February 17, 2017

Six Pleasures, Three Perils & One Fix for Working at Home.

When I was five, I used to sit at my father’s large mahogany desk and set up my “office.”

I loved to pretend I was a big, important executive. I would surround myself with yellow legal pads, fountain pens—even an old-fashioned ink and quill system (this was pre-computers). I couldn’t wait for the time when I would go to an office every day, just like my father.

Fast forward 20 years, and I can still feel the exhilaration that coursed through my veins as I walked out of an office for the last time. I had quit my job, determined to start out on my own.

In those two decades of office life, I developed a disillusionment with the “daily grind.” I loved my job, and all three of the offices I worked in were stimulating places full of interesting people. But I felt trapped, like the proverbial rat in the race.

I also had the sense that I would never truly be myself in an office environment. Working at a fashion magazine in the ’90s, I would spend half my paycheck on the “right” boots, and would feel profound shame when someone pointed out that my pashmina wasn’t genuine wool. There was so much pressure to conform in that setting.

Those cubicle walls are truly suffocating (I never actually had a cubicle, but you know what I mean!). The commute, the monotony of going through the same doors, at the same time, every single day—it just doesn’t feel like living.

Now, in the 2010s, the lines between work and life have become much blurrier. While this is not always for the better, it does present the opportunity to break free from that monotony.

More and more workers are ditching the traditional office-bound career path and striking out on their own. And I don’t mean negotiating to work from home three days a week—I mean truly going out on their own. I know one marketing professional who abandoned her promising career in favor of starting her own artisanal tortilla business; another friend was a medical professional who gave it all up to make his own style of kimchi.

While some take the less-traditional path out of necessity rather than choice thanks to the recession, the silver lining is the chance to break out of the box and do something different—something you truly love.

So is this your year to quit your job and venture out on your own? Are you excited at the prospect of working from home and being your own boss? You should be: There’s a lot to love about it.

But there are also some potential pitfalls that can derail your vision. Based on four years of owning my own small business and working from home, here are my favorite and least favorite things about being my own boss.

The Pleasures

1. Comfort.

One of the best things about working from home is that you can always be comfortable. Be it controlling the climate to your exact desire (no more lock-boxes over thermostats to deal with) or wearing yoga pants every day, your home office truly is come-as-you-are. Sure, you can dress up and put makeup on if that helps you feel motivated—the choice is yours. Personally, I love pumping up the volume on my music and occasionally jumping out of my chair for a boogie. No need to deal with headphones.

2. Healthy eating and easy exercise.

I put on about 15 pounds my first year working in an office. No matter how good your willpower or packed lunches are, there are just too many temptations to eat unhealthily. From lunches out with colleagues to the birthday cake trotted out once a week, it’s hard to stay on track. When you work from home, you have time to eat better food straight from your fridge in your own kitchen, saving a lot of money in the process.

Hand-in-hand with that is the ability to get up and exercise whenever and however you want. Whether it’s a rowing machine in the home office or a jog round the block, it’s easy to take a 15- to 45-minute break to get the blood pumping and the creative juices flowing again, then be back at your desk, ready to go.

3. Ditching the commute.

Another money- and time-saving benefit of a home office is your commute. While the walk from the kitchen to the office may be fraught with danger if you have kids who haven’t picked up their toys, in general, you save yourself a minimum of two hours a day in travel. Additionally, you spend less money and time on clothes, hair and makeup, all of which adds up to more money and time that you can put into your business or set aside for spending with loved ones.

4. More time with loved ones.

Indeed, a major bonus of a home-based business is that you see your family—a lot. Granted, they may become a distraction (I’ll get to that in a bit), but it’s probably a better distraction than the annoying co-worker who keeps interrupting you to tell you about her Tinder conquests. And if you don’t have a family in your home, your pets will appreciate the extra time they get to spend with you. One of my colleagues who works from home frequently posts pictures of his pup happily watching him working on social media.

5. More productive distractions.

Yes, there are many new distractions at home that you won’t find in an office—from that load of laundry to the kid who’s home from school for the day—but these are things you have to deal with anyway, whether you work at an office or not. What you don’t have in a home office is water-cooler chatter, lunch dates that extend to two hours, colleagues bending your ear for 45 minutes about their pressing project, getting sucked into helping someone with work that’s not your responsibility and, above all, no more meetings.

Wherever you work, you need to take a break every now and then. In an office, it’s a coffee break or a walk around the block. At home you can get up and do something useful: take the dog for a walk, do a bit of gardening, be productive while also clearing your mind (and cutting down on caffeine). Believe me, it’s amazing how much more fun doing the laundry is when you want to get away from a hard project for 20 minutes.

6. Freedom.

Anywhere with Wi-Fi can be your office. I wrote this from the beach in Florida. My home office was 350 miles away, but my children were on Christmas vacation that week, so rather than pay someone several hundred dollars to watch them, I picked up my laptop and drove south to find some free babysitters (the grandparents).

This is the ultimate benefit of working from “home.” In today’s technological world, you don’t have to be at home at all. You’re no longer tied to a physical location—as long as you have the tools you need to get your work done, you can be wherever your life wants or needs you to be, instead of wherever your work dictates you should be.

The Pitfalls

1. Always on.

With that freedom I just mentioned comes a rather heavy price. It can be hard to switch off, and many people who work from home find they work much longer hours than if they were following an office schedule. However, there’s also no need to “stay late at the office” just to impress the boss, or waste time in the middle of the day surfing Facebook because you’re bored. You get your work done and then you can focus on other things—but this means it’s essential to be organized and efficient, or else you will see productivity fall.

2. Loneliness.

This Christmas, my office holiday party featured a mini bottle of sparkling rosé and my dog. We had a nice time, but the conversation was a tad dry. Of course, skipping Christmas parties isn’t always a bad thing (some people go to great lengths to do so), and avoiding the perils of photocopiers when you’re a bit tipsy could save your career. But the point here is that working from home is a one-person job, and unless you’re a natural hermit, you will likely get lonely.

This loneliness can also have an adverse effect on your work. Many jobs need collaboration to thrive, and technology in the form of video calls and Slack channels only goes so far. Not having someone to bounce ideas off can be a real impediment to creativity, not to mention to your social skills in general.

It’s crucial to have something that takes you out of the home office on a regular basis, be it an active social or family life or scheduling face-to-face meetings with clients. Be sure to incorporate human contact into your work-from-home plan.

3. Unexpected expenses.

While working from home saves money in many areas—food, commuting, fancy clothes—there are unexpected expenses to bear in mind before taking the leap. You no longer have access to the office stationery cupboard, and you will be quite surprised how much office paper, printer ink and other basic necessities cost. Your utility bills will increase now that you’re home most of the day, and unless your tech skills are top notch, you’ll need to find a reputable tech guru to put on your “payroll.” Also, come tax time, you’ll need to graduate from the free TurboTax to an accountant (remember you can write off all or many of these home office expenses under certain circumstances).

The Fixes

The best way to combat some of these pitfalls is to take your home office seriously. Don’t just set up shop on the dining room table—mark your territory, even if you live alone. Having a door you can shut on your home office is a must, whichever side of it you end up on. A real home office, with all the essential tools you need to do your job properly—from a filing cabinet to a white board, a real office chair to expert lighting—should be a space that inspires you, pushes you to be productive and makes you feel proud of what you do and who you are.



Author: Jennifer Tuohy

Image: Flickr/Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Editor: Callie Rushton

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