Stop Being Jealous of Your Friends Who Work from Home
I’m a millennial who works from home. Not all that rare or interesting, right?
Except I’m not a fan of it.
Ten months ago, I relocated from Atlanta and had to leave Nebo behind — at least in the physical sense. I was thrilled to find out I could work remotely, and I was even fantasizing about how amazing it would be. I mean, who gets to work for an awesome company, doing cool projects, while hanging out at home every day?
Well, it’s actually becoming more common. But the point is, it seemed ideal. And then I did it for a while.
When most people imagine working from home, they picture a cute, patterned office or an idyllic, sun-filled patio perfect for drinking your morning coffee.
LOL. It’s more like this, plus one hand in a box of dry cereal.
In reality, there are many downfalls to spending all your time at home day in and day out. These are my main issues with the #wfhlife.
You have less human interaction
This is a big deal. When you work from your abode every day, you aren’t seeing people regularly. It gets a little lonely, especially if you’re in this situation because you moved to a new place. You never get to build those really important relationships with co-workers that make work so much more enjoyable. In fact, relationships with co-workers may be the most important factor when it comes to happiness at work. Even on days when I was super busy at the office and didn’t get the chance to partake in any small talk, the energy of having my team around me was encouraging.
Beyond making fewer connections, it’s also harder to keep up with office culture when you work remotely. So many little things you used to notice in the office are completely absent from daily life. For example, you may not know which clients other teams are working with because you don’t see them when they visit the office. Maybe you miss out on impromptu office announcements or spur-of-the-moment meetings. You don't get to help with events because you can’t be there to put plans into action. There are tons of things you never really noticed until there is nothing in your environment to stimulate your curiosity throughout the day.
Despite our best efforts, the experience of coming in and seeing the faces of our coworkers and bosses can’t be duplicated. It’s tough to feel like a part of the community when you're stuck at home, and everyone else is seeing and speaking to each other regularly. Though, I must admit — not having access to all the Friday beer, wine and goodies has been good for my health. But let the record reflect that I’d gladly trade those extra three pounds for the chance to be present with my coworkers.
Though to be fair, some of my issues with missing out on office life are specific to the place I worked. Nebo is pretty awesome, and really amazing people work there. From home, I no longer get to enjoy a steady rotation of office dogs, or run across the street to grab a cup of coffee at Octane. However, even if my company's office wasn't so awesome, I suspect I’d still have many of the same issues.
Technology is great, but some things are meant to happen IRL
We all know we live in a hyper-connected world. It seems like working from home would be a breeze with all the tools we have today. But not quite. For example, the conference call situation is a very real struggle. Picture 10 people in a room together, while your presence is represented by a phone sitting on the table. Despite your efforts to procure the most advanced phone technology, there will still be people who are very hard to hear. You’ll also probably be forgotten at some point or another and left wondering if the meeting is over, or if everyone is just playing the quiet game. Even if you can hear everyone, it’s still a tough spot to be in. You can’t read the room, you can’t tell who’s talking, you don't know if you’re going to cut someone off when you start to speak, and, perhaps worst of all, you can’t see how people are reacting to what you say.
Conducting client presentations through a combination of phone and WebEx technology is also potentially disastrous. Even if the client is also on the phone, it’s challenging to work remotely with your team and present a cohesive front. We all want to give our best presentations, right? We work hard on them and put in a great deal of effort, so it’s frustrating to know the actual presentation could have some hiccups just because you aren’t physically there.
Brainstorms are another thing that work best when everyone is in the same room. Phone calls that last over an hour are pretty rough to begin with, and those of us dialing in are working hard just to follow what’s going on, let alone contribute. There’s definitely a cap on how long an individual can listen that closely, and my personal limit is about an hour.
The list could go on, but, essentially, it’s much easier to be engaged and excited about meetings when you’re showing up in the flesh. Technology has helped bridge so many gaps, and using technology to hold meetings when you’re in a bind is a godsend. However, nothing replaces face-to-face interactions with clients and peers during crucial situations.
Motivation is tough from your couch
It can be challenging to feel the same level of ambition for your job when you are stuck working from home. Getting up every day, walking 30 feet to the couch and settling in for the next eight or nine hours is not exactly inspiring. It’s harder to have a meaningful morning routine when you know you might not leave the house all day. When I went into the office, I was the type of person who liked to go to the gym in the morning, get my morning coffee and chat with the other early birds before settling into my desk. Changing your morning routine is hard, and leaving the house to go to the gym feels like a hassle when you know you’re coming right back.
Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but I think working from home all day makes it harder to fight that basic human urge to be lazy. When you’re working from home, there’s much less accountability because no one is expecting you to be anywhere at any particular time.
