The Joys and Sorrows of the Virtual Office

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

The phrase has been going through my head all day as I appreciate the wonders and the pitfalls of working-from-home days. I’ve followed all of the standard advice and after a while I’ve learned that sometimes you just need to follow no advice at all and do what comes naturally. In the past I’ve gotten up at the same time every day, gotten dressed in respectable, but comfortable, clothing and entered my permanent workspace to get stuff done. But without coworker’s intrusions to shake things up sometimes, all but the most inspired will get bored eventually. And with boredom, distraction is allowed to enter.

A quick lunch break turns into a gourmet cooking project or an extended errands expedition. After all, if I’m out already then getting other trips out of the way is the most efficient. I’m just being responsible, really. Turning on music when I notice myself daydreaming, turns into an hour long mission to create the perfect working playlist. All in the name of efficiency.

So today, I tried something new. After sleeping in a bit, I went straight to where the laptop had been left on the couch after last night’s viewing of web TV and immediately dove in. No business-like workspace, no taking off of slippers. No letting the need to be disciplined help me to procrastinate. And the work went better than it has in weeks. I then joined a friend outside a nearby coffee shop where she worked on her laptop and I worked on mine. It was noisy, expensive and I ate a chocolate chip muffin that really doesn’t fit on my diet, but I continued to work better than I have in weeks. The weather was glorious and I’m still holding on to the fact that one muffin is better than the constant munching habit I’d been picking up recently when I have easy access to my own kitchen.

And so by ignoring all the warnings against distracting locales and undisciplined behavior, I got back the glory of the virtual office and overcame some of the pitfalls.

Unfortunately, I also discovered a few more pitfalls in the process. One of the major advantages of working in an office is access to the IT department. But when a personal laptop gets cranky, it’s up to you to figure it out. When I left my wireless mouse behind at home, I discovered just how much one can appreciate a supply closet and how a touchpad can be stubborn in its strange combination of oversensitivity and ignoring your fingers.

People (and in large part, that means the internet) can give you all the advice you want about the correct approach to utilizing a virtual office. At the end of the day, how disciplined or flexible you need to be to make it work is entirely personal. There’s no right answer and sometimes even your personal right answer will change from month to month or week to week. And the beauty of a home office is that it can.

But what won’t change is that you probably won’t have the same resources at your disposal as you would in company offices. Whether you’re a small business owner or just working outside of the offices a few days a week, you can usually make up some of the deficit by careful technology choices. It will never quite be the same as having the supply closet and your friendly neighborhood IT guy, but it can help. For some, that may mean nothing more than the choice of a comfortable keyboard (or a good wireless mouse) while others may be able to take advantage of interesting technologies like VoIP or online fax. Here on Consumer-Rankings we’ve tried to help guide you on making those choices. But for today, my advice is to remember not to listen to too much advice and do what works for you.

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