What No One Tells You About Working from Home and How to Make it Awesome Anyway
Working from home is a dream for many career professionals. No boss hovering over your shoulder, no pesky co-workers, no awful commutes, and a comfortable home workspace set up just the way you like it. It’s not necessarily the right fit for everyone, but it’s hard to deny the attractive qualities of a work from home opportunity.
But despite the various benefits of work from home positions, most folks tend to view them with a rose-tinted glass. People will center their focus only on all the great things they hear about working from home and all the wonderful benefits that come along with the territory. What they don’t often do is look past that to also see all the ugly or challenging parts. It’s not that working from home can’t be something great, there’s just not nearly enough talk about the potential pitfalls that are all too easy to fall into.
So that’s why I feel it’s important to share some of the challenges to look out for. I’ve personally held several work from home positions over the years, and to be honest, my first work from home experience was a mess. I’m at the point now, however, that my current work from home position is one of the most fulfilling and satisfying roles I’ve ever had thanks to these prior experiences and lessons learned.
By discussing the challenges that often come along with work from home positions, it is my hope that folks new to work from home jobs or interested in these opportunities can use this knowledge proactively to avoid the challenges entirely like I am able to do now in my own work. Planning and preparation are key and that begins with knowledge, so here’s everything that no one tells you about working from home, until now!
The Things That No One Tells You About Working From Home
Family Members Don’t Get It
One of the potential downsides to working from home is actually one of the very things you may be most looking forward to spending more time with. Your family.
They just don’t get it.
It’s not that your family members don’t think you’re working hard or that they think you’re just goofing off all day in the home office. In most cases, your family does understand that your work from home job has deadlines to meet, tasks that have to be done, meetings and phone calls that need to be made.
The problem is that your “presence” in the home invites all manner of distractions from family members during your work hours. They will often ask for your time and attention during your work hours when you don’t have the time or attention to give. They often assume you’re able to step away from your work or lend your help simply because you are “present”.
This gets worse when you do actually step away from your work area. Using the bathroom, grabbing a quick snack or drink, or just stepping out to get some fresh air suddenly becomes a gauntlet where you find yourself fending off requests and distractions from your family members who all seem to have instantly gravitated to you.
This may be a spouse that asks you for help around the house “quick” or asks you questions throughout the day. “Hey, where are my car keys? Can you help me find them?” It could be the family member that stops over out of the blue “because you’re home”. Children, especially if younger, may constantly be calling for Mommy or Daddy while at work, or just barging into the office to ask for your time and attention instead. Remember that viral video from BBC News of a live stream news report where the man’s children made their own appearance on camera? Moments like that are NOT rare, it happens!
While it can be an amazing perk to be able to offer your time and attention to family members as able during work hours, we don’t often have unlimited flexibility in our work from home positions. Helping a family member with a quick task or entertaining your child for 15 minutes during work hours can create a barrier against getting your work done in a timely manner. This creates stress on you later as you’re working late to get things finished up or feeling the stress of falling behind. Even the simplest of questions or requests from family (even if you politely decline them!), pull you out of the focus or concentration you may have been trying to get into for your work and it’s always frustrating trying to refind that focus once interrupted.
Initially, I wondered if this was only my family. But then I talked to many others who work from home and they all expressed the same sentiment. Family just doesn’t get it. It doesn’t how much you tell your family to minimize their distractions throughout the day. It doesn’t matter if you lock your office door or put up a “do not disturb” sign on the door. Whether it ends up being a lot of a little, your family will seek your time and attention. They love you and you are home. It’s up to us to get our work done and moderate the distraction it creates for us.
Distractions Are Terrible and They Are Everywhere
Our homes are our sanctuaries. They bring us peace, happiness, and comfort. It’s the one place we have to call our own and we tend to fill it with the things that bring us joy.
Unfortunately, these things that bring joy at home can turn into major distractions when working from home and they are everywhere!
TV, computers, video games, and other electronic devices are the main culprits. With no boss hovering over us, who’s to say we can’t watch TV while working through emails or perhaps play some video games in between meetings? Perhaps it’s browsing of the Internet for new articles to read, or constantly checking social media updates for what your friends and communities are up to.
