Working From Home – The Challenges & Benefits

Sure, working from home has its perks, but it also is not for everyone. After I graduated college, I worked from home on my own websites for a little over a year. Then I started to go stir crazy because I pretty much did the exact same thing every day, which was sit on my couch with my laptop and update websites all day by myself. Oftentimes, I did not leave the house for several days at a time and had very limited social interaction with, you know, actual real-life human beings. So I started looking around for possible side jobs for an excuse to get out of the house. I scoured Craigslist for random gigs and seriously considered being a neighborhood dog walker for 6 dogs three times a week, but just as I was about to accept that position, I came across an opening at a local online marketing company, which was right up my alley so I jumped on it. That was all fine and dandy for the first few weeks, but then I realized that the company was gradually going out of business and bouncing my paychecks. They eventually were acquired by some other company and offered me a job to stay on board, but I declined and I am glad I did.

Since I wasn’t expecting to only be at the job for six months, I didn’t really have a back up plan in place. I had neglected the websites I had previously worked on everyday from home and as a result, they weren’t bringing in as much dough as they did when I updated them 7 days a week. So I started looking for other jobs. Just by chance, I fell into a position as a web developer for a small local web design company. This was actually my ideal job and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. While the office was in a sweet location in the heart of downtown, I eventually started to get tired of having to wake up early, take a shower, dress in clothes other than pajamas, and drive 15 minutes downtown every day. You know, like what everyone else does that has a job. So I started to work from home once a week and then go into the office the other days. I would gradually work more and more from home and then eventually I just made the switch to work entirely from home once again (except for random meetings with clients, etc.), which I have been doing for the past 10 months or so. For the most part, I prefer working from home versus working in an office.

However, there are some challenges for working from home:

1. The biggest one is that anyone who doesn’t work from home assumes that everyone who does work from home “doesn’t have a real job.” Which somehow means you should always be available to run and pick up their dry cleaning at a moment’s notice or just hang out whenever they want to hang out. Because, I mean, what else are you gonna do?

The way to solve this is by clearly explaining to them that you do have a real job with real tasks and real responsibilities. Then ask them if they would like it if you just came and visited them at their office and hung out in their cubicle for three hours. Obviously, they would say that is a ridiculous question and it is. But explaining it that way somehow gets through to them that they should acknowledge that you have a job just like everyone else, regardless of whether you work from home or in an office.

If they still don’t get it, then just don’t talk to them during business hours. Don’t answer their calls or respond to their texts and emails. Eventually they’ll get the hint.

2. Once you’ve conveyed to your friends and family that you in fact do actually have a job and that they shouldn’t ask you to babysit their twins on Tuesday for three hours while they go to the mall, the next hardest challenge is dealing with yourself. I am talking about self discipline. When you work in an office in a cube farm where there are mid-level managers constantly walking around to make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing, it is a lot easier to stay on task.  When you are working from home and/or being your own boss, it is entirely up to you to get things done.

At first, you love your new found freedom. You can work in pajamas, eat anytime you want, play the radio or TV as loud as you want, keep the thermostat exactly where you want it, etc. etc. However, this excitement will eventually subside when the novelty wears off and you realize that no matter how comfortable your pajamas and your recliner are, you still have to get work done. This can be challenging because you figure, “Oh, I can do a load of laundry while I’m working from home” which may eventually turn into “multiple loads of laundry, and a quick trip to the post office and maybe catch a movie while I’m out” if you do not have really strict self discipline.

What I have found to help A LOT is to set aside a designated room or area of your house that you use ONLY as an office or for work related activities. Previously, while I was enjoying working from the couch, I could feel that my productivity was starting to slip, so I converted a small extra bedroom into my office that I only use during the workweek. This works for several reasons, two of which I will include here. First, you can keep all of your work related supplies and materials all in one place so you don’t need to worry about whether or not your wife threw out your latest invoice that was sitting on the coffee table. Second, you have a specific place that you can focus on only working and being in a work mindset, which gives you the rest of the house to enjoy and relax in. This is critical to success working from home, which I will explain more about in my next point.

