"Working from home is like going to a 9-to-5 job without the headache," says Felicia Wright, a home-based customer-service representative (CSR) in Houston for virtual call center Alpine Access. "You don't have a dress code, you can schedule yourself to work when it's convenient for you, and you can take time off whenever you need to. After years of battling traffic jams, wearing pantyhose and having bosses looking over my shoulder, I had definitely had enough."
Working from home may be your dream, but if you don't have the right personality, mind-set or environment, it can become a nightmare. We asked home-based call-center CSRs for advice from the front lines. Here's what they told us.
Because home-based CSRs work alone, there's no boss around to keep you on your toes. "Be sure you're self-motivated," cautions Kimberly Creque, who works at home in Littleton, Colorado, for Alpine Access. "It's harder than you think to work from your home."
Creque keeps up her motivation and accountability by focusing on her home-based position's rewards: "(This work) allows me to do things with my children, and in return, I work the hours I've committed to."
Set Physical BoundariesAvoiding interruptions can be a challenge for home-based workers. "Some people think that because I run my office out of my house, I'm not really at work," laments Wright. "I have the telephone ringers off and my office door closed. I even put a note on my front door not to ring the doorbell."
Those boundaries extend to her school-aged kids. "They don't bother me when they know I'm working," Wright says. "But my 5-year-old told me, ‘Mommy, I love you being home when I come from school'. He understands I'm at work, but just his knowing I'm here if he needs me goes a long way."
Manage Your Priorities
When there's laundry or housework to do, it can be hard to focus on work. "The biggest challenge to working at home is committing to a schedule," says Kim Conner, an Illinois-based agent for LiveOps. "It seems as though there are a million and one things you have to do besides working."
To deal with competing priorities, Conner thinks of her job as she would one outside her home: "My employer would expect me to work during my scheduled times, and if I didn't show up, there'd be consequences. I try to use the same philosophy with my home-based business. I also set monetary goals and reward myself if I exceed them."
Create a Dedicated Workspace
To get yourself in the zone for work, create zones in your home and head. "Establish a separate workspace with as few diversions as possible," says John Ryan, a West Hollywood, California-based concierge for VIPDesk, a call-center outsourcing company. Make sure you have everything you need -- an ergonomic chair, pens, headset and files.
And stay organized. "Maintain a professional atmosphere and appearance," Ryan advises. "Dress for work. Don't have a television or radio on."
Stay Connected to Others
Living and working in the same environment can make you feel disconnected and give you cabin fever. Ryan suggests staying connected to friends and family by instant messaging, telephone, email or actual human contact, if possible.
"As in any work environment, it's helpful and relaxing to share experiences with others," Ryan says. "Although you may not be able to peek over your cubicle and talk to a coworker face-to-face, you can certainly swap war stories over the phone."
Ryan also gets out of the house daily. "I like to walk right after my shift ends to stretch my legs (and) get some fresh air and a change of scenery.