August 2018

Three Reasons Working from Home is Not at All What You Think

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

It’s not all sipping tea and reclining on the couch. Sometimes it’s barking dogs, floundered productivity and crippling loneliness. But occasionally there’s tea.

As of this writing, it has been nearly five years since I worked in an actual office. Over that time, my office has been wherever my laptop lands: dining room tables, coffee shops, you name it. I mostly work from a desk in my bedroom, pausing only to hop on an elliptical that’s also in my bedroom or go downstairs to the kitchen for what amounts to a nice change of scenery.

But one place I never work is the sofa. I only bring this up because something like 99 percent of stock photos of “working from home” consist of a perky young woman, who has actually taken the time to match her makeup to her yoga pants, sitting cross-legged on a sofa with a laptop perched on both knees. Sometimes, just to shake things up, she’ll somehow also be holding a cup of tea with both hands. If you’ve ever actually tried working like this, I’m sorry about that time you spilled tea all over your laptop.

Everyone has this mental image of working from home, having unrestricted freedom to set your own schedule without some boss breathing down your neck about productivity every five minutes. When I tell people that I work from home, the response is always, “Well that must be nice.” As if by reducing my morning commute to a matter of a few feet, I’ve somehow managed to find a way to make a living by playing Nintendo all day.

The fact is, there are all sorts of complications that make working from home just as difficult as sharing cubicle space with people you can barely stand and who won’t stop messing with the thermostat. For example:

1. Odds are good that you are a terrible manager. One of the reasons people in office jobs always dream about being able to work from home is that they no longer have to deal with eight different bosses who are always hounding them about something. But here’s the funny thing about those bosses: They do a great job of keeping you on task.

When there’s a chance someone could walk in at any moment, odds are good you’re not going to kill a half hour on YouTube. You might sneak in a game of minesweeper now and again, but you’re never really going to waste time at the level you do working from home.

I don’t care how motivated you are, or how hard you schedule yourself, you’re going to have days when you get a bad case of the screwits. As I write this, I do so three hours after I’d intended to. It started by checking Facebook, then I read a few stories on Cracked. Then I thought I’d squeeze in a quick room escape game just to get my brain firing. And suddenly, it was lunch time.

Those managers are there for a reason. Given the choice between working and being entertained, most people are going to take the latter. It is possible to keep yourself on track, but it’s much easier when there’s someone there whose job it is to keep you on track.

2. Your family never knows when you’re working. Or they don’t care. Picture an executive in a fancy office with a fancy desk in their fancy suit. Now try to picture that person feverishly working on getting an important contract put together before a meeting, when their child walks in and demands a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Or their spouse walks in, lays down on the fancy couch and casually launches into a conversation about their day. Or a dog picks that moment to leave a mess right in that fancy office then start barking at nothing outside the fancy window. It’s hard to picture, right?

Now strip away the fancy office, the fancy desk and the fancy suit. You’re left with the home office. And suddenly all of those scenarios are your everyday working life.

It’s hard to fault family members when they barge in during working hours and treat your office like another room in the house. To them, it is. They can’t tell when you’re fighting against a deadline, casually wrapping up a few loose ends or simply surfing the Web. So they respond accordingly. The other day, my son decided to start playing “ding dong ditch” with me. He didn’t know I was under deadline. To him, he was just having fun with his dad. I explained to him that I was, in fact, upstairs working and he understood. Now if only that kind of reasoning worked on the dog.

3. You start to miss having people around. Even obnoxious people. Yes, your co-workers are literally the worst people. I know. Everyone tells me that when they tell me how much they’d love to work at home. Co-workers talk too loud. They eat the most-foul smelling food they can when they eat at the office. They come into your office at the most inopportune times to start telling you about their boring personal lives. They won’t stop playing with the thermostat. They are constantly stealing your food from the office fridge (don’t even try to deny it Gladys; I know it’s you). And maybe it’s just five years of near-solitude talking, but you do eventually miss that. You miss the people who became your work family. You start to realize how much that tiny bit of water-cooler talk let you feel like a part of society.

I’m lucky in that I get to host a weekly trivia show (Wednesdays at the Bluffton Captain Woody’s; come on out), so I’m able to actually socialize with other adult human beings. But a lot of people who work from home don’t have that outlet.

Yes, there is a certain sense of freedom that comes from working at home. But it’s a freedom that comes with strings. If you can keep yourself on task, set work/life boundaries, and find some way to get outside the house and meet people, it’s a great way to work. Even if it’s not all tea and couches.

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