Working from home sounds great, right?
No commute, no weird co-workers, the setting of your choosing, no stalling outside your building until the last second you can spare without being late, just setting your own schedule in general; there are plenty of advantages. The problem, of course, is that every single one of these advantages has a deadly double edge.
1. No commute.
I’ll admit this is pretty hard to argue against. I’ve driven to work and I’ve taken public transportation to work, neither is particularly fun and each comes with it’s own special sense of dread and desperation.
Driving is bad because, well, there are lots of other people driving and other drivers are the worst people. It’s early, you’re distracted by how frustrated you are at everyone around you doing the exact same thing as you, but you can’t get too distracted, because once this bottle neck inexplicably disappears in another three minutes, you’ll be controlling an enormous, powerful machine amongst other enormous, powerful machines.
Public Transport is bad because while other drivers are the worst, at least more than whatever you’re wearing separates you from them. If someone coughs in their car, that’s their problem, if they cough or sneeze or scratch or talk to themselves (etc etc etc etc) on the bus, that’s everyone’s problem. You exchange control for responsibility when you ride the bus. Not a good trade. I’d rather be frustrated than actively uncomfortable.
Commutes aren’t so bad because at least a) actively using your brain (driving), or b) around other people (public transportation). Working from home ensures neither of these until you a) actually get to business, or b) decide to go out into the world on some sort of break. There is absolutely something to be said for necessarily having to be in some kind of motion to get to work. For those who walk or bike or carpool to your job: sounds nice, sounds nice, sounds like taking the bus, but feeling obligated to talk as well.
2. No weird co-workers.
How weird are co-workers ever anyways? Not all that weird I feel like. Sure, it’s a strange dynamic to suss out at first: like, are we gonna hangout ever after work or, god forbid, over the weekend? What’re the deep-seeded, potentially fraught relationships and resentments I need to know about? Will they or won’t they? There’s plenty of room for ambiguity, especially at first, but after that, you’ll probably be left with a deep ambivalence towards everyone involved and vice versa. Ambivalence is definitively fine.
It’s pretty hard to be ambivalent about yourself though.
You can take yourself out for coffee. But did you invite yourself? No. In an office setting, hopefully, people do that. A lot of the ambivalence is held up by the need to interact. Even if it’s just to break up the monotony, people will settle for a simple exchange of innocuousness. Ever tried making small talk with yourself?
You’ll never have a weirder co-worker than you. With someone else around, as much as you may not care, but at least you don’t know what they did last weekend.
3. The Setting Of Your Choosing.
Maybe you’ve had great offices. I have not. There have been very few professional windows for me thus far (all meanings) and that’s decidedly not great. One of these few windows even came with a suicide-witnessing back-story, which shockingly did not make the window situation any more bearable. The point is that it’s nice to let some non-fluorescent light in. The trick is to not let in too much.
Finding the right space to work is probably the most important step for the homebound professional. You want somewhere comfortable, but not so comfortable that it’s distracting; somewhere familiar, but not too associated with another activity, i.e. bed, or in front of the TV; somewhere that with adequate lighting and easy access to a power outlet, and bathroom. The nice thing about going into an office is that all of these things have probably already been taken care of. You have a desk, you have a computer, you have a chair designed to seat a worker. You are not inches away from entertainment and/or rest. The only responsibility you have is to do your work, not the dishes, the laundry, to vacuum or get groceries.
Work-life balance is important, and it can get blurred to an equally damaging extent whether you’re never leaving the office, or your living room.
4. Stalling Before Work.
Because I took the bus to my last job, I had options for how I spent my pre-work day depending on how early I got up. Basically, I could spend fifteen minutes longer at home, or half an hour longer loitering around the downtown area.
I usually opted for the latter.
I could walk around the financial district, maybe even take a lap of a nearby park to watch senior citizens stretch, or walk out to the waterfront and breathe in the early morning air coming off of the bay. I could also sit in the Starbucks below my building, listen to radio stations from home on my phone and incessantly check the time as the ten to thirteen hours I’d spend with my three screens inched ever closer.
The beneficial part, of course, was that a specific time when those ten to thirteen hours began unwaveringly inched ever closer.
When you work from home, the issue of time management looms large. Much like when you’re unemployed, setting a schedule for yourself and following through on that routine is of the utmost importance. When other people are expecting to see you walk through a door in the same five-minute window every day, you have a social incentive as well as professional one to do so. You don’t want to be late because that will be a direct, and poor, reflection on you to others. The autonomy you lose by working in an office may produce anxiety, but sometimes that anxiety is the best way to jumpstart your productivity.
At home you wake up, make coffee, make breakfast, all at your own pace, with only you to judge your luxuriousness. It’s easy to be disappointed in yourself in retrospect, it’s much more difficult to shame yourself in the moment. At work you’ll at least feel immediate guilt about listening to one more podcast or reading one more blog post, at home, “Eh, you’ll just adjust your predetermined hours back an hour or two. No big deal.” It’s a slippery slope.
There are ways to avoid the unforeseen pitfalls of working from home. You can utilize co-working spaces, block distracting websites, plan out your day the night or weekend before, or just take responsibility for yourself, stick to your routine and only feel the smooth side of the blade.