Working from home can help you find life balance, but it's not for everyone.
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With the flexibility that home-working affords, many people would jump at the chance to quit their office jobs to work from the comfort of their own home — which is even more appealing during the winter months! But it’s not all comfy pajamas and zippy emails, as you might imagine.
Over my career I’ve worked in all sorts of environments, from massive open spaces to tiny little offices with just enough room for a desk, a chair, and my lunch. In comparison, working from home has always sounded grand: a comfortable space, casual attire, and no need to pack a lunch. And I’m not alone, around 80 to 90 percent of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part time.
Now that I do work from home, I can say with confidence that, yes, it has big pluses. But isn’t always the best solution for everyone. So whether you’re deciding to launch your own business from home, or your boss is offering an opportunity to telecommute, here are a few points you might want to consider before boxing up your Manolo Blahniks and picking out a favorite chair in your local coffee shop…
It’s not all coffee shops and sunshine
Lots of us have that romantic notion of whiling the day away in our local coffee shops, looking smart, and sipping a delicious frappe, while earning a decent income. I’m sure, for some highly focused people, it works like that. If you’re able to block out the world and listen to your latest playlist while tapping away on your laptop then you are lucky. But, if you haven’t tried it, you might not know whether it would be the most productive working environment for you.
Coffee shops are notoriously small spaces with a few highly-coveted outlets, where you’ll be surrounded by Chatty-Cathys. Once or twice, I’ve even caught myself singing along to my iTunes (without meaning to share my off-key talents with the world). Plus, I feel guilty hogging a seat for a few hours whilst nursing a tepid cup of coffee. In fact, I feel so bad I end up ordering more drinks, as well as calorie-laden pastries — I just don’t have the strength to pick out that sensible salad option (I’m working hard! I deserve a treat!) — so the only thing I gain is pounds, not dollars.
Home is where the heart is
I always thought if I worked from home my house would automatically become spotless, but then I also thought I’d manage to incorporate exercise into my daily routine — sadly, my pilates video is still in its plastic wrapping. The reality is that I drop my kids at school, get home, and while I’m in the middle of clearing the breakfast dishes I get an email and that’s it — I’m straight in work mode and before you know it, it’s time to pick up the kids.
I’m just grateful I don’t have any clients come to my house, or if they did they’d be in for a shock. The professional veneer I’ve worked hard to adopt would be in tatters — between the various light sabres scattered around, and the endless piles of washing — my home is just that: a home. It is not a polished working environment; I don’t actually have an office and my desk is usually taken over by my youngest son and his countless pictures of Star Wars or Pokemon characters, which I’ll be obliged to hang somewhere — if I don’t accidentally (on purpose) spill tea on them, that is.
So if you have to invite clients or colleagues into your home, consider the ways your home life might disrupt your work one. That might mean finding enough time to hide the debris of your daily life before a meeting, whether it be last night’s pizza leftovers or thousands of lego pieces scattered all over the floor.
I’m terrible with anything that involves a wire. So if my internet goes down or my laptop is riddled with viruses, I am completely lost, I can’t just wander down the hallway into I.T. Tom’s office and ask for help. My I.T. department is my 17 year old son who, inconveniently, is often at school. Even if your company can offer remote technical help, that can still take some time, too. So if you are contemplating working from home you must consider your technological capacities: do you need upgrades, training, or a brand new top-of-the-line computer?
This one is a biggie; it’s vital to stay physically connected to people, you don’t want to cut yourself off from the outside world, and sometimes being in the house is isolating. Although I spend the day emailing colleagues or clients, sometimes you can’t beat physical interaction. I’m a bit of a people person and love to have a quick catch up with colleagues, and sometimes I do miss that office vibe — that’s why that favorite chair in the coffee shop can be appealing for work-at-home types.
Although you save time on what might be an otherwise lengthy commute, when you work from home you are surrounded by your work 24/7. With your laptop at the dining room table, there’s always that niggling feeling that you could be finishing a project, or that you’ve forgotten something vital… so why not just open up your email and check?
The irony is that when you’re home all day, you just can’t seem to escape work the same way you can at an office. Though with our constant accessibility, some would argue that very few of us can escape these days, regardless; smart phones, tablets and speedy broadband follow us everywhere. You can go to a desert island and still be tracked down by your boss sending you an urgent email (which, of course, only you are qualified to answer)! This is where we need to set our own limits—we have to know when to switch off, and actually do it. And that’s harder than it sounds.
Coffee shop costs aside, a lot of the time it is financially beneficial to be based at home. There’s no costly commuting or expensive lunches. And there’s not quite the same pressure to be suited and booted with immaculate hair and great accessories, so our wardrobe demands may require a smaller financial input. I also manage to save money on the “accidentals.” If I’m at home most of the day, I don’t have that same opportunity to sidle into a favorite shop that happens to cross my path on the commute. Of course, there’s always online shopping… a weakness that might require blocking certain sites for yourself when you work from home.
At the end of the day, there are hidden costs in both lifestyles, so be honest with yourself, and tally up what it will really cost you to work from your home.