If you’ve got a long commute or a busy schedule, getting the opportunity to work from home can seem like a dream come true. You can say goodbye to transportation costs and the stress related to sitting in traffic. Plus, the extra hour or hours you get back when you don’t have to drive into work means you get to do things you love, like spending time with your family, making elaborate dinners, or starting a new hobby. When you work from home, you also reduce your exposure to germs and sick colleagues.
While working from home is ideal for many people, it’s not the right option for everyone. Before you ask your employer to let you telecommute, take a few minutes to consider the pros and cons of working from home. It’s also a good idea to separate fact from fiction when it comes to understanding what a work-from-home lifestyle is like.
Common Myths About Working From Home
People often make working from home out to be some sort of utopia, a land where you can sit around your house all day in sweatpants, occasionally getting up to take a work call or type up a memo. Work-from-home reality looks a lot different, though. Before getting to the pros and cons, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about remote work to clear up.
Myth #1: You Can Work From Home & Take Care of Your Children
It’s tough to look after your children and try to get work done. Yet people often promote working from home as a viable option when the kids need to stay home from school or for new moms who want to stay home with their babies. If the kids are home, someone needs to be looking after them, and it most likely can’t be the person who’s also trying to squeeze in an eight-hour workday.
So how can you work from home if you have kids? Ordinarily, you can hire a nanny or babysitter just like you did when you worked outside the home. But under extraordinary circumstances, such as a blizzard or when you’re social-distancing due to a spreading illness, you need to get creative.
Depending on the age of your children, you can put one of them in charge, making them the babysitter. Another option is to set your work schedule around your kids’ schedules. That can mean working at night after they’ve gone to bed or during their naps. When something genuinely unusual is forcing you to work from home, some employers are more flexible than usual, letting you adapt your work schedule.
If you’re co-parenting, the two of you can come up with a plan that allows you both to be productive while your kids get the supervision they need. For example, one of you works for a few hours while the other parent looks after the kids, then you switch.
Myth #2: You Don’t Actually “Work” From Home
People often joke that “working from home” means getting household chores done, running errands, and doing other things that aren’t actually work. While you can throw in a load of laundry between emails when you’re working at home, being home on the job doesn’t mean you’re sitting there doing nothing or watching cat videos all day.
In fact, home-based workers tend to be more productive than their on-site colleagues. One 2015 study from Stanford University found a 13% improvement in productivity when employees of a Chinese travel agency call center started working from home. The work-from-home employees took more calls per minute and worked more minutes per hour than those who worked in the office.
Myth #3: You Can Work on the Couch or in Your PJs
Technically speaking, you can stay in your pajamas all day when you work from home, especially if you don’t have any video calls or meetings. And you can set up shop on your couch. But take it from me, someone who’s been working from home for more than 10 years now: You probably don’t want to.
Think about the times when you do spend all day in your pajamas. Usually, you’re either in jammy-mode because you’re home sick or you’re relaxing after a long day. The last thing you want to do when you’re home with a cold or stomach bug is think about work. The last thing you want to do when you’re kicking back is work.
So staying in your pajamas probably won’t help most people get into work mode each day. You don’t have to dress business formal while you’re working at home, but at the very least, it’s a smart idea to put on the same type of clothes you’d wear to the office.
When deciding where in your home to work, choose a place that makes you feel like you’re at work. If you typically relax and watch TV from your couch, it can be challenging to do work while sitting there. The same is true of working in bed (plus dragging your laptop into your bed is terrible for your sleep hygiene).
The type of setup you need also determines where you can work. If you need to use a large monitor or other complicated equipment, give yourself a dedicated desk, preferably in a room with a locking door so your kiddos don’t barge in while you’re on a conference call or being interviewed on the news.
Myth #4: Anything Goes When You Work From Home
It’s a common misconception that working from home means limitless flexibility. You do have some freedom to set your own schedule when you’re home. But for the most part, many businesses expect you to be working during traditional business hours. Working during the same hours as your colleagues means you can easily reach out and connect if anything comes up during the day.
Myth #5: My Employer Will Never Let Me Work From Home
A lot of people assume their job requires them to be on-site or in the office and that their employers would never approve remote work. The opposite is true. More than 90% of business owner respondents to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work survey said they always intend to support remote work. So it pays to negotiate remote work options with your boss.
Many employers are much more open to letting people work remotely during a crisis. If the safety and health of their team is at stake, plenty of companies happily allow people to stay home.
Advantages of Working From Home
If your company agrees to let you work from home, either permanently or during a special circumstance, you can expect several discernible benefits.
1. Limited Exposure to Sick Contacts
We’ve all had to share a cubicle or conference room with a co-worker who really should have stayed home that day. Perhaps you’ve been that co-worker at one point or another. While you can sanitize or wash your hands regularly and go out of your way to disinfect any surfaces your sick colleague could have touched, the safest move is just to have people work from home.
Working from home doesn’t just limit your exposure to fellow workers who might have the cold, the flu, or even a pandemic-related disease. It also limits your exposure to other potentially sick people, such as people on public transit or the barista at your local coffee shop. If you’re ill or might be, staying home reduces the chances you’ll spread your illness to others.
2. No Commute
The average person who commutes to work spends 52 minutes in their car getting to and from work each day, according to a 2017 analysis of U.S. Census data from 2012 to 2016. In some places in the U.S., people’s commutes are even longer. According to the same Census data, people in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, have the longest average commute time — nearly 40 minutes each way. Those in the NYC metropolitan area have it just as bad, spending about 37 minutes getting work.