But the really challenging part is that literally anything can be a distraction. Any hobby you have can turn into a distraction. Gardening, pets, reading books, woodworking, cooking, etc. While these activities may not always be detrimental to our work from home jobs, they can prove to be a slippery slope to lower efficiency at your job, poorer quality of work, and a worse feeling of work-life balance in the long run.
The distractions don’t stop just at the things we like to do at home… It can be other items like chores, errands, or household tasks. That dirty pile of dishes, the floor that needs to be swept, the laundry that needs to be done, etc. This list could go on forever. It may make you feel great to be taking care of these tasks during the workday, but they often come at the expense of having to work a little bit later into the day to make up for what you should have been doing at your job.
Distractions outside of your control is another matter to contend with and perhaps one of the worst primarily due to the inability to control them. This can be anything from receiving deliveries throughout the day, having a solicitor knock on the door, construction happening outside your home, noisy neighbors, or just the happenings of your household (especially if you have a busy house with children, pets, or roommates). There’s nothing worse than trying to sit down with a task that requires deep focus and concentration only for your neighbors to start blasting country music from their porch.
Overall, distractions when working from home are a major force to contend with. Sure, there are usually distractions if you worked on-site as well but I do feel that the distractions in the home are often greater. There is more available to do that you enjoy and the lack of supervision opens up more flexibility in your approach to working. Lastly, our homes are simply not set up to be businesses so we’re at the mercy of many distractions outside of our control, such as home or neighborhood activities.
Nonetheless, distractions can be part of any job, but it will take mindfulness and discipline to stay focused while working from home with so many fun things to do and all the freedom to pursue them. And dang those pesky neighbors!
Work-Life Balance is Harder to Achieve
When people first start working from home, they feel super excited by how wonderful their schedule will be and how much better of a work-life balance they will have. For some folks, just eliminating the commute can give them two hours back each day. It seems like a massive win all around, especially because work-life balance is such an important factor towards happiness in work and it’s something we should always try to seek.
And generally work from home opportunities DO allow us to have better work-life balance, but there is a catch. The catch is that it doesn’t come as easy we thought! It takes mindfulness, the careful setting of boundaries, discipline, and practice (and probably some trial and error, too!).
We just talked a lot about all the distractions that come along with working from home. It really is a practice in discipline to stay focused on completing our work within a certain time frame and avoiding those distractions. Every time we get distracted, it puts us at risk of losing focus and falling behind on the day’s tasks. Enough distractions throughout the day and next thing you know you’re up to 11PM or 12AM finishing up those tasks that should have been done by 5 or 6PM. Enough days like this and your work-life balance really begins to suffer.
Distractions are only one small piece of the challenge of achieving work-life balance. What’s actually more important is the ability to set very firm and clear boundaries for yourself in regards to your work from home life. It takes a lot of mindfulness for where to draw the line with how much you work and figuring out how best to separate work from home life.
This is easy to do when you work on-site. Your shift ends, you clock out, you leave work at work, and that’s it. You go home and enjoy your own life. Work will be there waiting for you the next day. If it’s the weekend, even better, a couple days off now! No worries either way.
This structure disappears completely when you work from home. Work is always only a few steps away. It’s VERY easy to find yourself starting to check emails after hours or on the weekends, or working on other tasks to “get caught up” or “get ahead”. It starts with good intentions, mind you, but it quickly can become a terribly destructive pattern that takes any shreds of work-life balance and annihilates it.
Next thing you know, the ideas of “work” and “home life” turn into this weird discombobulated mess with no separation whatsoever. It creates the most unusual (and horrible) feeling of always being at work but no longer having any sense of “life”. You also recognize you’re also always at home so how in the world is it possible to not have any sense of “life”??? Yes, it’s the worst feeling.
