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Summary:

We talk a lot here on WWD about the benefits of being a web worker. But not everyone is suited to it, and not everyone likes it, despite the fact that the freedom and comfort of working from home can sound like nirvana. In “7 Signs […]

laptop-outsideWe talk a lot here on WWD about the benefits of being a web worker. But not everyone is suited to it, and not everyone likes it, despite the fact that the freedom and comfort of working from home can sound like nirvana. In “7 Signs That You’re Not (Yet) Cut Out For Teleworking,” Celine outlines seven traits that mean that web working could be hard for you. Maybe you see yourself in Celine’s seven signs, or you hesitate to describe yourself as outgoing and organized. Yet you still aspire to a web working career. What do you do?

After spending a few years as a self-employed web worker, I’ve assembled a list of a few traits that should be part of the optimal web worker personality. And there is good news, because they are traits that can be acquired through discipline and practice.

  • Flexibility. It is extremely difficult to maintain the extremely structured ways of the corporate world when working out of a home office. Web workers have to be able to roll with interruptions, and learn how to get things done without the backup and resources of a whole office. Sometimes this takes creativity and the willingness to do things a little differently.
  • Self-motivation. Successful web workers are the workers who are motivated from within to excel in their work, not by the fear of a boss who could be staring over their shoulder at any moment. This trait is especially important for self-employed web workers who don’t have to answer to even a distant boss in an office somewhere.
  • Focus. Being a web worker typically means being faced with lots of distractions: uncompleted personal tasks that are visible during work hours, social media, and email. The ability to focus on the task at hand despite distractions is critical to web worker success.
  • Organization. Web work means being entirely responsible for keeping track of large quantities of information, and for planning your own schedule. Being self-employed, in particular, requires detailed record keeping for financial purposes even if an accountant is doing the actual calculations.
  • Independence. Remote workers can’t ask the boss for direction on everything they do. Web workers have to be willing to take initiative on things themselves without asking explicit permission from a superior every step of the way.
  • Confidence. Co-workers aren’t easily available for web workers to ask for backup or a second opinion on their decisions. Along with the independence to make their own decisions, web workers then need the confidence to believe in the correctness of those decisions. Otherwise they will quickly be paralyzed by uncertainty and indecision.

All of these traits can be learned by a person who is self-aware and cares enough about their goals to make a serious attempt at change. Depending on the desired trait, helpful resources might include productivity sites like this one, self-help books or even a career coach. And you don’t need to set out to overhaul your personality completely. If you have a problem focusing, the goal should be to acquire just enough focus to function in your web work setting, not to be able to stare at the head of a pin while the ceiling crashes down on you.

Web workers who love what they do and who are naturally productive might find it hard to imagine that there are people who would actually prefer the more structured life of a traditional office. Yet there really are downsides to web work, especially for certain personalities. Pamela addressed one of these when she encouraged web workers to join groups to fight isolation.

The perceived freedom of being a web worker appeals to almost everyone from the outside. But the reality is that not everyone is suited to it or will actually be happy doing it. It is wise to take a hard look at your strengths and weaknesses, and what you really need to be a happy and productive worker, before jumping into something that is rewarding but challenging.

What traits have you found valuable as a web worker? What traits do you wish you had?

  1. I don’t understand this at all. I work from home but my day-to-day now is exactly the same as it was when I was in the office (minus the commute). My schedule is not any more flexible than it was in the office, I work from 9:30(ish) to 6(ish) monday through friday, not whatever 40 hours a week I feel like working.

    Freelancing might take extra self-motivation but in my opinion, working full time from home definitely does not.

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    1. Flexibility as I described it wasn’t intended to apply to your time schedule, but more to the methods that you must sometimes use to get things done when you don’t have all the corporate resources at your fingertips because you aren’t in the main office.

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  2. Oh, darn. You need an attention span? But, I lost mine years ago! Now what am I going to do… (grin)

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    1. Focus is my biggest challenge! I swear I have web work induced ADD. It is amazing how hard it can be at times to pick one thing when you have six projects waiting to be done, and then not have your mind wander to the other projects while you complete one.

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  3. After two years of freelancing I can safely say that I look more forward to days at home by myself in my office than those days on site at clients and out at meetings. I can start work within 10 minutes of finishing breakfast, don’t have to sit in traffic and can focus to get a full days work in without any bothering me.

    I would add “learn to say no” to the confidence section in the above article. After a few years freelancing you come across time and time again time wasters and potential clients that want all the bells and whistles but then reel back when you tell them that they will have to pay for your services. It’s tempting when you start out to want to schmooze with everyone with the hope of getting work. You can end up with whole half days in meetings, writing proposals and not getting anywhere. Rule of thumb is don’t spend any more time than you have to on any potential project unless you know what the clients budget is. If the client says they don’t know then I would stand back and wonder what you could be getting yourself into.

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  4. i totally agree with this… i work from home occassionally and i think these traits are a very imp part of me being successful at it.

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  5. I agree with all of these, but would add one other thought. For some working from home doesn’t work because they miss the change of scenario that work brings. While being at home all day is very appealing, some may feel shackled to their house or miss physically interacting with other people. While I wouldn’t consider myself a social butterfly, I find myself needing to get out at least once during the day to take a mental break from the house. That may mean taking a short walk, going to the gym, running an errand, etc. It’s a healthy way to stay connected with the outside world in a way the web can’t provide.

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  6. After years of freelancing and years of working in the corporate world, I’d say that this set of traits is necessary for both freelancers and corporate workers to be successful.

    In fact, these days, flexibility is probably the number one trait a corporate worker needs to have — as companies shift strategies and resources to save money and find new sources of revenue, those individuals who are able to role with the changes will be the most successful.

    Great post!

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