Unlike most people who are now telecommuting due to the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been working from home for a long time.
As in two decades.
Between full-time jobs that allowed it (one of them way back in 2000) and freelancing while I raised two children, I’ve truly appreciated the benefits that come with the arrangement — the biggest one being able to wear sweatpants every day if I feel like it.
In all seriousness, my good fortune is not lost on me. Yet there are also challenges and considerations that workers — and their employers — who are new to the realm of remote work may want to think about, based on my many years of working from home.
Nearly 70% of employees are still working remotely all or part of the time, according to a recent Gallup poll.
If you’re among them, you’ve probably already heard about the value in situating your work space away from distractions as much as possible and being sure to take breaks. I’d say those things are true. And it will be interesting to see how companies deal with issues like injuries sustained while working remotely (in relation to workers’ compensation) and generally how best to monitor employees’ work habits and behaviors while they are on the clock.
Here are some other aspects of telecommuting that my experience tells me are key to know as remote work becomes a more standard part of life for a chunk of the workforce.
The money factor
Sure, you don’t have to commute by car or public transportation to work, or pay for parking or, perhaps, maintain a professional wardrobe. And maybe you’re spending less on lunches, coffee or snacks.
At the same time, though, you could see other expenses rise. Standard utility bills — heating, cooling, water — may go up, as could groceries, Internet access and office supplies (i.e., printer ink, pens, paper, etc., depending on your job).
Some employers are providing remote workers with home-office “allowances” so their employees can properly set up a workspace without footing the bill.
If your company doesn’t do that, and you’re a full-time employee, you won’t get a federal tax deduction these days for those extra costs. Thanks to tax-law changes in effect from 2018 through 2025, you can’t deduct those unreimbursed work-related expenses on your federal tax return. A handful of states, however, allows those deductions for qualifying taxpayers.
Independent contractors, on the other hand, can deduct all work expenses because they are self-employed.
Additionally, be aware that if you are now working in a state different from where you used to put in your hours, there may be state tax issues to deal with.
Power and/or Internet connections do occasionally go out. Where I live, one or the other probably happens every few months or so. Sometimes the outage has lasted a few minutes; other times it’s been hours.
Depending on your situation and how heavily you rely on connectivity to do your job, it’s probably wise to have a backup plan.
For example, I pay extra through my phone plan for the ability to set up a secure personal WiFi hotspot on my iPhone. And, if that method were to fail — or if the power were to go out for extended time — I could go find electricity or WiFi elsewhere.
From there, I could log into CNBC’s system, via the company’s virtual private network, or VPN. That basically encrypts any data you send over the Internet, including through public WiFi. Otherwise, hackers potentially could access everything you do online.
The bottom line is that technology is great when it works and a major stress-inducer when it does not — especially when you don’t have an IT department right down the hall as you might at the office.
Your mental health
It took the stress of weeks in a pandemic to push me over the edge.
I found I needed some time off immediately to recharge and my editors were great about granting it.
So be sure to do all the things you know intellectually are good for you — eating healthily, exercising (or otherwise engaging in physical activity regularly), taking time to relax, setting aside non-electronics-time and getting outside for fresh air or sunshine. Even when you don’t think you need to.
You may be hunched over a laptop as you read this. Long term, that could take a toll.
Although I think my work space is now ergonomically correct — based on the research I’ve done and the fact I’m not in any weird pain — it wasn’t always that way.
Before I worked for CNBC, when I was not spending 40 hours a week largely in front of a computer, I’d routinely sit on the floor, back curved in an arc as I leaned my neck toward my laptop, to do my freelancing. Or I’d recline on the couch.
Other times, I would at least sit at a table, but I was hunched over my laptop, straining my neck and causing daily pain. Once I made adjustments to where I worked and how my work space was set up, a sore neck became a thing of the past.
I’m no ergonomics expert so I won’t try to give specific advice. But the risk of pain at best — and injury at worst — is real. So make sure your entire setup — the chair you sit in, the level of your computer screen, where your mouse is situated, etc. — is ergonomically correct to avoid both.