I am approached regularly both personally and professionally by people asking, “What is it like to work from home?” This is usually followed by a statement along the lines of, “I wish I could find a sweet gig like that”.
Before you go off thinking that working from home is the easiest gig in the world, let’s take a few minutes to chat about the realities of the situation.
I’ve decided to approach this by systematically debunking a list of “work-at-home” statements I hear on a regular basis:
“You’re so lucky not to need a babysitter”
This is the statement I hear most often so I’m debunking it first.
Let’s start with a mental exercise. Imagine bringing your 16 year old to work with you. What would your day be like? How long will your teenager sit in the corner quietly and complacently waiting for your shift to end? Let’s assume there are one or two “challenges” that occur during their visit to your office, how would that impact your work for the day? Now let’s bring them back the next day, and the next. How about every single day? What will your work look like then?
Now let’s apply that same scenario to a 10 year old.
5 year old?
How about a newborn baby?
Now think about bringing multiple children with you?
How long did it take you before you began thinking about options for childcare?
Working in a professional setting with the distraction of your children won’t be as productive as your job may require. The same goes for working from home. I do have a babysitter who just happens to be a wonderful stay-at-home dad and in order to successfully perform my job’s functions I NEED to have my own space, behind a closed door where I can focus on what needs to be done without interruption.
Now, does this mean I don’t poke my head out from time to time to say hello to the kids? Of course not! No one said there weren’t perks.
“It would be nice to be able to watch TV all day”
Boy would it ever! I mean if I could figure out a way to earn a decent paycheck just by surfing through reality television, I’d be all over it.
But the reality is, I was hired for a different job. One that involves conference calls, creative thinking, and some hefty deadlines. I can’t imagine any of my job requirements would benefit from frequent intermissions to watch television. Furthermore, I have no idea how I would justify to my boss that Brittany, Megan, and Justin’s love triangle took precedent over our client’s project.
So how much TV do I watch each day?
About one hour before bedtime, and since I can only manage one a day, it had better be a riveting investment.
“You work from home, you don’t have a boss and co-workers to deal with”
I earn a paycheck as honestly as the next guy, which means, as you may have caught already, I do actually have a boss! In fact my boss has a boss, and that person has a boss, all the way up the chain. And guess what? I also have co-workers! Being virtual means that I have a whole global department of co-workers in fact. Coworkers from other states, other time zones, and other countries!
Whereas you may have to “deal” with Susie Q co-worker’s constant tapping of her pen, I am considering cultural differences, scheduling etiquette, and how to best collaborate in a virtual conversation. Meaning my communication with my team has to be on point, all of the time. If my boss, my co-workers, or myself is feeling the pressures of the day, one short-sighted instant message can bring down an entire project.
Working from home requires me to be constantly in tune with the “voice” of each team member in order to guarantee our collaborative efforts are as bountiful as they can be. So no, I do not “deal” with my team, but I am very aware of how much I need them in order to be successful.
“I wish I could work as little as I wanted”
This is one of the biggest myths of working-from-home because working from home actually takes a fair amount of self-control to stop working!
How much time do you spend on your morning commute? 15 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour?
Just because I don’t have a commute, doesn’t mean I get to work later. It typically means I get to work earlier. The time that you are spending driving to and from work are hours that I am typically working. It really isn’t so bad. If I have plans to meet with friends, I’d have to wait until they came home anyway.
Additionally, I need to be available to work with a variety of different time zones, and sometimes that makes for a long day. While I have the flexibility to take on some personal projects throughout the day, ultimately I will work extra hours to accommodate for that.
The problem I run into most often is the inability to remove myself from work. Having a home office means hearing your email ding in the middle of the night, your phone ring early in the morning, or the tempting glow of the monitor at 2:00am that beckons you to finish that one last little task you forgot to do earlier. This is another reason to have a closed off room that is solely dedicated to your office.
“You get to take vacation whenever you want”
Whereas trips to the grocery store may occur during the middle of the day, my vacation time is limited and scheduled around my project times. Often times months in advance. Furthermore, if my deadlines are at risk, my vacation gets cancelled.
Sounds harsh right? Cancel your vacations if you are behind in your work?
What it actually does is keep me on target. Vacation is important, and nothing is coming between me and a white sandy beach or a trip to the fresh mountain air. That means that I have to schedule out exactly how much time each portion of my project will take, and then stick to it. I even need to schedule buffer time. If something goes awry, I’ll put in overtime to get it done on time… but I’m not missing my vacation.
“I could never work a job without being social”
Neither could I. In fact, many people couldn’t. Communication is critical in a virtual world. It is the single most impactful recurring event for a virtual team. It keeps us from becoming depressed, self absorbed, and single-minded.
Earlier I said that we are required to be in tune to each other’s “voice”. The way we accomplish this is through consistent and frequent scheduled and impromptu meetings that span both professional and casual content. In order to form the bonds needed to have a meaningful working relationship we need to know how we each think professionally, creatively, and personally. Only then can we leverage each other effectively.
So, working from home does have its benefits, but can also be a challenging endeavor if you aren’t a self-accounting, extremely organized, effective communicator… with a babysitter.
Do you work from home? How does your workday differ from mine?
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