3. Another challenge for work-at-homers is keeping your work and home life separate. To people who do not work from home, they actually have a physical distance separating the office from their homes. It may not sound like a big deal if you have never worked from home, but keeping the two separate is paramount to success.

Otherwise, once you start blending the two by doing something like answering work related email after business hours while you’re supposed to be watching a movie with your kids or pulling all-nighters to work on a project just because you can in the comfort of your own home, then you start getting into trouble. The biggest effect is that you will eventually be in a constant working mindset, which means you will never be able to truly relax since you are always thinking about work. Not only is that just unnecessary stress that can take its toll on your emotional and physical well-being, you are not able to enjoy the things you should be enjoying. Which means your relationships with everyone you care about may start to suffer, which can cause huge problems with your spouse and/or kids. Obviously, this is not ideal!

So the old adage still rings true – “Don’t bring your work home” especially if you work from home. 🙂

These three points I made above are what I think are the primary challenges. If you can handle all three of those, then you should have no problem successfully working from home. Here are a few other challenges that I consider less important –

4. Exercise! – When you work from home, you can roll out of bed and walk downstairs to your home office and remain there for the rest of the day, effectively burning about a total of six calories all day. Unless you actively make a choice to do some kind of physical exercise and/or watch what you eat, it is almost certain that you will put on some pounds. The movements that non-home-workers take for granted such as walking to your car, walking down the steps in the parking deck to your office, walking around the office throughout the day, walking to and from lunch, walking back to your car at the end of the day all add up and burn calories without even realizing it. So in order to simply be on par with the rest of the normal workforce, you must actually move around. Whether its walking around the block or doing 50 pushups, you need to make sure you do some kind of physical activity every day. I recently purchased a FitBit, which has helped me keep track of the amount of, or lack thereof, physical activity needed to burn enough calories to not get really fat.  Doing so is not only beneficial for not getting really obese and physical unhealthy, but it is also critical for keeping your mental health in check, which I will explain in my next point.

5. Working from home every day usually means you don’t have to leave the house unless you really need to. This means you can go days without leaving the house and if you live alone or have a spouse or roommate and you only see them whenever they are home, you can go days without ever actually seeing another human being in real life. Even if you prefer to work by yourself, like many computer geeks like myself usually do prefer, going too many days without seeing and interacting with other people can really take its toll. Believe it or not, human beings are social animals and NEED this human interaction to survive. Otherwise, you can gradually lose your ability to act normal in social situations, thus leading to anxiety and paranoia and possibly even depression, resulting in an awful downward spiral that will eventually lead to your death! Okay, just kidding, that was a little extreme, but I definitely have experienced anxiety interacting even with some of my closest friends after having not seen anyone else for several days in a row.

Now that I am married, we actually make it a point to hang out with friends or go out to dinner or play on random sports teams so it’s no longer really a problem for me. But if I was still a single bachelor living alone and working from home, I could easily see myself still going days on end without interacting with other people and probably turning into a social retard.

6. If you have a job that requires you to interact and meet with clients, then more often than not, your home office is not an option for an appropriate meeting place. Luckily, I have access to an office downtown to meet with clients whenever I need to, but for others, this may be a problem. The lack of a “real office” may also limit your ability to attract new clients since a lot of people and businesses still don’t consider working from home to be a “real job.”

Also, real offices usually have all of the resources and tools necessary for running everyday operations, such as always having enough printer paper or a fax machine. If you don’t have a fax machine in your home office, like I don’t, and your job requires you to use one often then you need to either get access to one or sign up for an online faxing service, which usually does whatever you need to do anyways. But my point is that it is up to you to make sure your home office is fully equipped for whatever you need to complete your job, otherwise you will need to go out and buy them or somehow get access to whatever you need.

Along the same lines, if you work from home and not in a “real office”, then you will have the distractions that come with the home. That means when you are on a conference call, the neighbor’s dog starts barking or the UPS guy keeps ringing the doorbell. Obviously, this is less than ideal and doesn’t exactly convey “professional” to whomever you are talking to on the phone.

That covers all of the main challenges and benefits of working from home that I can think of. Let me know if you have any other suggestions or comments.