So this is the hard part of achieving that work-life balance when working from home. It’s up to us to create the structure and boundaries for our work-life balance. There is more responsibility on our part needed to achieve and maintain it and it’s not always an easy task. It can be easy to slip up, which is where that mindfulness and drawing the line with boundaries come in. Working from home is an excellent opportunity to give us that better work-life balance we all want, but it’s up to us to implement the right practices to find it.
The Lack of Socialization Can Really Take Its Toll
Humans by nature are social creatures. It is ingrained into our genetic makeup. We live as part of societies or groups and this trait of the human species has been traced back for as long as can be recorded. Regardless of whether we are introverted or extraverted, socialization is important for everyone and scientific studies have supported this by studying and observing the benefits of socialization and the disadvantages of isolation. People prosper when able to socialize and form bonds with others and they tend to struggle when isolated.
We could go on and on about the benefits of socialization and all the research but this blog is not the place for that. The point is that socialization is a very important factor for our happiness in work and life and it’s something we really need to strive towards. Unfortunately, working from home tends to really put a damper on one of the bigger opportunities for socialization. Working with others!
When working from home, we don’t automatically get to see and interact with co-workers, clients, or customers anymore. Sure, you will do plenty of phone calls, email, and video conferences with colleagues and customers alike, but these just don’t cut it as far as socialization goes. You really need the physical presence of others and the face to face connection to receive the benefits of socialization. The reality of working from home is that it’s actually quite isolating in most cases.
Talk to most folks who work from home and the feeling of isolation is a common complaint. There’s no longer an automatic outlet for socializing at the office or work-site and it’s entirely up to you now to create those outlets for socialization. This often means making it an utmost priority to make plans with family and friends, forcing yourself out of the house to be around other people (a gym, cafe, bar, mall, etc), and/or getting creative on ways to spend time with your colleagues in person perhaps for a weekly or monthly meetup.
It becomes so important to find this time to socialize as it’s very easy to fall into the pitfall of isolation otherwise. For those that rely on their work to provide a good dose of socialization, this can be a significant challenge that comes along with working from home.
It’s Easy to Get Too Comfortable and Fall Into Bad Habits
Working from home opens up all kind of possibilities for work you would never have if you had to work on-site. Wear whatever you like, do whatever you like, eat and drink whatever you like. Sleep in a bit more because you don’t have a commute or skip out on the morning makeup/shower routine to save time. Watch some TV during work or play your music as loud as you like. There’s really a lot of perks here. I work from home currently and I can’t even remember the last time I wore shoes to work. Much less the button down shirt and tie that was the daily norm in the other office positions I’ve had in my life.
But as great as all these perks can be, the problem is that it can be way too easy to let these perks turn into bad habits. You get too comfortable with everything.
Eating whenever you like can quickly turn into an issue of stress eating or overeating. Sleeping in can start to happen more and more to where you’re perpetually starting the days later and later and shifting your entire schedule back. Watching TV or enjoying other perks of home life while working can quickly capture all your attention and distract you from your work which hurts work-life balance and the quality of your work.
That doesn’t mean that these perks can’t be great, you just need to be mindful and not let them turn from great perks into bad habits. It requires vigilance to maintain a reasonable schedule and a good amount of discipline to keep up with your healthy habits. It’s just a lot easier said than done which is why this is something you need to be cautious of when working from home!
Clients and Customers Will Expect You to be Available 24/7
The current business culture is one with an extreme focus on customer service. Many of the most successful companies out there are ones that ALWAYS say the customer is right (even when they are not). This may even include losing money on a transaction just for the sake of satisfying the customer. It’s a good time to be a customer!
And people know it. The demand for excellent service and customer care has become the most basic of expectations and no longer will customers tolerate anything less. God forbid a company stick to their policy and refuse to accept a return six months past their already generous return period. Folks will be outside the business with their torches and pitchforks ready to riot and the masses of the Internet will all finally agree on something as they band together to review bomb (negatively review) the business until the review rating is as low as it can go.
Extremism aside… customers do expect a higher level of customer service than they may have expected in the past. This can be a problem for those that work from home in positions dealing with customers and clients. They will expect you to be available 24/7 to them.
