Let’s talk about what it’s really like to work from home.
I’m sure you can easily imagine the benefits of being able to work at home, but until you’re actually there, it can be difficult to think of the downsides.
As a person who has done it for more than 10 years, I’d like to talk about the myths, misconceptions and drawbacks of working from your own home.
If you have a daily commute to a 9-5 job, you might have often dreamt about how green that grass is for the folks on the other side of the fence, the ones that work at home.
Wouldn’t it be great? No long drive or public transportation, no traffic, no annoying coworkers to distract you. Just the quiet solitude of home, sweet home.
I’ve worked from home for nearly my entire adult life. I consider myself extremely fortunate and have no illusions about it being much harder than a 9-5.
That being said, people who have not experienced working from home often tell me how great I have it, without ever considering that it may not be best thing in the world for them.
So to preface what I’ll be talking about here, I’d like to say this: Working at home is awesome, for some.
I know people who have tried it and simply couldn’t get into it. They couldn’t wait to get back to a "real office". Others love it at first, but are ultimately forced to realize that it may not be in their best interest for one reason or another.
Here are some things to consider before you decide to work from home.
It’s still work
It’s funny, but people who don’t work from home often fail to consider this key point: It’s very much still work.
You’re not on vacation, you can’t simply sit around and binge-watch Netflix all day. (At least not if you expect to earn a living.)
People who work from home still cheer when it’s time to clock out. They still love weekends, and hate Mondays. They still consider themselves to be overworked and underpaid. They still even have long meetings. If working from home is your solution to any of these issues, you’re in for a big surprise.
It doesn’t make the work more pleasant
If you hate what you do for a living, if you’re not passionate about it, you’ll still probably feel the same way about it when you do it at home. You’re simply moving the thing you hate closer to home.
If all that you dislike about your current job is the office building, or the workspace setup, or the two-hour commute you endure to get work, working from home will provide relief.
But if you feel you’re in the wrong line of work, then you might need to change a lot more than where you sit.
It’s hard to stay focused and productive at home
Working in a crowded office is so distracting! People are always talking around you or to you. Wouldn’t it be nice to go home and get some work done? Theoretically, yes. In practice, you’re simply swapping out distractions.
Without strict guidelines, when you’re at home, all the things you normally do in your personal time seeps into your work time.
During a typical workday, you might do laundry or dishes, take out the trash, walk the dog, break up fights between your kids, run to the grocery store, the list never ends.
Now add to this the fact that you suddenly feel freedom that you’ve never had before, and you’ve got a recipe for trouble.
No one will notice if you take a little break. Or maybe even a long break. Heck, you could just take a nice little nap couldn’t you? Why not watch a movie in the middle of the afternoon?
Before you know it, it’s 5pm and you haven’t done a single thing.
If you’re extremely self-driven and don’t need motivation from managers to be productive, working from home is a cinch. If not, then a more rigid work environment with a corporate structure might be a better option.
It can be lonely
Even if you’re an introvert, being home alone all day can be problematic.
When working from home, you have to commit the time to go out regularly. Try working from a coffee shop or coworking spaces in your area for a few hours a week.
For me personally, feeling lonely isn’t usually a problem. I’m a bit of a loner anyway, so working at home by myself feels pretty natural. That being said — so I don’t end up becoming an old hermit — I take extra care than most people would bother, to force myself out of the house after work to go interact with other humans.
These days, my wife works at home too and we’re good at calling each other out when it’s time to get out and see daylight again. Lots of people ask how I’m able to be around my spouse virtually all the time. It’s really enjoyable actually but, like working from home, it isn’t for everyone. (This is another story for another time.)
It’s hard to separate work-life and personal-life
When you work in an office, the transition at the end of the day as you head back home eases you out of work mode.
Everyone keeps talking about work-life balance, which is easier to achieve when there’s a very clear boundary between work and home.
But when you work at home, you’re simultaneously always at work and always at home. For some, this means easily slipping into a bad habit where work happens as long as you’re awake. And that’s not good for anyone.
People working from home need to find ways to draw boundaries, like creating a home office and dedicating themselves to only working in that area of the house. Then set hard deadlines for when you have to be in and out of your home office every day.
By the way, I’m fiercely against what most people think is the best thing about working at home: Sitting around, un-showered, in your PJs, all day.
I suggest having a routine that includes getting out of bed on time, showering and, yes, getting dressed just like you would if you were to leave the house.
It’s all about creating a mental pattern of "work mode" and "home mode", and being careful not to mix the signals together too much.
Your lifestyle is in danger of becoming sedentary
When you work at home, you sit around. A lot. Even the little walks you used to take, like from the car or train to your office, are gone. And before you know it, going to the kitchen to get a fresh cup of coffee is the extent of your daily physical exertion.
This will kill you.
That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not.
The way I’ve managed this issue is by forcing myself to go to the gym three to six times a week. I do this to stay alive.
When I had a talk with my doctor (your experience can and will vary) about the best way to not die while working at a desk job, he told me the key was change.
Sitting, standing, walking, and all of the above have their place in your workday. You’re a hunter-gatherer, you’re not designed to stay in one place the entire day.
While I’m working, I mix up my position a lot. I work from my couch, a chair, my standing desk, or my treadmill desk (my wife and I share all these workspaces). Why? You’ve probably heard that sitting all day sucks for your body. But the real secret is so does standing all day (comfort-wise).
And I know what you’re thinking right now: Seriously, a treadmill desk? Laugh all you want, but I loved mine the moment I jumped onto it and recommend it to anyone thinking about upgrading a home office. It’s actually not difficult at all to walk very slowly while typing, clicking, talking, or even designing. In fact, I find that it’s actually much easier on my body than my standing desk because standing still for more than an hour is brutal. But taking a leisurely and almost unconscious stroll on a treadmill desk? It feels great and is much more natural for me. Do I walk for eight hours a day? Not even close. More like one hour, or two if I’m really energetic. That hour makes a huge difference though. That’s five hours a week that I’m actually putting my body to work instead of resting it in a cushy desk chair.
You could miss out on opportunities
If you’re a remote worker and employed by a large company where your superiors and coworkers share a physical office space together, working from home has the potential to put you at a disadvantage professionally.
This situation occurs naturally and without any ill intent or malice. It’s not always possible or practical to bring remote workers in on all the things that in-house employees experience. The people in the office talk through things together, make decisions together, and might even receive promotions or exciting projects simply by virtue of being there.
There’s no easy fix for this situation, and it varies dramatically based on individual circumstances. The best advice I can offer is to continually find ways to make yourself valuable and let it be known that you’re always around and willing to jump into a conversation or meeting. If you can visit the office regularly, that helps immensely.
So that’s my spiel on working from home.
I thoroughly enjoy it and highly recommend it to anyone who, despite having read this article, still has a strong desire to work from home.