You may be wondering why I don’t set up some kind of home office that’s a little more structured than the sofa. The truth is, I have one. When I have a meeting or feel like I’d be more productive there, I spend some time in the guest bedroom sitting at my little desk. To be totally honest, this adjustment doesn’t change much. When I worked in the office at Nebo, I spent plenty of hours sitting on the couches and I still got all of my work done, so I don't think it's a couch thing.
There is also the coffee shop option, where you can set a goal time to arrive and get the satisfaction of leaving the house. While I enjoy coffee shop culture and love to spend my free time there, working in them is sometimes less productive than sitting in the empty silence of home. Studies show that noise over 85 decibels is extremely distracting, and now that so many people are taking meetings and phone calls in Starbucks every day, the noise level at your local coffee shop is probably not only loud, but unpredictable. Sure, it smells great and you get quick access to your favorite brew, but most people get less done in this kind of environment. Still, you can find me working from a cafe about once a week, just for a change in scenery and some human interaction. I’ve definitely become that person who asks the barista how his mom is doing, just so I can talk to someone (who isn’t my husband) Monday through Friday. And hey, Jim is a nice guy.
The flip side
Don’t get me wrong, working from home has a ton of redeeming qualities. When I was going to the office everyday, I absolutely loved having the option to work from home. If I didn’t feel well, had an appointment, needed to wait on the plumber, or just could NOT enter society on a particular day, it was awesome to know I had the option to work from my couch. I could spend more time with my family during the holidays, and I could get things done without taking too much time off.
People have lives outside of work, and companies like Nebo do a really great job of trusting employees to get it all done without putting us in a box. Opening up the option to work from home is perfect for this kind of culture. And I think it really works when it isn’t every day. I’m all for the option of working from home, flex hours and every other “perk” you can think of. And some people actually do enjoy working from home full time. I’m not knocking it for everyone, especially moms and dads. Heck, I’d ideally like to do it two or three days a week to be honest. There’s a lot of freedom, and I save an extraordinary amount of makeup and hair time.
Making it work
So yes, there are a lot of kinks to be worked out when you’re working from home, but there are so many good reasons to make it work. In my case, it’s because I’m with a company I love and just can’t be there physically right now. Maybe you want to travel the world and can’t afford to take extended time off. Maybe you live in a car-dependent city and haven’t saved up enough to buy one at the moment. Regardless the reason, if working from home fits your lifestyle, there are solutions to help you enjoy it.
The most ideal, but least simple, solution is joining a coworking space. These shared spaces are springing up absolutely everywhere because of the newfound freedoms of our remote culture. They give you a place to go to every day (or not) that has all the perks of working in an office, along with all the freedoms of working from home. Entrepreneurs and work-from-homers alike flock to coworking spaces because they simulate a fun, creative office environment. You get great human contact, an opportunity to make connections, a great place to focus on your tasks, the technology of a normal office, and perks like coffee and snacks. The catch? It’s pricey. Each space charges a monthly fee for your access.
For those who really don’t mind most of the work-from-home woes, but still miss the social aspects of office life, it’s important to plan social interactions throughout the week. Plan to go to dinner with a friend after work instead of waiting for the weekend, or meet up with people for lunch to break up the day and have a conversation. Make sure you aren’t feeling like you spend your week in a hole, dreaming about the days when you used to attend industry events and go to lunch with coworkers. It also helps to have planned activities when the work day ends because it forces you to schedule your time in blocks and allows you to separate your work life from your personal life. You could even take it a step further — if you’re lucky enough and find another person or two who also work remotely — and meet up to work a few days a week.
If it’s just a change in scenery you’re after, find a public space that works for you. Maybe it’s a public library or a building on a college campus nearby. A friend’s apartment could also be a great change of pace. They might let you hang out there from time to time if you promise to walk the dog or cook them dinner. Don’t be afraid to do a little exploring around your city and find some other great places with wifi where you can set up shop. Whether you work out of the house every day or just a day or two per week, it’s nice to have a place that works for you when you need it.
There are a lot of creative ways to make working from home work for you. Certain issues affect everyone differently, just as they would within an office. Odds are that many of us will end up working remotely at some point in our lives, and it’s better to be proactive about solving the issues that come instead of settling into them. It can either be a really great experience or a really poor one, depending on how your company handles it and, more importantly, how much you commit to the lifestyle. Working from home isn’t for everyone, and if that turns out to be the case for you, it might be a good idea to find a way to make sure it isn’t a permanent situation. Until then, make the best of it and do everything you can to enjoy it. When you get back to the daily grind of office life, you might miss those sweatpants just a tiny bit.
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Evan, I worked from home for a decade, and I think you nailed this! Another advantage of working from home you didn't mention was the lack of a commute - not having the frustration, the wasted time, and the higher fuel bill. A disadvantage for me was that I found I worked ALL THE TIME - there was no clean break between work and home. Now that I'm back in an office (Nebo's!), I love that when I go home, I am home and can relax. We miss you!