There’s this strange disconnect that clients and customers have about individuals who work from home. Perhaps it is the lack of a physical office location with clear hours of open and close. Perhaps it’s the presence of so many online stores that are open 24/7 due to automation. Even many physical businesses are beginning to stay open longer than ever before. Whatever it is, it can be stressful for you when your customers want you to be available to them around the clock as well.
And I need to be clear here, it’s not that your company will expect you to be available 24/7 to your customers and clients. In most cases, your company gives you a reasonable schedule and they trust that you’re meeting your customer’s needs during that time. They are supportive of you having time off and not working around the clock. It’s only the customers that have this warped perception of your availability.
Don’t get me wrong, some of your customers will understand, these are the good ones. Unfortunately, others will completely lose their mind when you don’t answer their email on a Sunday at noon even when everyone knows your office hours are Monday to Friday. Then you come in Monday and spend the morning putting out the fire and trying to pull the customer back from over the edge. The worst part is that they rarely ever stop business with you, so you’re left dealing with their ridiculousness for the longer term.
Overall, stress and difficult clients/customers are a part of every job, but dealing with your customers’ warped perception of your availability is an added challenge with work from home!
People May Not Take Your Work From Home Job Seriously
As we’ve been discussing, many individuals have a glorified view of work from home jobs. They focus exclusively on the upsides and generally feel it’s a pretty cushy position to be in. This tendency means that some people may not take your work from home position very seriously.
In some cases, it may even cause others to have a lack of respect for what it is you do professionally. Many people will stereotype you as someone just goofing off at home all day and living the life, or worse, they will act like you don’t have a “real job”.
This can be quite upsetting when in reality, work from home positions are just as “real” as their on-site counterparts. In many cases, those working from home may actually be working harder, more productively, or achieving greater results than their on-site counterparts.
For example, what’s the difference between a Doctor that works at a clinic versus a Doctor that opts to work out of their home? Not much, just the environment the work is done in! The clinic Doctor can be tremendously worse than the work from home Doctor, yet society may negatively stereotype the work at home Doctor.
I actually have run into this myself. Acquaintances who joked I didn’t work a real job. Individuals who scoffed at the idea of working from home. One really eye-opening experience was with a neighbor who I eventually became friends with. He admitted to me that before we became friends, he actually thought I was just living off government aid and being lazy with my life since I was always at home. WOW…
The battle against people’s stereotypes of working from home is a grueling and frustrating one. They just don’t always take it seriously. It’s amazing how people’s perceptions change if you put on a suit and tie to drive to work versus working in shorts and a t-shirt from home doing the same exact work. It is my hope that as work from home opportunities become more standard in business that this stereotype will change as well!
How To Make Working From Home Awesome Anyway!
Working from home can be awesome, though! Here are some of the biggest tips I’ve learned from my own experiences working from home and from speaking with many others who also work from home.
This is the most important one of all. You MUST set boundaries for yourself in regards to how and when you work. This is everything from what time you start to what time you stop, how many hours you work each week, and how you approach getting that work done each week.
It is too easy when working from home to find yourself working on weekends, late midnight hours, or at other times when you really should be off of work. The work is always only a room or two away and there is always something to do. Someone will always want something during times you really should be off of work. Even if it’s something as good-intentioned as trying to get ahead of things for the upcoming week, these things do take time and don’t always save the time we’re hoping for later.
More importantly, not sticking to boundaries is a slippery slope that is tough to recover from. Once you check email on a weekend once, it quickly becomes habitual. This is how you have people (both work from home and on-site) who find themselves working on vacations or missing their children’s events because they are working. DON’T BE THIS PERSON!
Set VERY CLEAR boundaries for yourself from the get-go and stick to them like it was a matter of life or death. As long as you’re putting in the required hours each week and getting your work done, there is simply no need to further invest your precious time and energy into the job. Be sure to use the rest of that time as yours for all the other wonderful parts of life.
Have a Designated and Appropriate Work Space
I cannot stress the importance of choosing an appropriate workspace in your home and one that does not blur the lines between home life and work life. This means choosing an area that is used EXCLUSIVELY for work and work only. It also means choosing an area that is free of the distractions of home life and one where you feel enabled to work your best each and every day.
