The Ultimate Guide to Working From Home
The work-from-home job force just got a big push from the current global coronavirus pandemic. But even before COVID-19 became a factor, increasing numbers of people have 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 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 you require, a separate workspace, Internet service that meets your need, a workable schedule you can stick to, and ways to connect with others.
- Top fields for remote work include computers and IT, education and training, and healthcare; positions include customer service reps, virtual assistants, data entry and transcription, teachers, and more.
- A variety of top firms, including Amazon, Dell, Humana, Kaplan, 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 workspace 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 video conferencing, 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 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, you may need many of the same tools.
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 just for work, not for other activities.
Get the internet speed you need
If you have kids, their FaceTiming 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 across the globe on the cheap. And if you and the person you're calling are on the same service, the call will be free.
If you have a barking dog or a jack-hammering worker outside your windows, consider investing in noise-cancelling headphones, such as Apple's AirPod Pros. 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 PM), a videochat with a friend, or an exercise class.
Where Work-From-Home Jobs Are
Work-at-home jobs are no longer limited to multi-level marketing (MLM) outfits, like Amway or Avon. Improved technology and the need to cut costs and/or keep overhead low have encouraged businesses of all sizes and in a variety of fields to create more work-from-home opportunities.
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's identified in the past two years.
Health and medical services
In the health sector, the leading companies with work-at-home employment include healthcare giants Aetna, Magellan Health, BroadPath Healthcare Solutions, Humana, CVS Health, and UnitedHealth Group. The job titles they have sought to fill included computer- or phone-based jobs such as account manager, actuarial consultant, business-intelligence manager, case manager, medical writer, patient-education or case advocates, revenue-integrity director, and sales representative. Other recent remote positions include clinical care manager and registered nurse case manager.
Education and training
Some of the more surprising opportunities FlexJobs found are in fields typically thought of as requiring face-to-face contact—education, for instance. The growth of online learning companies such as Pearson, K12, Grand Canyon University, and Kaplan has led to more listings for freelance and part-time positions such as curriculum writer, parent mentor, SAT instructor, science teacher, student-services coordinator and tutor. Chinese online education firm VIPKID offers an American education experience to young Chinese students and provides a flexible, remote work schedule for its teaching workforce.
Related to this are opportunities for those fluent in different languages. Companies such as Appen, which evaluates and coordinates communications for international clients—or EF–Education First, an international language training and educational travel company—need people who can serve as interpreters, translators, and curriculum developers.
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 tech companies often seek to fill with remote workers include positions such as project manager, web designer, software developer, power-systems engineer, and technical writer.
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 ten corporations represent a great place to start when looking for a work-at-home job that actually pays the bills.
Amazon.com Inc. employs some 750,000 workers around the world, many of them reporting to work from their home offices. In September 2019, it had 30,000 open positions.4 Only a small percentage of Amazon.com employees work in the state of Washington, where the company is headquartered. With employees spread out everywhere, those not working at the home office need not feel left out. Work-at-home job openings at Amazon.com run the gamut from customer service positions to global account manager jobs.
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 49,000 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.
Aetna Inc., a Fortune 500 healthcare company, allows employees to work from home after they have been with the company for one year. Telecommuting positions include customer service representatives, supervisors, and even frontline nurses. Employees who work from home enjoy access to extensive technology to help keep them plugged into happenings at the company and maintain communication with teammates.
American Express Co.
American Express offers full-time, part-time, temporary, and contract work-at-home jobs. The positions cover a wide spectrum of opportunities and include business development management (a job typically requiring an MBA and/or years of experience), as well as part-time virtual customer care representative jobs. American Express encourages a strong work-life balance and personal growth for its employees.
Kaplan specializes in K-12 programs, online higher education, professional training, and test preparation for students taking standardized tests required for admittance to college or graduate school. Its most popular telecommuting position is tutor. The job requires little to no office time, but may involve traveling to meet students. Tutors at Kaplan make $20 per hour or more and can work from less than 10 hours per week to 40 hours per week, depending on availability and demand for services. To get hired as a Kaplan tutor, a candidate must demonstrate strong performance on one or more standardized tests, such as the SAT or GRE.
Salesforce.com (CRM) 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. Many of its more than 49,000 team members work from home. The company's telecommuting job openings usually require several years of prior experience. An entry-level candidate's best bet to work from home for Salesforce is to pursue a sales job, such as a field sales account executive.
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.
Xerox has work-at-home job openings and offers flexible scheduling for many of its on-site employees. Available telecommuting jobs include executive recruiting, which requires a bachelor's degree and sales experience; part-time call center positions, which have no educational or background requirements; and project management, which requires several years of related experience.
The Top 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 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.
Call center/customer service representatives
Many companies, large and small, outsource their customer service work to home-based agents. Since some English-speaking customers may have trouble communicating with agents who speak English as a second language, or have heavy accents, a growing number of firms are seeking more call-center workers in the U.S.
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.
With the growth of online education, there is a growing demand for online instructors. Virtual schools are popping up everywhere, offering elementary-, high school- and college-level programs of study; faculty can typically work from anywhere.
While many online teaching jobs require teaching credentials, jobs for online tutors do not (although an educational background is often desired). Tutors for advanced subjects, such as calculus and physics, can earn a higher hourly rate. There are also opportunities to simply do standardized test scoring at home. Scoring jobs may require a teaching background or a college degree, at a minimum.
Avoid the Scams
Obviously, work-at-home jobs have come a long way from those old "make money stuffing envelopes” ads. But for 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, it's best to avoid it. Be sure to track down contact info too, and test it out. Many con artists pretend to be working for household-name corporations, either directly or as sub-contractors.
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. Lastly, 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. You will, however, most likely need to invest in a fast, reliable internet connection, if you don’t already have one, and a high-quality audio headset.
Tips for the 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 ab extra layer of discomfort and uncertainty. Here are three tips to help strike a healthy balance.
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. The burden lies upon 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.
Beware of workaholic tendencies
Efficiency and flexibility are two of the top 10 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.
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 to set up an office may include laptops, printers, internet service, cell phones, 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 in order 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 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).6 So, generally, a sole proprietor won't see drastic cuts to his or her 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, 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.