For lots of people, working from home sounds like a dream come true. Imagine dispensing with that dreaded commute that sucks your time and life away. Not having to get up and look your best every morning. Shouldn’t the people at work be impressed by what you can do and not what you look like anyway? Plus home is comfortable. It’s your place after all.
You’ve heard of people who’ve made the switch and you’re interested, but have you considered if it’s really a good fit for you? I’ve spent the last decade working from home and wanted to share a bit of what I’ve experienced in that time. Here are some of the issues that tend to be overlooked when romanticizing about working from home.
Are You Self-Motivated?
I’m not trying to insult anyone here, but would you still do your job as well if no one was looking over your shoulder? When you’re working from home, you will have much less direct oversight of your minute to minute workday. Your boss won’t be there and it’s unlikely you’ll be in a video call all day every day.
Working from home requires you to be able to work autonomously successfully. Sure you still may have co-workers that that are part of the same team, but it’s just not the same as being there physically with them. You have to be able to motivate yourself to get up and moving.
Asking for help may take a bit more work too. You can’t walk over to Sue’s desk and ask her what she’d do in this situation. Sure you’ll have Slack or some other tool to help you communicate, but you’ll discover that being able to find your own answers is a key skill needed to work from home.
Can You Handle Distractions?
At home, the distractions are different from the ones in an office and some of those distractions are the most important things in your life. I love my kids and I’m thrilled that working from home has let me spend so much more time with them than my dad got to be with me. But they can be a huge distraction.
From settling arguments over who gets to hold the remote control to fixing snacks these little blessings can easily take over an afternoon. If I was working from an office outside of the house, this wouldn’t be an issue. Sure they’ll call from time to time, but it’s not the same distraction as being there with them in person.
Sometimes it’s easy for the people around you to forget that you’re at work. Occasionally I’ll sit on the couch for work. It’s comfortable and is a change of scenery from my desk. Me sitting on the sofa working on my laptop looks a lot like me sitting on the sofa shopping for something on Amazon. It’s important to be able to communicate when you’re working and when you’re not.
We haven’t even talked about distractions like laundry, doing dishes, phone calls from your mom and Netflix! Working from an office, you wouldn’t likely consider having Netflix on all day while you work. At home, only you can keep yourself from binge-watching all day.
You have to find a way to manage the unique distractions that happen at home. Sure you can set the temperature and decide what music (if any) is playing. But the countless distractions at home have to be dealt with.
How Does Remote Work Function at Your Company?
A few years ago, we picked up a classmate of one of my sons and dropped her off at home most afternoons. Her mom worked from home, but the company she worked for essentially had her locked to her chair. Some days she couldn’t get up to even let her daughter in! It was dreadful and thankfully she was able to get out of that job.
For other companies, they do handle remote workers well, but they end up missing out on lots what’s happening at the company. Decisions are made in the hallways and impromptu meetings over sushi at lunch. When you’re not present there can be a tendency to just not think about including you. Out of sight, out of mind.
That’s one of the things I love about Automattic. We don’t work remotely; the entire company is distributed. We’re all working apart from one another physically so there’s not an us/them situation that often happens.
If you do work remotely for a company that has an office, you’ll need to make sure you stay connected. It may require physically being there some of the time to ensure you’re not forgotten.
Do You Like Being Alone?
Some people are better suited to working alone than others. At a recent Automattic Grand Meetup, we had lanyards that you could add small buttons to that would identify certain traits about you. The only one we ran out of was the “introvert” one.
For introverts, working from home can be highly desirable, but the lack of in-person interaction can be tough on some people. I have three school-age sons and my wife recently started an online business and will be working from home too soon. I’m not alone at home very much.
I’ve found I have to work hard to keep balance in this aspect of my life. I do need time by myself for my long term emotional health. So for summer and Christmas break, that means I have to intentionally work outside of the house some, just to get a break from people. Putting on my headphones and working from a coffee shop during those times helps keep me sane.
Before committing to a career of working from home, try it on a short-term basis. See if it fits your personality and work style. Some jobs will let you try out remote work temporarily and others will require you to go through a trial period before letting you jump in full-time. That’s wise and I would suggest that for anyone considering working from home for the first time.
I’ve been working this way since 2008 and couldn’t imagine going back to an office every day for work. The benefits far outweigh the downsides for me and I think pretty much all 1000+ Automatticans would agree.
If you have any questions about working from home, let me know in the comments.