Telecommuting[Ed: it’s Shonali’s, er, my, birthday today! In the spirit of this post, she’s, er, I’m, taking the day off. But she, er, I, will be making up for it later, as you’ll see is wont to happen when you read Karelyn’s terrific guest post.]

When I tell people I work from home, I’m often met with an envious stare and the inevitable question, “How do I get started?”

Image: fogcat5 via Flickr, CC 2.0

The idea of not having to squeeze into uncomfortable shoes or sit in traffic has an instant allure to virtually anyone who has held a traditional 9-5. It seems like perfection, a dream come true, a breath of fresh air, and a life saver!

But the immediate appeal is shattered by reality.

Yes, working from home means you may get to forfeit your slacks and styling gel. But at the end of the day it’s still work. It’s still a J-O-B with its own set of trials, tribulations, and days when you wish that you could just cover your head with your pillow and “call in.”

I have referred a few friends to oDesk since I started this virtual adventure roughly two years ago, and almost all of them have told me that working from home is not for them!

Here are some common misconceptions associated with working from home, and the truths that paint a more realistic picture of what it is like.

You get paid for lounging around all day.

A lot of people have an unrealistic expectation of working from home. Their imaginations go wild with fantasies of getting paid to sleep, watch TV, and eat cereal in their PJ’s.

The truth is some days I work the morning, some days the evening, and sometimes the weekend, even Sunday if need be. I don’t get a set schedule every week, and I definitely don’t work 8am-5pm with an hour lunch like I did back in my office days.

With freedom comes responsibility. You are 100% accountable for time management. There isn’t anyone there to micromanage you or tell you when you should do something.

Being on the computer all day is fun, not work!

Believe me, I used to be that person. Now, I relish the moment that I can turn off my computer. Staying competitive as a telecommuter takes a lot of time. Personal time spent researching, learning new skills, and keeping your social media profiles up to date.

This is time that you have to invest yourself and that you don’t get paid for per se. The payoff comes in gaining new clients and more work.

Your computer becomes your livelihood. If it breaks or gets stolen that means down time, unpaid down time. I’ve had it happen, even with a backup. This means that you constantly need to be mindful of what you download or install onto your computer and what websites you visit. Also, you have to be mindful of your online behavior.

People who work from home make more than office workers.

You may make less per hour than at a traditional 9-5. You don’t have a guaranteed salary and get paid exactly for what you work. Also, sick days and vacation generally are unpaid.

Financial responsibility for work-related necessities generally fall on you. There are no monthly Office Depot deliveries (unless you’re paying) or automatic upgrades to your workstation.

You can’t get something for nothing.

That’s the bad news in a nutshell.

Now, in my case, telecommuting has been worth the trade-offs. Back in my office days, I constantly had to take time off due to family obligations such as doctor appointments, parent/teacher conferences, etc.

Since I started this journey, my productivity has increased enormously. I am now able to schedule my work and appointments in a way that allows me to have the best of both worlds. I may make less per hour, but when I broke down my expenses working outside of the home it evened out. In the old days, I worked three eight hour days just to pay for childcare and gas!

In today’s plugged-in society, telecommuting is becoming the norm for many people, with some companies comprised completely of remote workers. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is cut out for it. It takes discipline, motivation, and realistic expectations to succeed.

What is your take on telecommuting? What are some common misconceptions about remote workers that you have observed? Please share in the comments below!