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What No One Tells You About Working From Home

Let’s talk about what it’s really like to work from home.

I’m sure you can easily imagine the benefits of being able to work at home, but until you’re actually there, it can be difficult to think of the downsides.

As a person who has done it for more than 10 years, I’d like to talk about the myths, misconceptions and drawbacks of working from your own home.

If you have a daily commute to a 9-5 job, you might have often dreamt about how green that grass is for the folks on the other side of the fence, the ones that work at home.

Wouldn’t it be great? No long drive or public transportation, no traffic, no annoying coworkers to distract you. Just the quiet solitude of home, sweet home.

I’ve worked from home for nearly my entire adult life. I consider myself extremely fortunate and have no illusions about it being much harder than a 9-5.

That being said, people who have not experienced working from home often tell me how great I have it, without ever considering that it may not be best thing in the world for them.

So to preface what I’ll be talking about here, I’d like to say this: Working at home is awesome, for some.

I know people who have tried it and simply couldn’t get into it. They couldn’t wait to get back to a "real office". Others love it at first, but are ultimately forced to realize that it may not be in their best interest for one reason or another.

Here are some things to consider before you decide to work from home.

It’s still work

It’s funny, but people who don’t work from home often fail to consider this key point: It’s very much still work.

You’re not on vacation, you can’t simply sit around and binge-watch Netflix all day. (At least not if you expect to earn a living.)

People who work from home still cheer when it’s time to clock out. They still love weekends, and hate Mondays. They still consider themselves to be overworked and underpaid. They still even have long meetings. If working from home is your solution to any of these issues, you’re in for a big surprise.

It doesn’t make the work more pleasant

If you hate what you do for a living, if you’re not passionate about it, you’ll still probably feel the same way about it when you do it at home. You’re simply moving the thing you hate closer to home.

If all that you dislike about your current job is the office building, or the workspace setup, or the two-hour commute you endure to get work, working from home will provide relief.

But if you feel you’re in the wrong line of work, then you might need to change a lot more than where you sit.

It’s hard to stay focused and productive at home

Working in a crowded office is so distracting! People are always talking around you or to you. Wouldn’t it be nice to go home and get some work done? Theoretically, yes. In practice, you’re simply swapping out distractions.

Without strict guidelines, when you’re at home, all the things you normally do in your personal time seeps into your work time.

During a typical workday, you might do laundry or dishes, take out the trash, walk the dog, break up fights between your kids, run to the grocery store, the list never ends.

Now add to this the fact that you suddenly feel freedom that you’ve never had before, and you’ve got a recipe for trouble.

No one will notice if you take a little break. Or maybe even a long break. Heck, you could just take a nice little nap couldn’t you? Why not watch a movie in the middle of the afternoon?

Before you know it, it’s 5pm and you haven’t done a single thing.

If you’re extremely self-driven and don’t need motivation from managers to be productive, working from home is a cinch. If not, then a more rigid work environment with a corporate structure might be a better option.

It can be lonely

Even if you’re an introvert, being home alone all day can be problematic.

When working from home, you have to commit the time to go out regularly. Try working from a coffee shop or coworking spaces in your area for a few hours a week.

For me personally, feeling lonely isn’t usually a problem. I’m a bit of a loner anyway, so working at home by myself feels pretty natural. That being said — so I don’t end up becoming an old hermit — I take extra care than most people would bother, to force myself out of the house after work to go interact with other humans.

These days, my wife works at home too and we’re good at calling each other out when it’s time to get out and see daylight again. Lots of people ask how I’m able to be around my spouse virtually all the time. It’s really enjoyable actually but, like working from home, it isn’t for everyone. (This is another story for another time.)

It’s hard to separate work-life and personal-life

When you work in an office, the transition at the end of the day as you head back home eases you out of work mode.

Everyone keeps talking about work-life balance, which is easier to achieve when there’s a very clear boundary between work and home.

