others require specialized training and expertise.
Think of a virtual assistant as an off-site secretary. A traditional secretary comes with many expenses to a company and, if the company is small, it may not need a full-timer. Virtual assistants work from home, often communicating with the boss via chat, FaceTime, Slack, or another real-time service. They can do most of what a traditional administrative assistant does—responding to emails; creating business documents; calling clients; scheduling appointments; handling social media, bookkeeping and data entry—but at a lower cost. Key talents for this sort of job include good communication skills and some office experience.
International companies need translators all the time. They may translate files and documents, or transcribe and translate conversations and conference calls. People who speak uncommon languages are even more in demand, and these home-based jobs are plentiful.
Customer service representatives
Many companies, large and small, outsource their customer service work to home-based agents. Most of these types of jobs entail inbound calls, helping people with orders or account information, but some also require outbound calling. Most also come with a set work schedule—though the pay is often by the hour (or sometimes minute), while you're on an actual call.
The typical qualifications needed for this type of job are good communication and people skills, with most employers requiring a background check. An outgrowth of the traditional customer service job is that of the chat agent, who answers customer questions live via the company's website or social media.
Data entry and transcription
Although they can be two different types of jobs, data entry and transcription jobs usually require the same skills and qualifications. Data entry involves entering facts and figures into a software program or spreadsheet. It could involve entering payroll data, catalog or inventory items, or working with a customer relationship management system.
Transcription work involves creating documents from audio files. This is typically done for businesses that need documentation of meetings, workshops, conference calls, or podcasts. In most cases, the employer provides the software and content management system needed for the work. For both jobs, employers generally look for detail-oriented people with good typing skills.
Project management is often associated with fields in engineering and construction and, more recently, healthcare and information technology (IT). Project managers are responsible for organizing teams, and developing and executing plans to achieve a company's goals.
A project manager's role 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.
Avoid the Scams
Obviously, work-at-home jobs have come a long way from those old "make money stuffing envelopes” ads. But anybody looking to earn a living without leaving home has to be very careful.
Do your homework on a potential work-at-home employer. Make sure that the company is established. If you can't find evidence that it has a physical address and sells a product or service, then it's best to avoid it. Be sure to track down contact information, too, and test it out. Many con artists pretend to be working for household-name corporations, either directly or as subcontractors.
As with any job, 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—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 up front or buy a “start-up kit” or make any other sort of sizable cash outlay, then it's probably a scam.
Tips to Combat the Drawbacks of Work-at-Home Life
Though the idea of being your own boss, setting your own hours, and operating within your own four walls has merit—and definite 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, it adds 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 really 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 own distractions that can burn precious daylight and put well-meaning home workers 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 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 that people want to work from home, along with shorter hours (what might you accomplish with eight straight hours of 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 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.
It's true that many work-at-home professionals keep a five-hour day, as opposed to an eight-hour day. This does not mean, however, that they work less. Hours are often calculated as "billable hours," meaning that for every hour spent performing a task that they charge for, there are many minutes spent doing non-compensated 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, you can no longer deduct for 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 office.
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 that is actually used for your work. So if you pay for an Internet service that is also used by your spouse and children, and even yourself 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 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 grind.
But there are added responsibilities that come with freedom, not to mention planning, foresight, self-discipline, and focus. Oh, yes, and 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.