Instead of travelling to the office in traffic, answering your boss’s questions and fending off that annoying coworker, imagine sitting at your home computer in slippers, listening to music and enjoying a coffee while you do your work in peace and quiet.

Sound like a dream? In many industries this kind of set up is on the increase. Is the work from home arrangement right for you?

Coworkers: motivator, social outlet, distraction

When I first considered starting up my own business, I consulted with a colleague and friend with a history of successful startups. She told me that she had learned the hard way how much she needed a partner to work with when developing a new project. “The single most important question you need to answer,” she said, “is will I be motivated enough working alone?”

The same holds true for an employee working at home. Having other people around, whether they are working with you or alongside you, can be a powerful motivator, getting your creative juices going and keeping you focused throughout the day; while spending the day largely alone with your computer screen can dampen enthusiasm and lower output.

In addition, for some people, the office fills a real social need. If you spend most of your day working, and live alone, professional colleagues can become good friends who share your challenges and successes, and support you when you need it most. They can fill a pivotal social role in your life, and make your time at work meaningful and enjoyable. In fact, this social element can be a central consideration when deciding whether to remain at a current job or move on.

On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who cherishes time alone and finds the presence of others, pleasant and well meaning as they may be, to be a distraction and a deterrent to getting work done, you may find working at home a godsend.

Boss at your elbow

Does it help or hinder you to have your boss around? Of course, that will depend on the boss. But assuming that your boss is a helpful guide and a professional that you respect, how can you gain the most from her? If her presence is helpful to you in motivating you to get tasks done, or in giving you encouragement or guidance in real time, it would be a shame to lose out on that added value to your work.

If however, you tend to prefer figuring out solutions on your own, and are self motivated and self disciplined enough to focus on your tasks without your boss in the vicinity, perhaps work at home would free you to do your work better and faster.

Home: the biggest distraction

Work from home? Piles of laundry and dishes staring me in the face while I try to concentrate on my work? No, thank you!

Particularly for parents of small children or people with large families, working from home can create new tensions between the unfinished household tasks and the professional work at hand. The office can be a haven of cleanliness and order, with tasks that can actually be completed and do not reappear like clockwork when your back is turned.

Even if you don’t have small kids and a home that needs ongoing upkeep, for some people just being at home within arm’s reach of the things they love to do can be problematic. If you love to read, to cook, or to watch movies, for example, you may find yourself drawn to doing the things you love instead of those you are responsible to complete for work.

To make the transition to working from home a success, self discipline is essential. If you know that you tend to be distracted by your surroundings it may be wisest to remain in an office environment where the surroundings will reinforce what you are supposed to be doing.

Blurring the lines

The biggest challenge of working from your house is the blurring of the lines between work and home. If leaving the office for the day generally signals a clear transition, both for employee and employer, people who work at home may find it harder to make the switch, and find themselves still working far into the evening or very early in the morning; your boss may also begin to expect your constant availability if you work from home, and become annoyed or frustrated if you don’t respond to his 11 PM email within a few minutes.

You may be the kind of person who enjoys constant involvement with work, and doesn’t mind blurring the lines between work and home. However if you do want to keep the lines clear, you will need to be the one to clearly define — both for yourself and for your colleagues and supervisors — when you will and will not be available. Then comes the hard part: you have to stick to it.

A technical note

When figuring out the pros and cons of work from home, there are some technical and financial elements to bear in mind. Working in an office generally requires travel costs and time, as well as parking costs and parking stress; on the other hand, an office offers professional equipment and supplies, secretarial services, computers and printers, and the ability to initiate meetings in person on an ongoing basis instead of scheduling Skype or phone meetings.

Is working from home for you?

Making the decision to work from home requires real self awareness, and some honest soul searching. Only you really know if your personality is the right fit for the more disciplined and less social framework of work from home.

Ask yourself the questions outlined above, and give honest answers. If working from home is right for you, it is likely that you will be able to set up at least a part time work-from-home arrangement. If it’s not the right fit for you, embrace and appreciate what work in an office gives you in professional guidance, social support, and life structure. Clarifying the right professional environment for your personality can be a great blessing.