All that time spent in your car driving to work and back home again adds up. At the end of a five-day workweek, the average employee has spent more than half a workday driving.
Once you start working from home, that commute is gone. Not only do you get the greater part of a workday back in terms of time, but you also save money on gas, tolls, and wear and tear on your car.
3. Increased Productivity
When you’re home working, Joan from accounting isn’t there to complain to you about her in-laws, and Joe from marketing isn’t there to tell you all about his kid’s school play. As a result, many people find they’re able to get more done when they stay home compared to when they go into the office.
At-home workers also tend to be more productive because they’re less likely to have to drop what they’re working on to go to meetings throughout the day. The Stanford study found that people took fewer breaks when they worked at home, which also helped to boost their productivity.
Disadvantages of Working From Home
Working from home isn’t all roses, though. There are some notable drawbacks to staying home to do your job. None of them is insurmountable. Prepare to telecommute by coming up with a plan for dealing with them before you decide to stay home. And if any unforeseen challenges of remote work come up, don’t give up. There are ways around those too.
1. You Need a Reliable High-Speed Internet Connection
Most work-at-home roles require you to have a reliable high-speed Internet connection. You need to get online to access video conferencing, send email, and stay in contact with your team throughout the day.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, nearly three-quarters of adults in the U.S. had a broadband connection at home as of February 2019. But the Internet can go down unexpectedly, and many Internet service providers prioritize higher-cost business plan Internet access during the repair process.
When you’re on deadline, those moments can be frustrating. If possible, have a backup connection available in case your primary home Internet connection goes out. For example, if you have a smartphone plan with unlimited data, check to see if you can use your phone as a mobile hotspot in case your home’s Internet connection is down. Just remember to plug your phone in. Using it as a hotspot can kill your battery quickly.
2. You Might Feel Distant From Your Colleagues
While Joan from accounting’s stories might distract you or annoy you from time to time, it’s still nice to have a connection with the people you work with. It’s also nice to have people to talk to as you go about your day. When you work at home, watercooler talk isn’t really a thing unless you start talking to your pets. The first few days or weeks can feel lonely.
One way to work around the disconnect is to schedule check-ins with your team from time to time. It can boost your morale to have a 15-minute phone or video call with your colleagues at least once per week — just to check in and see what people have been up to. You can also have the check-in be part of a regularly scheduled video conference or meeting.
3. You Might Stay on the Clock
Perhaps the biggest drawback of working from home is that you sometimes find yourself working a lot. It can be difficult to disconnect from work at the end of the day when your office is your home. You can find yourself checking and responding to emails when you want to be relaxing with family or getting sucked into completing a work-related task at midnight.
To avoid that trap, it’s crucial you establish boundaries from the start, both for yourself and your colleagues. Let people know your availability, such as between 9am to 5pm. If you find it tough to unplug at the end of the day, leave all of your work things (including your work phone or tablet) in your home office or a closet, and don’t let yourself use them after you’ve officially signed off for the day.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Working From Home
Before you take the plunge, it’s essential you think carefully about what you want working from home to look like. Making a game plan can help you succeed and continue to stay connected to your co-workers.
How Will You Set Up Your Office?
Create a dedicated space for work in your home, ideally in a room with a door that closes. If you don’t have a spare room at home, find a quiet corner for a desk in a place people rarely use during the day, such as in your living room or family room. Just make sure your family members know you’ll be in there working and need quiet during your working hours.
Think carefully about what you need to do your work. Some workers can get by with just a laptop and a good Internet connection. Others need a more complex setup involving multiple monitors, virtual private networks through a company like NordVPN, and remote desktop software. If you’re making the switch permanently or at least working from home more frequently, put a little more effort into setting up an efficient home office that can serve your needs for years to come.
How Will You Manage Distractions?
While you have fewer distractions from co-workers when you aren’t in the office, you also need a way to avoid distractions while working from home. Things like social media, chatty family members, and household chores can tank your productivity. Have a plan for limiting them, such as taking short breaks every hour or so or temporarily blocking certain websites, such as social media and online stores, from your computer. If you can find a different browser to use for work, you don’t even have to unblock them later.
Who Will Look After the Kids or Pets?
If you have kids, figure out who’s going to look after them if they’re home while you’re working. The same goes for pets, although to a lesser extent. You can use a service like Rover or Wag to hire someone to walk your dog during the day.
How Will You Stay Social?
Workplace happy hours, lunch breaks, and break room chats aren’t a thing when you have a home office. It’s important to find time to socialize, either with your colleagues or with other friends. Staying social can be particularly challenging during times when people are encouraged to maintain social distances for safety reasons. A few options for staying social when you’re working from home include creating a virtual book or movie club or scheduling regular video chats with friends and family.
If you’re used to working in an office each day, making the switch to remote or home-based work can be an adjustment. Things can be particularly challenging in times of uncertainty or when you’re not sure if working from home will be a permanent change or a temporary measure.
Making a plan and carving out space for your work at home can help you as you make the switch. It’s also vital that you set boundaries with yourself, your family, and your employer so that everyone is on the same page and knows when you’re in work mode and when you’re not.
You could even find that you love it and start looking into jobs that let you work remotely full time.
Has your employer recently implemented a work-from-home policy? How are you making it work for you?