This means no to working in an area that you also use for personal matters. Example, working on the living room couch with a laptop. It blurs the line between your work and your home life and that is an awful feeling. The couch that used to be a spot for family get-togethers, movie nights, and or just a spot to kick back and relax now also becomes associated with WORKING, and that is an association that can really screw up work-life balance.
It also means no to setting up your work area in a busy part of the home where family members or children also spend their time. Not only does this open you to all manner of distractions from the busyness of the household, but it is frankly unprofessional to your colleagues and customers as well.
If a customer calls you expecting a professional interaction, they don’t want to hear kids screaming, babies crying, or animals making all manner of noise in the background. The same goes for your colleagues. This is even more important if doing video conferencing. I’ve had a few too many instances with colleagues who worked in common areas of their homes and the meetings would constantly be interrupted by spouses or children walking/running through the home or having conversations in the background. It’s bad enough with colleagues, imagine what a customer thinks!
So do yourself the favor and set up an area in your home that is suited for work and only for work. It will greatly enhance the quality of your work and enjoyment of it because you’ll be able to draw a clearer line between it and home life. I understand that some individuals may be in a situation where the available space at home does not always allow this, but it is something to strive for whenever possible.
Have the Talk with Family About Their Interruptions
We discussed earlier how common it is for family members to constantly by vying for your time and attention when you work from home. They tend to feel you have unlimited flexibility to step away for brief matters but they don’t really understand the impact that may have on our ability to focus, concentrate, and get work done.
In some cases, the majority of this can be completely alleviated by just discussing it with family. Let them know that during certain hours you need to be able to work without any distractions or interruptions. Let them know that you find it challenging if someone is always asking for something every time you try to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. In most cases, family just never realized the impact they were having on your ability to work and they will adjust their behavior so you can have that focus and concentration you need during work hours.
Maintain Healthy Habits and Keep a Good Routine
We discussed earlier how one of the big challenges of working from home is just how easy it can be to get too comfortable and “slip up” on some of the really good habits or routines you’ve always practiced in your life. Good habits can easily get tossed out the window and they are quickly replaced by some less desirable habits instead. That is why I feel it is absolutely essential you do everything you can to maintain the structure, routine, and good habits.
This is everything from self-care and personal hygiene, healthy eating and exercise, to waking up at a reasonable time and the same for going to bed. If you used to go to the gym before your workday at the office, no reason to change that working from home. If you showered every day prior, probably shouldn’t stop now. It’s so important to maintain good habits and healthy routines because these are what ultimately lead to well-being and happiness in life on all levels.
One practice that has worked for me in maintaining good habits working from home is a bit odd. I’ll sometimes treat my work from home job like it was actually an on-site job instead.
Instead of rolling out of bed, throwing on a t-shirt and shorts, and immediately heading on over to the work desk, I’ll go through the steps I normally would have done to prepare for a day’s work at the office. Eat a healthy breakfast, get a shower, brush my teeth and make myself look neat, throw on some nicer clothes and a pair of shoes. It’s amazing what a positive impact this can have on the rest of your day. Even throwing on a pair of jeans and a nicer shirt can put you in a more productive “go get em” mood versus some worn out t-shirt and sweats.
In the end, there are lots of various ways to maintain good habits for yourself when working from home. I’m certain the method you’ll find to keep up with the good habits and routine will be unique to you and that is the great part about it. As long as you’re staying mindful of not letting yourself slip into bad habits, you’ll be fine. And if you didn’t have great habits before you worked from home, there is no better time than now to start working on them. Building and maintaining those good habits will make working from home feel all the better.
Invest In Ergonomic Office Furniture
If you’re going to be working at home for the long term, buying ergonomic office furniture is one of the best investments you can make. Yes, I know the cost can be high, but our comfort and the care of our bodies is certainly worth the cost.
This is finally the chance to actually have all that work appropriate furniture and equipment that health professionals all say we really need. No longer will we need to bear the chronic neck and back pain because it feels like your office chair is 40 years old and probably was purchased for $5 from a garage sale (as in every office ever). This is finally the chance to be done with that kind of crap!
