Whenever I meet someone new and we get to talking about work and I say that I work remotely (I try to avoid saying “work from home”), I’m immediately greeted with “Oh, you’re so lucky. Working from home must be so nice, never having to get dressed, going out whenever you feel like it, spending more time with your family. Oh, I envy you!”
But see, while some elements of this might be true, that picture-perfect fantasy couldn’t be much further from reality for professionals who work remotely. Don’t get me wrong — I love my job, and I wouldn’t have been able to work with all the amazing clients I’ve encountered across the globe if I couldn’t work remotely. But it’s not all sunshine and daisies. Although it has so many benefits, working remotely is a real challenge. I put together this post so you’ve got an insider’s view on what it’s really like for professionals who work from home.
You know all those distractions in the office? The ones that you say are a major reason you want to work from home? Well, times those by 50 and you’ll come close to how many distractions you’ll encounter from home. When we’re in our home, even if we closet ourselves away in an office space or a corner of the spare room, there are endless distractions. Kids. Pets. That Walking Dead box set with only a couple of episodes left — work will still be there after the zombie-fest, right? Then there’s that load of laundry that really needs to go in the machine. Did you check your voice messages? And you better check the refrigerator in case you need to make a run to the store. And oh look, you’re low on milk and eggs — better go and get some before the rest of the family get home. See? When you’re at home, you’re in serious danger of losing your productivity. Whether it’s mundane chores like putting the laundry in or preparing dinner, or something more exciting like a quick episode of your favorite show or 30 minutes of hard-core, button-mashing gaming to unwind, there are so many things around you that can easily snatch you away from work mode. And this is one of the key things that makes working remotely such a challenge.
With the right amount of discipline and focus, though, these distractions become easier to ignore over time, and are considerably less disruptive than all that office drama and politicking. Can you believe Sophie’s boyfriend dumped her for that skinny girl in I.T.?!?
And then there’s the friends and relatives. Oh, boy! You’d be amazed at how many of the people close to you just don’t get that having your office at home is a real job. I’ve been location-independent for close to fifteen years, and my in-laws still don’t get it. They’ve even said right out loud “Well, it’s not like you have a real job, you work from home”. Ha! As a remote worker, you’ll meet this ‘tude again and again. If your office is at home, you’re clearly just bumming around, right? You’ve always got time to pop over to see relatives, do a little DIY for them, run a few errands and the like. And hey, you’re at home, so they can drop in on you whenever they feel like it, and you’ll happily abandon your so-called work and entertain them like the perfect host. And, because you’re at home and therefore obviously at the beck and call of everyone you know, if someone needs a babysitter? You better run and hide, because you’ll be their first port of call. So get ready for some pretty tough conversations with your friends and family. You’ll also have to repeat these conversations periodically because they’ll forget and slip back into their old habits.
You’re fighting the stigma attached to remote working which is compounded by the millions of memes and stock photos that are plastered all over the internet, showing people relaxing in a sun lounger on a tropical beach with a tablet in one hand and a cocktail in another. Or the images of an ecstatically smiling mom bouncing a baby or two on her knee while at the computer. Or the lazy millennial guy in his PJs grinning like a loon while he’s browsing his smartphone while laying on the sofa. Like this:
Having said all that, I wouldn’t swap my remote work for anything. I’m a professional who happens to work remotely. I’m location-independent or location-agnostic, and I wouldn’t change it. I know I painted a pretty grim and mildly amusing portrait of working from home, but the key takeaway is that you need discipline. If you can discipline yourself and have the necessary focus and drive to ignore all those tantalizing home-related distractions, you’ll thrive working from home. It can just be a bit of an uphill battle when you first start.
I’m a valued senior professional in my field, my work speaks for itself, and there are never any complaints about work quality or productivity. Do I go to work in comfy pants? Yes, absolutely. Does wearing comfortable pants mean I’m less productive? Unsurprisingly, no. Do I get to spend more time with my family? Yes. It’s great. Do I sometimes have to work at a kid’s soccer practice? Yes — I sit in the bleachers and catch up on emails, reports, blogging, or whatever else I can get through in that hour.
Now that I’ve just about convinced my loved ones that I really am working, even though my office happens to be at home, one of my biggest remaining challenges is switching off. When you work at an office, when 5 pm rolls around, you switch off your computer and check out. When your home is your office, it’s much harder to shut off at 5 pm and go back to family life.
The line between home and work is blurred, and you’ll often find yourself putting in an extra hour or two, or checking your email, the status of a report, scheduling meetings, or something else that’s work-related way after your office hours should be finished.
My business also requires me to work with professionals in other countries and, when you factor in time zones, setting strict office hours and sticking to them becomes a lot harder. Again, it comes right back to self-discipline. You have to train yourself to switch off. Just like you have to train yourself to get into work mode, you have to train yourself to get into home mode. It’s vital. Otherwise, you’ll get to the over-work or dreaded burn-out stage because you’re spending every spare minute, at any time of the day or night, dealing with work stuff.
