Working from home has become so popular and common that its corporate acronym has become a hashtag. #WFH tweets, snaps and instagrams flood my feed on a regular basis — some from people permitted to work from home because of weather or sickness, some from people whose company gives them 1-2 WFH days a week, some from people who WFH every day, like me.
I’ve worked from home for going on four years. I have a dedicated office space with a better set up than I can expect any time a client calls me onsite for a project. I am organized, focused and productive. And, if I may speak freely, I’d like to say that a lot of what you’ve heard (or what your boss thinks) about working from home is complete and utter bullshit.
There are a lot of common misconceptions or assumptions about working from home. I could discuss the pros and cons of working from home all day, but, in the interest of having a productive day working from home, here are just a few thoughts on work-from-home ‘myths’ per my personal experiences.
This is the number 1 excuse your boss and your bosses boss uses to condemn working from home. But it isn’t true — or at least it doesn’t have to be true! Sure, working from home isn’t for everybody, if you are easily susceptible to distraction, perhaps you will find yourself less productive working from home. However, many people find themselves more productive when they work from home. Think about it — how much more distracting is your own home vs. your office. At home, you have complete control over your environment. Too cold? Turn up the heat. Prefer lower lighting? Set the mood. Make better coffee than your coworkers? Brew it up. At home, no one can just ‘swing by your desk’. You don’t have to indulge Steve’s movie recommendations or Wendy’s office gossip. You don’t get sucked into counterproductive or distracting conversations. You don’t get pulled into [as many] meetings that could have been accomplished in an email.If you need to focus and work on something — just turn off your company chat. At home, you don’t have to worry about what is going on at home. Have a package coming today? Desperately need to get a load of laundry done? Need to meet the plumber? Is it more of a distraction to take a break and throw a load of laundry in or to spend half your work day thinking and stressing about things you need to get done when you get home?
Personally, I find myself way more productive when I work from my home office. I am much more aware of my workload and flow. I am more comfortable and less anxious about getting waylaid by meetings, coworkers, fluorescent-induced migraines or the interminable cold that is office buildings. Plus, if I am struggling with a project, I can easily step away and give my brain a little break and return with a fresh perspective. Could I do that at an office? Yes, but those brain breaks were often limited to walking to the kitchen and getting a snack that I don’t need.
Sometimes, yes. But most of the time it just means working while comfortable. Even working in an office, my industry allows for more casual work attire, but still, there is something magical to not having to think too hard about what you put on in the morning. I don’t have to dress for a commute, a potential client drive-by or a finicky office thermostat. If I misjudged the weather, I can easily change or adjust the temperature in my house. I don’t feel pressured to wear make up or put my contacts in. If I want to dress up, I can. If I want to wear slippers at my desk, I can.
Personally, I find myself more productive when I get dressed for the day. It is hard to get in work mode if you are still in your jammies or yoga pants. That said, I’ve been known to change my top and throw on some eyeliner just before a video call with a client.
Oh my goodness, no. I am working. I am working from home, but I am still working. Does it make scheduling a mid-day dentist appointment a little easier? Yes. But it doesn’t mean I’m available for endless social dates and calls. Someone please explain this one to my family.
Yes and no. Like I said before, working from home isn’t for everyone. It is very easy to feel like you are going stir crazy when you work from home — especially if your partner does not work from home as well, or if you don’t have any kids or pets.
Presently, my whole company works from my home office. We’re a small operation, just 3 creatives, but we all work together in my home office. This, combined with a healthy after-hours social life, keeps me sane. When I did work from home alone, I had to make a concerted effort to interact with people throughout the day — whether that meant chatting with a friend online or just leaving the house for lunch. Nowadays, even though I see my coworkers and my spouse every day, I keep an eye on how often (or not) I socialize.
However, this is hardly a work-from-home issue. Feeling lonely is easy — even if you work in an office with hundreds of people all day. Whether you are legitimately alone or just feel lost in the crowd, take care of yourself. Make plans, find lunch buddies, tweet, go on short walks. And, push yourself to do things after work — no matter how tired you are or how shitty the weather is.
Which brings me to my last work-from-home myth…
What a great segue! Like most of existence, balancing work and life takes work. We all know plenty of people with average 9-5 jobs that struggle with work/life balance. A big part of separating your work and your personal lives is learning to manage expectations. Whether you work from a home office or a big building downtown, set boundaries. Try not to answer work emails after hours or on weekends — and don’t let your bosses guilt you about it. Don’t stay at the office or at your desk later than you have to — I have even gone as far as setting up a separate desk for non-work related writing. Make realistic task lists for the workday or work week. Remember to eat lunch.
Is it hard to avoid an entire room/area of your house? Yes. Is it easy to get home from a long day at the office and decide you’d rather stay in than go to that thing you had planned? Yes. But, is it worth the effort to do whatever you can to balance your career and your life? A thousand times yes.
A good place to start: put as much thought and effort into making social plans as you do making your to-do list for work or meeting deadlines. Make plans, make commitments and make every effort to keep them.
Maybe working from home is your dream — maybe it is your nightmare.
In short — everyone is different. In a perfect world, every employer would give employees the option to work from home (at least occasionally). Of course, this wouldn’t work for some professions — doctors might find it hard to work from home. But, the point is that everyone has different work styles and preferences. For example, I have a really hard time focusing if I’m even a little too cold or too warm — I’ve known that since grade school. Some people do better in office environments, and some do better on their own/at home. It is in employers’ best interests to allow their employees to explore those preferences and discover their ideal, most productive work environment.
I will leave you with a quick anecdote. I once had a boss that was so anti WFH that, with a polar vortex on the horizon, they told us to prepare to come into the office no matter what. Schools were cancelling classes and there was a 5 minute frostbite warning out, but God forbid we not trudge to the office to do our work the next day. They even went as far as offering to send a car to pick up those of us who relied on the CTA if necessary. The directive was clear: don’t even prepare to work from home, because you aren’t going to. When the morning’s weather proved to be just as uninhabitable as the weatherman had predicted, they finally said ‘fine, work from home.’ Were we productive? Not at all — but not because we were distracted or lazy, we were unproductive because we were unprepared. We didn’t have access to all of the files or programs we needed because we were told we were never going to work from home.
Like any productive workday, working from home requires a plan. The more prepared you are, the more focused and productive you will be.
Update – I am now the proud owner (renter) of an office space, so I no longer work from home. That said, I still work for myself, so these challenges and misconceptions still apply.
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