In most cases, you’ll need to have or purchase furniture on your own anyway to work from home. You might as well make it the best you can for your health and comfort. Maybe it’s that standing desk you always wanted, or at the very least, a super nice ergonomic chair for those that spend lots of time sitting. I have an ergonomic chair and it’s about the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. No more headaches, no more back or leg pain. It is bliss. Do yourself the favor and get yourself something nice, you deserve it!
Focus On Working The Way You Work Best
I feel that one of the greatest things about working from home is that you’re given almost 100% autonomy to work exactly the way you like. In most cases, you’re free to choose where you want to work and you control the environment you’re working in. You can choose how you want to dress for work. Many companies even let you choose your hours and work days. Most importantly, though, you can often choose HOW you want to work.
No more bosses hovering over your shoulder, no more pesky co-workers, no more uncomfortable, distracting, or toxic workplaces to deal with. You have unparalleled freedom to approach your work exactly the way you like it. You can finally focus on working the way you work best with the factors and environment that best facilitate that.
So it’s important to maximize these opportunities wherever possible. If you have the opportunity to work a flexible schedule, you can capitalize on the opportunity to work the days that suit your personal life best and the hours that you find yourself at your most productive.
This is also the opportunity to truly make your workspace your own, one that really makes you happy to be in. I personally have lots of plants, paintings, and video game decor in my office because it brings me lots of joy. I could have never really done this in any of my prior on-site jobs, but I am happy I can now because it really is blissful. Everything from the color of the room, the lighting, the furniture and decor, you can customize it exactly the way you like it.
Finally, there are all the little things you can control that can add up to make all the difference in the world. Choosing to listen to music when you like and no one judging you for the type of music you like. Better access to healthy or delicious foods and drinks. Wearing a comfy pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Perhaps utilizing aromatherapy through a diffuser. Taking bathroom breaks when you need to without someone questioning where you went or thinking you use the bathroom too much. Being able to pass gas freely and no one will ever know! The perks are real.
Now it should go without saying that this freedom won’t always apply to all work from home jobs. Some still require uniforms, certain hours, and a bad boss that micromanages you can do that regardless of where you work. Regardless of any limitation, however, your work from home position should provide at least some of these opportunities and making the most of all the small things really builds up to a whole lot of happiness.
Be Positive, Be Thankful!
Last but not least is the practice of positive thinking and thankfulness. It’s natural in any job to feel down about it at times. You may be in what you consider your dream job but you will surely encounter some point you feel like it’s the worst.
“Work is work” and there’s simply going to be times you’ll be trudging through a stressful situation, tedious or asinine tasks, or some grueling overtime hours. In most cases, these events are passing, but this isn’t always enough to make you feel better about them in the moment.
What does help is a positive attitude and a genuine thankfulness for all the things you are fortunate to have. Anytime I find myself feeling a bit down about a challenge or frustration at my work from home job, I remind myself how awesome it actually is to have this opportunity to work from home. To have all the perks and benefits that come along with the territory. To know that I’m pretty dang lucky and fortunate to be in this role as others would love to have it and that I really have no right to complain.
It’s this mindfulness and practice of positivity and thankfulness that can make you feel happy with your work at the deepest of levels even when it’s not going exactly as planned. Best of all, you can apply this tip to any job, working on-site OR working from home. In fact, it’s a great practice for just living life!
What Do You Think About Working From Home?
This ended up being a massive blog on the ins and outs of working from home and I’m truly glad I have the opportunity to share this with you. The lessons and experiences shared here are the very things that have allowed me to find happiness in working from home, and I hope that you’ll be able to find the same happiness and success in your work from home positions as well!
But I’m curious to hear about your thoughts on working from home! Did your perceptions match up the reality that I laid out in this blog? If you have worked from home, what is your experience like? I’d love to hear from you all and I’m happy to answer any additional questions you may have as well. Thank you for reading and it’s great to have you here today. Take care!
– Mr. Happy Work