Working From Home Is Not For Everyone

I thought I had won the job lottery when I got my first remote job, working for a very legitimate company half way across the globe. After years of in-office jobs―some that required a one-hour commute in the morning, and about one-and-a-half hours in the afternoon―I was ready to leave the car in the garage and work in my bunny slippers. “How could I be so lucky?” I thought.

As a self-claimed social introvert, working from home first seemed like a dream come true. It meant getting the space I usually need from fellow humans, which in turn would allow me to end my day feeling less drained. My commute would only consist of brushing my teeth and walking into my living room, where I had my ‘home office’ (or as people tend to call it, ‘the couch’). And by day’s end, I would feel more productive, as often times, interruptions and water-cooler conversations kept me in the office until late in the evening finishing work that I didn’t have time for during the day …. all because Suzy in Accounting had her mother-in-law in town over the weekend, and the woman is the anti-Christ in the flesh, or so she said.

The first few months of telecommuting went great. But not too long after that I realized that working from home has its negatives. Big ones. After little over two years of this arrangement, here I am at a Starbucks looking for the company of strangers I don’t plan to talk to at all―because social introvert.

If you’re the kind who slacks at work (c’mon, you know who you are), a job like mine would be ideal! But if you have a strong work ethic, and are strongly considering taking a job that will have you working remotely on a permanent basis, give it some thought. Now that I’ve become more acquainted with the art of telecommuting, I’ve assembled a list of pros and cons that may help you weigh in your decision:

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    • Your closet is always full of clean clothes. Huh? Yeah, clean clothes. Starting a wash while working is my way of feeling like I’m actively taking advantage of the conveniences of working from home. Even if I didn’t have enough laundry to run a wash, I would do so just because I could. Plus, by not having to dress up to go to the office, I get to wear my pajamas all day, which spares me two daily changes of clothes, along with their washing.
    • You’ll save on gas, car expenses, and/or public transportation costs. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but for me, it was. Before working from home, I would spend about $50 a week on gasoline, and had to take my car in for regular service quite often. If I were to calculate the approximate cost savings in a year, they would add up to about $3,000. That’s a lot of Iced Chai Tea Lattes (my guilty pleasure). And if you’re wondering “why didn’t she take public transportation?” then you should know I live in one of the worst planned cities in the U.S., where public transportation was a complete afterthought. That plus the metro here goes slower than my nana on her walker, post-stroke and two car accidents.
    • You don’t have to anticipate what you’ll want to have for lunch. Plus, no reheating (I hate nuked food). I don’t know you, but I hate being tied down by silly decisions like what to wear or eat. I would rather make those based on how I’m feeling right when I’m in front of the closet or fridge. Many times I would bring my lunch to work and end up tossing it or bringing it back home because I didn’t feel as enthusiastic about it as I felt that morning when I packed it in my lunch bag. And then I would have to go out to lunch with a co-worker which would mean having to socialize and listen to more mother-in-law stories. Yay.
    • You’re more productive, if you avoid distractions. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I have a strong work ethic. As sneaky and unethical as corporations can be, I am getting paid to do a job, and I don’t take that lightly. So I limit distractions and other interruptions to ensure I can be solely focused on my work. Working from home without someone stopping by my desk and asking me “do you have a few minutes?” every half an hour, made me a heck of a lot more productive.
    • Big news day? You don’t have to miss it. Assuming it wouldn’t disrupt my work, or that I could make up for lost time later in the day, I would never miss a big event. Sun eclipse? Watched it. Election Day? Saw the whole thing on TV. Royal Wedding? Won’t miss it! Sure you can watch it from your smartphone too, but having your boss two doors down made it a big difficult to do so and pretend to be hard at work.
    • You’ll stay dry and warm. If you live in a city with a ruthless rain or snow season, working from home will let you enjoy it all from the comfort of your home, with your cozy fringe-full blanket on. Unless, of course, something else requires that you leave home, like taking kids to school, if you have little ones. But still, this alone can be a life changer, so I get it … working from home is not all that bad for some.