But when you work at home, you’re simultaneously always at work and always at home. For some, this means easily slipping into a bad habit where work happens as long as you’re awake. And that’s not good for anyone.

People working from home need to find ways to draw boundaries, like creating a home office and dedicating themselves to only working in that area of the house. Then set hard deadlines for when you have to be in and out of your home office every day.

By the way, I’m fiercely against what most people think is the best thing about working at home: Sitting around, un-showered, in your PJs, all day.

I suggest having a routine that includes getting out of bed on time, showering and, yes, getting dressed just like you would if you were to leave the house.

It’s all about creating a mental pattern of "work mode" and "home mode", and being careful not to mix the signals together too much.

Your lifestyle is in danger of becoming sedentary

When you work at home, you sit around. A lot. Even the little walks you used to take, like from the car or train to your office, are gone. And before you know it, going to the kitchen to get a fresh cup of coffee is the extent of your daily physical exertion.

This will kill you.

That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not.

The way I’ve managed this issue is by forcing myself to go to the gym three to six times a week. I do this to stay alive.

When I had a talk with my doctor (your experience can and will vary) about the best way to not die while working at a desk job, he told me the key was change.

Sitting, standing, walking, and all of the above have their place in your workday. You’re a hunter-gatherer, you’re not designed to stay in one place the entire day.

While I’m working, I mix up my position a lot. I work from my couch, a chair, my standing desk, or my treadmill desk (my wife and I share all these workspaces). Why? You’ve probably heard that sitting all day sucks for your body. But the real secret is so does standing all day (comfort-wise).

And I know what you’re thinking right now: Seriously, a treadmill desk? Laugh all you want, but I loved mine the moment I jumped onto it and recommend it to anyone thinking about upgrading a home office.  It’s actually not difficult at all to walk very slowly while typing, clicking, talking, or even designing. In fact, I find that it’s actually much easier on my body than my standing desk because standing still for more than an hour is brutal. But taking a leisurely and almost unconscious stroll on a treadmill desk? It feels great and is much more natural for me. Do I walk for eight hours a day? Not even close. More like one hour, or two if I’m really energetic. That hour makes a huge difference though. That’s five hours a week that I’m actually putting my body to work instead of resting it in a cushy desk chair.

You could miss out on opportunities

If you’re a remote worker and employed by a large company where your superiors and coworkers share a physical office space together, working from home has the potential to put you at a disadvantage professionally.

This situation occurs naturally and without any ill intent or malice. It’s not always possible or practical to bring remote workers in on all the things that in-house employees experience. The people in the office talk through things together, make decisions together, and might even receive promotions or exciting projects simply by virtue of being there.

There’s no easy fix for this situation, and it varies dramatically based on individual circumstances. The best advice I can offer is to continually find ways to make yourself valuable and let it be known that you’re always around and willing to jump into a conversation or meeting. If you can visit the office regularly, that helps immensely.

So that’s my spiel on working from home.

I thoroughly enjoy it and highly recommend it to anyone who, despite having read this article, still has a strong desire to work from home.

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About the Author

Joshua Johnson is a designer, photographer, editor and writer. He works at Creative Market.

This was published on Feb 4, 2015

26 Comments

Surprised every chapter you listed focuses only on negatives about working from home.

    The article is titled “What no one tells you about working from home.” Not “What no one tells you about working from home, and some things they do.”

Great article, Josh.

As someone that’s worked from home for 5 years I can attest to all these things being 100% true.

It’s definitely hard to focus at times. Sometimes a whole week can go by where I am fighting to get any work done (although, this happened when I worked in an office too).

The huge positives are:

1. I get to spend lots of time with my family. I have a little daughter and it’s been a huge blessing to be around her as she grows up.

2. I can work with my natural flows of energy. I tend to be most productive from 6:00AM to 10:00AM and 1:00PM – 4:00PM. It’s nice to be able to stop when I’m not able to focus.

