Tips for Overcoming the Challenges of Working from Home

The Challenges of Working from HomeWorking from home seems like a dream job, right? You don’t have to get dressed in business attire, fight traffic for 30 minutes to get to the office, or deal with office politics. But while it may seem the most ideal way to work, is it really? Theoretically: yes. Practically: maybe not. Despite its many benefits, there are also many challenges to working from home that you need to be prepared for before embarking on your career as an at-home healthcare documentation specialist (medical transcriptionist and/or editor). Let’s discuss the top 5 most common challenges of working at home and tips to overcoming them.

Challenge: Lack of everyday verbal and non-verbal face-to-face interactions.

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, daily verbal and non-verbal face-to-face interactions are important. As an introvert, I don’t recharge from being around people. Just the same, I do need interaction on a daily basis so I don’t go, well, crazy [think Chuck Noland during Castaway]. Humans are social creatures, and getting a smile from someone or being able to share a story with someone is an important part of our emotional health.

During your work breaks, interact with your family or those around you. If you live alone, make it a habit to get out of the house a couple times a day and interact with the world. A great idea is to go for a walk in a local park once a day and interact with the friendly faces you find. There is a delightful older widower who lives in the area by the Career Step offices. He comes out to the park by our offices every day at 3 p.m. and sits by the path in his wheelchair. He interacts with each and every person who walks the track, even if it’s just a simple hello and a smile. He brightens other people’s days while he gets the verbal and non-verbal interaction he doesn’t get at home.

Solution: Don’t hide in your office when you don’t have to. Get out a little and don’t be a stranger!

Challenge: Interruptions (kids, doorbell, phone, etc.)

When working from home, you are more susceptible to interruptions from everyday things than if you were working from an office. Doorbells ring. Packages are delivered. Phone calls are made. Kids want snacks and movies and to ask questions about why Tyrannosaurus Rex had such tiny arms, to which you may be all too eager to divulge imaginative stories that have been stored up in your mind since Toy Story hit the big screen. These small interruptions may not seem like much if they happen sporadically throughout the day, but every time you’re interrupted, your productivity goes down.

The best way to combat this is to communicate with your family and make it clear what schedule you will be keeping and what kinds of things are okay to interrupt you with.  As far as doorbells and phone calls, I know some people who put a Do Not Disturb note on the door while they’re working. Also, try to get in the habit of only making and returning phone calls when you’re taking a break. That way, you aren’t interrupting your normal workflow.

Solution: Let others know what schedule you will be keeping and insist that they help you keep it. Communication is key!

Challenge: Misconceptions about working from home from family members/friends.

One of the most frustrating things about working from home is that some do not feel it’s a ‘real job,’ so they are fine interrupting and asking you to do things during your workday. These things are different than the types of brief interrupting mentioned above.  No, these things can span several hours—catching a movie, watching the kids, going shopping, attending a Tupperware party (you get the idea). While it is a perk to be able to have a flexible schedule when working from home, you will still have deadlines and turn-around times you’ll need to meet and the consequences of not meeting them parallel those in any other work setting—“You’re fired!”

Similar to the previous advice, the best thing you can do is communicate to your family and friends the rigors of your job and schedule. Explain that this is a real job and it requires focus and self-discipline. Stress the importance of not trying to get you to deviate from your work schedule unless an emergency arises.

To show how seriously you take your job, make sure you have a dedicated office space. This helps set the expectation that when you are in there, you are working and need time without distractions.

Solution: Educate your family and friends about your work needs. Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk!

Challenge: Poor productivity.

Especially when just starting out, your productivity is going to look rather sad. This is a fact of entering the medical documentation field, and there’s just no way around it. You can, however, soften the blow.

If you are currently enrolled in the MT or MTE course, take advantage of the incredible learning opportunity that is being presented. Anything that you can absorb during your coursework is one less thing you’ll have to grasp once working, be it how to use shortcuts and hotkeys or how to research well or how to combine medical terms. Don’t try to take shortcuts because doing so will only ensure that you take the long route later, especially if your skill set leaves you on QA and limited live reports for an extended period of time once working—talk about a productivity killer!

Keeping your body active will improve your production. For your eyes, it’s a good idea to employ the 20:20:20 method. Every 20 minutes, you should refocus your eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. For the rest of your body, take small breaks to stretch, do a few jumping jacks, grab a glass of water, and take a few deep breaths. A good ratio is to take the last 3-5 minutes of every hour to get the blood flowing and to make sure you’re staying hydrated.  Additionally, try to give yourself a couple of longer 15-30 minute breaks during your work period. Depending on your neighborhood, you could use one of these breaks to take that walk mentioned earlier. These breaks help to refocus your brain and can even improve your listening skills—especially if you feel yourself getting frustrated. When we’re frustrated, our brain kicks into “fight or flight” mode and we can’t think clearly.

Solution: Learn as much as you can now so you won’t have to learn it all later. Take short breaks to get your body moving because a body in motion stays in motion, even if it spends most of its time sitting in a chair.

Challenge: Distractions.

This last challenge is probably the hardest challenge for many. Unlike interruptions from others (which may or may not seem appealing at the time) distractions start with your own thoughts and ideas and can be surprisingly enticing. Facebook will become more appealing, your comfy chair and Netflix will beckon to you, cleaning the house will suddenly become oddly desirable, and Amazon shopping will disguise itself as a necessity that just can’t be put off any longer.

Because of these sudden burdens, it’s important to set a few boundaries. You might consider blocking Facebook from your work computer and choosing a specific time to check things like Facebook, email, Twitter, Instagram, et al. Stick to your office space when working, even if the chair in the living room looks really comfy. Set aside certain days and times to do the cleaning so it doesn’t interfere with your work schedule. Sticking to a strict schedule isn’t reasonable, but staying organized and on task will free your mind from unnecessary stresses that could bog you down and you won’t have that nagging voice in the back of your mind telling you that you haven’t done something super important yet, like putting the laundry through or scanning Pinterest for dinner recipes.  It might be difficult to do these things at first, but you will be grateful in the long run. Your productivity, concentration, and wallet will thank you.

Solution: Set boundaries for yourself and stay organized.

What other challenges do you encounter in working from home?  How do you overcome them? Share in the comments below.

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