The ten most irritating things about working from home
10. Feeling socially out of the loop
Your colleagues may drive you up the wall, but we all miss the banter and workplace intrigue that comes from working in an office. It's also handy to know if your hugely hungover workmate isn't completely on point, but when you're working from home how can you tell?
The answer is social media. Whether it's Facebook, Windows Live Messenger or Twitter, befriending or following your colleagues will give you an insight into their personal lives which could be invaluable in judging how to tread. Whether they've just developed an obsession with Eve Online or their other half has decided to call it a day, status updates and tweets will stop you blundering in with your virtual size twelves.
9. Keeping track of what everyone is doing on a project
Collaborating on projects is difficult enough in the office, with emails flying everywhere, confusion about dates and several versions of a documents clogging up your inbox, but at least when you're all sat round a desk island any problems can be flagged up straight away.
When you're several miles away, the problems are dramatically increased. What you need is a way to keep track of everything to do with a project, and that's where collaboration tools come in.
At a basic level you can just use Google's services: a shared Google calendar and various shared Google Docs spreadsheets and word processing documents are enough for many projects. Those wanting a bit more power, though, as well as being able to use desktop-based rather than just web-based applications, should consider Microsoft's SharePoint. This provides a web-based portal for your project in which, among other things, you can store the project's calendars and documents. If you have Office 2010, multiple users can even edit documents at the same time.
An even better solution is Office 365, as Microsoft does all the hard setup work for you.
8. Making sure you always have the right files with you
When you're in the office, version control is easier; you work from a document on the company server, and even if you use more than one PC in the day there's still only one file in a central location.
It's when you want to work out of the office that things become a problem. Accessing a shared drive over a VPN can be horribly slow, so it's tempting to take files home on a USB key. This leads to possible conflicts with multiple file versions, as well as the worry of leaving the version you've been working on at home.
Step forward hybrid cloud services such as Microsoft's SkyDrive and Dropbox (www.dropbox.com). You install Dropbox on all your computers, and this gives you a folder which is synchronised automatically with Dropbox's own servers in the cloud. As the files are stored locally when you're working on them, everything runs at full speed, and if Dropbox is ever unsure which file is the latest it just keeps both copies and lets you decide.
Again, Office 365 provides an even neater solution: here the documents can be shared via SharePoint Online, but synchronised onto your home PC with ease.
7. Accessing in-house systems
Your company may be enlightened enough to have a powerful webmail and remote calendar service, and you may even be able to access your network drives over a VPN. Some in-house systems will still continue to elude you, though, whether it's a bespoke accounting system, an important database or the company intranet.
Never fear, though - it's easy enough simply to control your work PC as if you were sitting in front of it. Install a remote access service such as LogMeIn from www.logmein.com on your office PC and you can simply log into it from home - even blanking the office PC's screen and locking its keyboard if you don't want anyone commenting on your Farmville breaks.
6. Missing out on meetings
You may feel that not having to go to meetings is one of the biggest advantages of working remotely, but there are some office powwows you definitely don't want to miss. You could just dial in to the meeting room phone, but trying to understand what's happening when all you have to go on is a chorus of disembodied voices is hardly easy.
A better plan is to sweet-talk a colleague into putting a laptop with Skype and a webcam at the end of the table. You'll be able to see and hear what's going on, while if you have your own webcam at home those in the meeting will be able to see your half life-size head on the screen as you make your point, complete with grimaces and hand gestures.
5. Making sure people don't forget you exist
You may work hard, you may hit your deadlines and write impeccably polite emails, but if you're not in the office there's still the danger that come promotion time, you're just not at the forefront of people's minds.
You have to stay involved, and that's again where social networking comes in. Too much Facebook and Twitter usage lays you open to charges of slacking, so what you need is Yammer, from www.yammer.com - the enterprise social network. This is a private microblogging site along the lines of Twitter which only employees of your company can access. Here you can sound off about projects and news relevant to your company, while commenting thoughtfully on your colleagues' posts - so letting the world know you exist, guilt-free on the company clock and without leaking any trade secrets.
4. Not having your web passwords and bookmarks to hand
Many jobs are becoming increasingly reliant on web-based systems; in this company alone we have web-based absence and holiday management, web-based website statistics and the web-based content-management system we used to put this article up. All these services have different URLs, logins and passwords, and while these are all saved on a work PC's browser, you can be stuck for a vital login when at home.
Step forward third-party browser plugins such as LastPass. Add this to your browser and When it automatically synchronises your saved logins, passwords, bookmarks and history via its servers, so whichever computer you're using has the same data on it, for transparent and Post-It Note-free remote working.
If you're reading this, you're obviously a highly motivated individual who would never dream of wasting time at work. However, sometimes even the best of us can get stuck in a Facebook/YouTube/Spotify loop when there's no danger of a disapproving cleared throat behind us.
When you really have to get down to some serious work you need some way to block out the clutter that makes it hard to get anything done. Step up Freedom, from Macfreedom.com. This $10 program for Windows or Mac blocks internet access for up to eight hours at a time, so you can really crack on.
2. Missing phone calls
If you're sometimes at home and sometimes out of the office, it can be tricky for business contacts to know what number to call. You also may not want to give out your home phone or mobile number to all and sundry.
You don't need your clients to develop a relationship with your voicemail, though - just get a Skype Online Number. These are £11.50 inc VAT for three months or £40.25 inc VAT for a year, and anyone who calls the number is directed straight to your Skype phone - whenever you're online, anywhere in the world. You can even choose the landline area code you want, so any local contacts only pay the local rate to call you.
1. Trying to explain what you have on your screen to someone else over the phone
You may not like the idea of your boss standing over you, but sometimes it's the only way to show them why the figures in your spreadsheet really do add up, and they're just not reading it right - describing a complicated problem over the phone just won't do.
Inviting them round for tea isn't practical, so what you need is a way for your colleagues to see your screen in real time. There are several ways to do this, but the simplest is to use the free join.me service. You just have to run the small 1.5MB program on your PC, it gives you a URL for your colleagues to put in their web browser and they immediately can see what's on your screen, updated in real time. Just don't click the 'Share control' button unless you're sure you want someone else driving your PC.