Again, great article! Thanks for sharing!

Gary Lange Feb 04 2015

For 10 years I worked “remotely” for a company, whose headquarters was in another state. A large amount of my time was spent in my “home office”, and I can relate and agree with your statements.

One thing I cannot stress strongly enough, is you need to find alternative ways to connect and build relationships with peers, supervisors, or other key people in your organization. People don’t realize how much information they gleam from casual office conversations, how much is discussed and agreed on in the “hallway conversations” that aren’t planned, and the truism of “out of sight, out of mind”. You’ll quickly become ineffective without a strong base of connections that you can use.

Along with that, you have to work harder to network and build professional relationships without that office, both within the organization and within your profession. That network is much tougher to build and easy to lose when you work from home, and becomes even more important when you are looking for a promotion or another growth opportunity, or you’re in the position of looking for a new job.

Hard lesson learned. After that 10 years of working from home, I found myself in search of a new job (after being “down-sized”). That job search took over 3 years because I had lost focus of my networking…I had few professional contacts to help in my search that were current or local. Plus I was surprised at the number of companies that treated my home office position and work performance with concern or dismissal.

As you said, it can be great for some people and professions. You just need to be aware and prepared to do things differently. Personally it worked for me, with the exception of the whole networking/job search thing…now I know!

Josh Johnson Feb 04 2015

@Zee, yeah, the main theme here is just dispelling the idea that it’s all easy and fun. I prefaced it with, “So to preface what I’ll be talking about here, I’d like to say this: Working at home is awesome, for some.”

Personally, I love working from home, but I don’t think it’s for everyone.

Trevor Williams Feb 04 2015

Spot on! All perfect points. I’ve worked out of my house for 5 years or so. My wife does as well (it’s pretty enjoyable for us as well). I always tell people the hardest part is stopping work. It’s always tempting to try to “get ahead” of things by doing some work at night. I do that now only if there is a serious deadline, otherwise I usually make myself knock off at least by 6pm. Having employees working out of our house helps with this.

Good article Joshua. I can totally relate to the points you have made here and don’t think they are negative, just realistic and things people need to consider before making the move to a home office environment. For those working at home already, it might serve to re-inforce some important issues.
Having worked from home for over 15 years, I finally decided to get an office in the city, and now prefer being on that side of the equation. But I am glad I had my time at home, especially as it gave me flexibility with my kids as they were growing up as I was able to spend more time with them.
Thanks for a great article.

@Zee Thats mainly because everybody is already aware of the obvious upsides to working from home.

As a home worker for almost 5 years now, I for one agree with a lot of what Josh has discussed. I’d say I’ve experienced every point raised within this post since I started and in some cases I fall into these traps far too regularly. I too can’t stress enough how important it is to just get out of the house but its hard to do that when you know you’ve got deadlines.

Thanks for the post Josh.

Tristan McDonald Feb 05 2015

I couldn’t agree more. I love working from home, but it’s simply a different set of challenges and rewards to working in an office. I set an alarm to stretch and do MovNat exercises once an hour and try to get to the gym often, but I’m still struggling with working every waking hour.

That’s because the article is called ‘What no-one tells you about…” and assumes the reader has previously been told (or assumes) mostly positive things. There is an implicit assumption that people who don’t work from home broadly think that it would be a nice thing to do.

I have been working from home for more than 7 years, and you’re spot on, all the way through. It still amazes me that people think there few, if any, downsides to this practice. Isolation can become unbearable for periods of time, and there’s no doubt that I’m not in the “in” group at the office, because I’m not there physically. And I say that, working for a small agency, where the rest of the group makes a true, concerted effort to keep me in the loop and include me in even casual conversations, via IM. I’d still choose to work from home, if I had to do it over again, but it’s never quite the cakewalk one believes it will be.

Mr Kirk Feb 05 2015

I’m a work-from-home-writer. This thread resonated with me. Appreciate your time and effort, Mr. Johnson.

