The single biggest hurdle to online success is lack of discipline.
In my experience online, there has been one glaring issue that “work from home” employees encounter: lack of consistency and discipline. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, when you work from home, the temptation is to put work off until later … to sleep in … to read the political blogs … to watch the pMetrics live stat ticker for hours and hours … to justify the one, no two, no three games of Madden 2009.
More than anything else, I think that freelance workers on the web have to struggle with the lack of structure that working from home introduces. It’s this reason that so many online employers pay on a performance basis rather than a salary basis. But even performance based pay doesn’t solve the problem completely because it fails to account for loss of momentum (i.e. if you start a project and your new employee works for 3 weeks and then decides to work intermittently for the next 3 weeks, your plan to monetize the new site suddenly takes a back seat, and you start losing money. Sure, you can let the employee go, but then you’ve got to reinvest time in replacing the person, regaining momentum for the site, etc.)
When I hire a new full time salaried employee, as I’ve done five times in the last four months, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way of managing the new work-from-home situation is to closely monitor productivity. I hate micromanaging, but after employing dozens of full time employees, I’ve noticed a clear and distinct pattern. It doesn’t hold for everyone, but I’ve found that most work from home, full-time employees, left to their own devices, end up putting about 3-5 hours in on any given work day, when they are being paid for an 8 hour work day. Because of this natural human tendency, the only recourse I have is to repeat my expectations a few times, set minimum performance standards along with incentives, and if that doesn’t work, start applying pressure by voicing my disappointment and potential consequences.
I hate voicing my disappointment. It creates a negative work environment. I also hate setting minimum performance standards. My preference is to set performance incentives that motivate an employee to go above and beyond the call of duty. But that doesn’t often work. Rather, as most of us can understand, the incentive of sleeping-in or playing video games in the middle of the day often wins out.