I’ve been there, and it’s a horrid place to be. So you have to get in the habit of setting office hours and sticking to them. Let your employer or your clients know what those hours are so they know what to expect — this is a crucial step that’s not to be missed — otherwise, they may just think you’re slow, not productive enough, or have gone MIA.
For me, nowadays, it’s even more difficult to switch off — I own and operate multiple websites, including this green living site, which is a growing passion project of mine, have numerous small side projects, and still take on the occasional client or two if their project interests me. And I’m hard on myself — harder than any client will ever be. I’m my own client and I hold myself to insanely high standards, so now I’m working on my own projects more than client work, it’s harder than ever to shut off.
If possible, remove all work-related apps from your mobile devices — email, company apps, and the like. If that’s not possible, because sometimes you conduct business on those devices, get yourself a second set — one for home, with no work-related stuff installed — and one for work that only contains work stuff. And turn off your work devices at the end of your office hours. It’s much easier to switch off this way, and far less tempting to “quickly check in”.
It’s also a good idea to check yourself every few months to see if any naughty out-of-hours work things have crept back into your routine. You’ll be surprised at how much work you’re doing unconsciously outside of your set hours.
What It Really Looks Like When You Work From Home
You do everything right. You’re disciplined. You have a dedicated office space. Your significant other cares for the children during your working hours. And yet this is the reality of the remote professional:
I love this guy. I feel his pain. And I can’t help but laugh. His wife is fantastic! This is what it’s really like. It’s awesome, funny, aggravating, and so rewarding — and only another remote professional will understand.
Why Remote Working Is the Absolute Best:
At this point, you’re probably wondering why anyone works from home, right? Well, here are a few of the key benefits:
It saves time and money and significantly reduces stress levels. With rising costs of living across much of the country, people are having to move further out to find a home they can comfortably afford that meets their needs, meaning they’re moving further away from their offices, and having a much longer commute — with many people travelling for three hours each way, every day. Think what you could do with those six hours a day!
In spite of the crazy relatives, working past your allotted office hours, the pressures of balancing family and work, remote working is far less stressful than working in the office. There’s no drama or politics, fewer social niceties to observe, and you don’t need to feel like you’re under constant scrutiny. In the home office, you just focus on completing your work — and that’s it. The CDC have published multiple studies on the effects of stress at work and links to serious health complaints, including mental health disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, and more. And a study from Staples found that employees who worked remotely experienced 25-percent less work-related stress.
Working from home, as long as you follow basically healthy routines — like taking regular breaks, walking around, stretching at your desk, and eating a healthy diet — can significantly improve your physical and mental wellbeing. This is in no small part due to the reduction in your stress levels. And, a study by Canada Life found that employees working from home got sick less often than in-office counterparts and, even when they were suffering from mild ill-health, were still less likely to take a sick day than those in the office.
Countless studies show that remote workers are significantly more productive than their in-office counterparts, performing the same function. In 2013, a study of Ctrip, a travel site, found that employees working from home were 13 percent more productive than the in-office group. This equates to almost an extra day of work per person per week. That’s a pretty major increase. And, in June 2017, Global Workplace Analytics found that 86 percent of remote workers claimed to be more productive when working from home vs. the office. Add into that the hours saved by not commuting, less stress which produces a clearer, more focused mind, and less ill-health, and you can see how much more you can get done when working remotely.
As long as you get those office hours set out and you stick to them, you can make sure your work/life balance is right. And you can leave a little wiggle room in your schedule for those unexpected “life” moments — a sudden trip to the doctor’s — having to deal with a plumbing emergency — and so on. This balance isn’t easy to achieve when you first start working from home, but once you find it, it offers you an unrivaled sense of happiness and wellbeing.
One significant, but often overlooked benefit of remote working is that it’s better for the planet. Working from home is undoubtedly a greener choice. You’re reducing your carbon footprint because you’re not driving or taking up space on public transport every day. Because you’re not heading into the office, you’re less likely to stop and grab a plastic water bottle or a takeout coffee in a paper cup. You’ll brew your own at home. Or, if you do go grab a coffee in the morning before you start work, as this is a great way to reset and go from home mode to work mode, you’ll hopefully take a travel mug with you, instead.
The Benefits for Your Employer
If you’re trying to convince your boss that flexible working is a good plan — even just two or three days a week, remind them that remote working increases productivity, reduces employee turnover, and saves them money. And, if they’re worried about your productivity because they believe all those negative stereotypes, remind them that it’s easy to know when a remote worker isn’t performing well as production and communication grinds to a halt. Plus, with such advanced technology, time tracking and productivity software is readily available.