I have been working from home for the last three-and-a-half years or so and despite what you may think, it’s no paradise. When you think of working from home you might imagine waking up at noon, commuting to your office downstairs and proceeding to work in your pajamas. Sitting at the laptop outside on a sunny day, sipping a coffee and listening to the radio. Lunches eaten in front of the TV. Maybe a quick sandwich followed by 45 minutes of Call of Duty multiplayer. Taking half days off (or maybe even full days) whenever you damn well feel like it.
You might imagine yourself designing you own custom work schedule, something much different than the typical 9-5, Monday to Friday. Perhaps you think you would work twelve hour days for three days in a row and then have four glorious days off each and every week. Or perhaps you’d work five hours or so a day, seven days a week. Work everyday but much shorter days. But, hey! You’re working from home, so you don’t even need a stupid schedule! Just work whenever and however you want, totally on a whim with no pre-programmed schedule to follow.
You might imagine these things and you might think that it all sounds like absolute heaven. What you wouldn’t imagine, however, is the reality of it.
Work whenever you want?
Depends. Are you working in a field like IT, or perhaps real estate? In fields like these you have clients to deal with and guess who your time belongs to? I’ll give you a hint: Not you.
Now, if you’re working a job in which there is a certain amount of work to do within a given time frame and that’s the extent of it, then yes, you would get to essentially work whenever you pleased. I do contractual work for a medical diagnostics company and this work entails me having a set amount of data to analyse each week. The only client is the company itself, and for the most part, I am left alone to do as I please. As long as the work is completed by the end of the week no one cares when it is done. This setup does then grant you the flexibility mentioned above. And when you have Crohn’s disease, as I do, this is an absolute blessing, for lack of a better word.
However, there are still those deadlines and if you think you’re not going to get surprise emails that suddenly require you to be on the spot and accountable, you’re either deluded or one of the rare few home based workers who truly have the ability to work exactly when they want to and never anytime else. And, as I said, I have Crohn’s disease. That means that a lot of the time I’m not so much working when I want to but when I am physically or mentally able, and those are two very different scenarios.
This contractual work is not representative of the majority of career options and so if you plan on working from home, I would be careful to consider the field you’re in and whether you would really be able to work whenever only you felt like it; often times, the reality is never exactly as you imagine it to be.
One example of this that I can speak to from personal experience is home based sales. You might imagine that this type of work would allow you to total flexibility since your work consists of merely finding/buying things you can list for sale followed by shipping them out once they do but what you don’t factor in is the customers. They are going to contact you with questions. They will contact you with complaints. These messages and emails will be coming in at random times of the day which means you will constantly be facing work or at least having to think about it. You’re either going to respond to these messages when they come in, which means your time is no longer yours, or you are going to ignore them and they will just sit there waiting for you, either sporadically or constantly on your mind, fracturing the peace you imagined experiencing during your non work hours. Work is hard to ignore when it’s making your phone vibrate several times a day (sometimes several times an hour or even every few minutes).
That all aside, any job in which you have people to deal with on a regular basis (bosses or clients) you need to consider this: When do most people work? If you have to be in contact with clients/bosses throughout the day and they work Mon-Fri 9-5, guess when you’re working? Hint: Not whenever you want.
The comforts of home?
I will admit right up front that it’s great being able to work without having to commute or brave the elements. And if you don’t have explicitly set hours then starting at 11am or even 2pm is entirely possible. Not having to get dressed in any specific types of clothes (or even any clothes at all if one were so inclined) is great, especially if you are like me and are entirely uncomfortable in “professional” attire. If one were so inclined one could just roll out of bed and be at the office seconds later. If you work on a laptop the mobility allows you to work anywhere you wish. If, one day, you would rather work on the couch than in the office you could and no one would have anything to say about it. If it’s a nice summer day and you want to work on the patio in a shaded area while sipping a lemonade you can.
But what if you want to share that witty joke with a coworker? What if you want to go to lunch with the guys? Stand outside the job site during break or after work smoking/eating/talking? What if you find it hard to separate work and home if work is at home and therefore never not where you are? Working at home can be a lonely, isolating, depressing endeavour. You can start to feel the line between work and home life blurring, threatening to disappear altogether on any given day. Since work is always right there, you can quickly start to feel like your leisure time is you just procrastinating and soon enough you can actually start feeling guilty for enjoying leisure activities at home.
Home/work life balance aside, there’s the issue of isolation hinted at above. Day in, day out, it’s you alone at work. No gags, jokes or memes. Just you and your work. You find yourself missing the social aspects of the traditional work environment. Even those break room birthday celebrations that you always thought were tacky and oh so contrived suddenly start taking on a much fonder form in your memory.All of that freedom from the shackles of the office environment suddenly becomes isolation and a sense of alienation from the outside world. And this brings me to my next point.
The outside world
The degree to which this one affects people who work from home will vary but if your situation tends towards being similar to mine, working from home might very well be the worst thing to ever happen to your social life. I’ve always been a little different than the rest. Always a little like I was on the outside looking in. Well, take a person like myself and take them physically out of societal interaction for the entirety of a working week and soon enough little ticks start to turn into large gulfs. Gulfs between the individual in question and the rest of society. Right now there’s a chasm between myself and the world at large that I think could turn into a damn canyon if I don’t start making more of an effort to integrate into the world out there.
Motivation, dedication and discipline.
Working from home will definitely test these. It’s not hard to imagine that for some, when a work day becomes being home without a boss around for the first time in their life, hedonistic chaos ensues. Those little breaks turn into long ones, which turn into entire days doing nothing but playing video games and eating ice cream. Working in front of the TV becomes watching TV with a laptop on your lap that you might throw a cursory glance at on occasion. Letting yourself sleep in a little becomes waking up at 4pm.
If you want to work from home you have to be aware of your negative tendencies and have techniques with which you can keep them in check because little slips in discipline in certain personality types can mean serious and perhaps irreversible trouble. You have to remember that working from home doesn’t mean not working. Sometimes it can even mean working more.
When you work a regular 9-5 you come to understand that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, if you put in a certain amount of effort you will always receive a set amount of money at regular intervals. There’s a certain comfort in that. There’s also, whether you think of it this way or not, an alleviation of responsibility on the part of the employee. You realize this pretty quickly when you are responsible for your own income. Suddenly, everything matters more than it used to, and paycheques aren’t always so regular. Often times, if you ask someone who left the “9-5 grind” to work for themselves how much less they work they’ll tell you they actually now work more. When you are more directly responsible for your economic survival and things are less guaranteed you feel compelled to push harder. Work longer. If some kind of work comes up you are less inclined to pass on it when there are no guarantees in terms of your regular income.
Of course, this is only for people that leave traditional work to go into business for themselves. What about those who start working from home without becoming self employed? While it seems that they shouldn’t be working any more simply because they are now working from home (and this I am sure is quite often the case for many people) there can be a pressure, either real or self imposed, to prove that working from home is anything but a detriment to the company. The end result of this is quite often an employee who pushes harder, striving to show their boss(es) that they were correct in allowing them to work from home.
Working from home comes with incredibly liberating advantages and the initial week or two feel absolutely fantastic but there are some serious downsides that render the whole prospect much less appealing than it at first seems. For some people, it might literally be the death of them. At least socially.