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    • Loneliness. Even if you’re used to it (‘cuz, you know … introvert), working from home can eventually make you feel lonely and miss the camaraderie of co-workers. Give it a couple of years, and you’ll even miss the smell of microwaved fish, thanks to pescatarian Gary in the Marketing department and his disgusting tilapia. As much as human interaction drains me, I need some of it every now and then, and working in an office offered the best non-committal type of human contact, where ‘friendships’ happen because the two of you sit five feet from each other, but it won’t force you to hang out together on weekends or attend their boring birthday parties.
    • If you’re single and introvert, you’ll likely stay that way. My last four boyfriends were former co-workers of mine. And while I don’t necessarily recommend dating people from work, if you’re an introvert, work is primarily where you meet people (or in the case of introverts, where people meet you). Daily interaction―if two people are already slightly attracted to each other―can lead to relationships, saving us introverts from the awkwardness of having to socialize with a complete stranger just to find a potential mate. In other words, dating a co-worker may be a single introvert’s only chance at finding love.
    • Your friends and loved ones think you’re free during the day. I’ve been asked to babysit, pick people up at the airport, and run friends’ errands for others because, you know, “you work from home, so no one will notice if you’re not at work.” No hun, they do. That cute little baby of yours? He’ll start crying bloody murder the moment my boss hits me up on Skype. That flight arriving at 11:00 am? It coincides with my weekly team conference call to which I need to dial in. Plus … I have real work to do!
    • You won’t know when your day is supposed to end. Sure you can shut down your laptop at 6:00 pm. But chances are you’ll find yourself burning the midnight oil pretty often because there’s a report that needs to be finished or an assignment you need to submit for review, which should “only take you a couple more hours.” Famous last words. And, if you’re a remote worker because your company’s head office is somewhere in a different time zone, prepare to work your and their time zone. My boss at one of the companies I’ve telecommuted for would book me in analyst calls at midnight and pinged me on Skype at 3:00 am every now and then to see if I was awake and could answer a question.
    • You may be passed on for leadership positions or promotions. If your company has an actual office somewhere in the world, and you and your fellow telecommuters make up for less than 20% of its workforce, the company will almost always favor employees who report to the office for management roles, over remote workers. If you’re a star employee, they may still offer you the position … and ask you to move to the city where the office is located. Yep, that’s happened.
    • At the end of your day, you’ll crave going out while your partner wants to stay in. Working form home can give you cabin fever if you don’t make time to get out of the house at some point. But if you’re hoping to bring your partner, roommate or friend along, keep in mind that they’ve been out of the house all day themselves, and not even the offer of free fro-yo can lure them to go out with you.
    • Your health may be affected. Less walking, lots of sitting. If you’re considering a job that lets you work from home, chances are your job (whether at home or in an office) already consists of sitting in front of a computer. This means you should already be used to sitting down for extended periods of time. But at least, a meeting in the conference room, a walk to the office kitchen, the distance between the parking lot and your desk, and that long hall that takes you to the restrooms will all give you an excuse to get off your butt and walk a few more steps than you would at home. Earlier this year, on one of my busiest days, I checked my pedometer and I only clocked in 13 steps for the entire day. THIRTEEN STEPS. The reduction in physical activity and physical proximity to your fellow humans can affect your health without you even knowing, and can also lead you to…
    • …Weight gain. At least 15 pounds, since starting to work from home. Not only sitting all the time will help you put on the weight, but your fridge is just a few feet from you, and today we’re not having a Lean Cuisine frozen dinner, thank you very much. Mac and cheese anyone?
    • Your network will shrink. Who knows a good mechanic nearby? You won’t have co-workers to ask. A good doctor? Google it. Unless you have a solid group of friends, you’ll network of references and acquaintances will drastically shrink. Actually, I’ve met some of my closest friends through co-workers I’ve met while reporting to an office. I’m sure I’ve missed several chances to make new socially introverted friends or who knows what other opportunities I’ve missed ever since I started working from home.
    • Bosses may see you with less empathy. If your boss works out of an office and you telecommute, your boss may think you already have it easy because of your work arrangement. This may result in more work assigned to you, or in being reminded every day of “how lucky you are because you get to work from home,” says the boss. I once had a boss who would be on my case every morning she would get stuck in heavy traffic. Drove me nuts. Plus … you miss on the chance to make a real connection with your boss (and your co-workers, for that matter) which could come in handy when you miss a deadline because you needed to get Fido to the veterinary after he almost choked on an avocado pit he found in your trash can, next to your burnt avocado toast. (#NotATrueStory)

Maybe I’m wrong, but I really think working from home is not for everyone. If it is for you, but you’re still worried about some of the downsides, here are a few tips that may help you make the most of it:

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    • Go for a walk every day. Whether it’s on a sidewalk, a hallway, a stepper, or a treadmill, give your legs a good stretch and walk for at least an hour each day. Your heart will thank you later, and so will your extremely tight jeans.
    • Don’t be so eager to make yourself available at all times. This has been my lifelong Achilles heel. As a shameful people pleaser, I would feel guilty if I turned down an off-hours meeting or didn’t immediately answer an email. So I started making plans and claiming my time back. If needed, say you have a daily yoga class at 7:00 pm or any regular activity you can make up accurate stuff about if asked. Bonus points if you actually enroll in a class or any daily activity other than work to give yourself a break.
    • Block your lunch break in your schedule. You should do this regardless of whether you work from home or an office, but definitely if you work from home. There have been times when it would be 6:00 pm and there I was, having cereal, as I had skipped both breakfast and lunch in order to finish my work.
    • Invest in a standing desk or take your laptop to the kitchen counter. Alternate between standing up and sitting down by working on the kitchen counter or using a standing desk. I actually got myself a bar-high dining table with bar stools (because why not) and it makes standing up while working quite comfortable. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, much like you would do if you worked at a register or at any standing job.
    • Be proactive in telling your friends and family members how busy you are. I am not a fan of the ‘glorification of busy’, but in this case, letting your friends and family know that you’re busy in casual conversation will help remind them that ‘working from home’ does not me ‘staring at the stucco.’
    • Get an essential oil aroma diffuser. I’m sure your home already smells lovely to you, but not only your never-ending presence will make it smell musky to everyone else, the smell of essential oils will give your place some much needed ambiance, and help mitigate any feelings of loneliness. I prefer citrus smells like sweet orange. It’s a smell that’s supposed to keep you energized while deodorizing your stinky place. Peppermint is great, too.
    • Play music. Choose music that’s slightly upbeat, but background-ish enough to avoid disrupting your concentration. I’ve noticed that instrumental music works best for me as anything with lyrics will have me either giving a concert to my furniture or writing down lyrics instead of work-related stuff in my reports.
    • Play a screensaver on the TV screen. If, like me, your ‘home office’ is your living room, then you may want to play a screensaver on your TV. You don’t need to stare at it, but having it play in the background will bring motion to your eyesight, which breaks the otherwise eerie stillness of a home office. Some cable companies offer screensavers ‘on demand’ or through one of their channels. If you have Amazon Fire or Apple TV, you’ll also have access to dozens of screensavers.

I have yet to make working from home a 100% positive choice for me, but I’m working on it. The tips above have worked miracles for me, and I hope they do for you. Now, if you can guess by the length of this post, I’ve more than overstayed my welcome at this Starbucks. Later! end_carot_blk

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