Yes, I’ve been thinking lately that clients hire me (luckily!) for what I can do, but I don’t get many projects that really require me to learn something new (stretch). That happened more often when I worked for a company as an employee when I was there to say “I’ll try,” as you point out. I kind of miss that learning even though I love working for myself (not missing others’ politics or their perfume).

Jacob Gube Feb 05 2015

One other thing I’d like to point out is this article is implicitly aimed towards people who have a choice between working from home versus at an office. For example, an engineer working at a big company who decides to quit his/her job because he’d/she’d like to start his/her own company, or an in-house designer who would like to move onto freelancing. Some folks might not have the ability to choose between one or the other.

I agree with you Joshua. This happen to me too. When I have a day off. I’m unable to do even 1 blog post. When i’m at office. I able to publish 3 articles a day. I’m agree with you about “It’s hard to stay focused and productive at home”.. :)

Phil L. Feb 07 2015

I wrote an article about a year ago that completely supports everything you’re saying.

If you can tough it out for the first couple years at home though, everything kinda falls into place.

You eventually learn the hard truth that you need to get up and move around!

http://www.sitekickr.com/blog/sitting-web-developers-life-sentence/

karthik Feb 10 2015

I have been working from home for the past 2 months and it has been good so far. i follow a regiment which i call ‘The I am Legend’ regiment…from Will Smith’s movie, where he has a lonely existence. But i worry about my health. going to work before refreshed me. I try to exercise every morn. but i somehow know that it is not enough. I sit around all day. I am terrified of putting on the ominous pounds.

Cathy Mayhue Feb 13 2015

I have also been working from home since past 8 years. You have very correctly spelled out all the disadvantages that come with it. On the top is to make your family used to your work routine and do not disturb you during your work hours. Once that achieved, work becomes easier, with out any serious distractions and you become more productive. The time which was spent in commuting to work place, now is utilized in working out at gym.

FinleyC Feb 17 2015

bang on! I have been working from home from almost 15 years! YES the only things i cant complain about is the commute, the fact i know the coffee i bought will still be there!

I have been doing these for years, so i have very strict! I work very strict hours etc. But its got a lot harder since having a child! Noise, Distraction and general chaos going on outside the door!

i am looking to get an office ASAP, but I have no doubt it will bring a bunch of new issues that I dont have now

This could only be written by someone who knows. You have echoed what I did for twelve years in my last business. I think working from home can kill innovation, you need that human interaction. I’ve just started a new business and my goal is to have a normal office within two years. Sure it costs more but for me I think it’s better than working from home.

Rajendra Reddy Feb 23 2015

Firstly it depends on person to person, for example i am a loner and i like to sit alone in my room with music and work for more than 10 hours in day but many of my friends told me they just hate to sit at home for a long time. but even my self i found it what we don’t feel active like if we go to office and work along with spending time with friends

Allister Freeman Feb 25 2015

Superb article and touches on so many points. I’ve worked from home for many years now and I’m still more productive if I actually go somewhere to work. I’m currently favouring the local cafe!

Mahesa Kama Mar 01 2015

Great article, I think it 99% true.
Although i have 3 years experience as a freelancer, but I really feel it. Love to read your experiences and your story here.

I am very happy to receive testimonials from clients, is why I was still working as a freelancer until now

Jacob Gube Mar 19 2015

Just wanted to share another excellent article I read recently about working from home: My first experience at working from home by web developer Pedro Semeano. He outlines the pros and cons of telecommuting, after three months of experience with the work arrangement.

This particularly stood out to me:

Time is the most precious asset you have. I didn’t have the longest commute in the world, but when I added up how much time I was spending each week, month and year… it couldn’t go on. My first experience at working from home

I totally agree with you after my first two years of working from home.

herzmeister Apr 20 2015

great article, but it doesn’t have enough links to http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home ;)

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