The Straight Talk on Working From Home

Photo: Victor1558

If you don’t work from home, I’ve got some bad news — it doesn’t involve sleeping in every day, then rolling out of bed to do some work in your PJs. I work from home. Actually, I’m at home, working, right now. No PJs, though. And I’m up at the same time I was when I worked in an office. I think the thing that many people forget about working from home is that regardless of whether you’re sitting at a desk in your home office or typing away on the patio, it’s still working. And, assuming you need to make money (like I do), there won’t be a lot of leisure time. (See also: 10 Productivity Hacks From a Work-at-Home Mom)

If you’re wondering what it’s like to work from home or thinking about making the switch, here are some things to consider.

You’re the Boss

When I tell people I work from home, the response I get most often is “Oh, I could never do that — I’d never get any work done!” You’d think that the desire to be productive and earn some money would be enough motivation to stay on task, but this isn’t true for everybody. In my work as an editor, I’m always surprised at how many full-time freelance writers blow deadlines and make all kinds of excuses about turning work in on time. It just goes to show you that some people will procrastinate even when their livelihood’s at stake. Other writers are so productive, I can hardly keep up. I think it can all be chalked up to personality. When you work unsupervised, you get to manage your own time. That’s a perk, but not for those who aren't able to keep themselves on task.

There Are Distractions

When you work in an office, everyone is supposed to be working. That usually means distractions are fairly minimal, or at least pertinent to the job. Not so at home. Neighbors knock at the door because they know I’m home. Ditto with phone calls. Plus, when the laundry and chores are literally piling up around me, it can be hard to ignore them in favor of paid work. One distraction I don’t have — kids. That’s a whole other challenge that some people have to manage as well. I try to set some hours and spend them working, while ignoring as many distractions as possible. There will be distractions, though, so it's best to have a game plan about how to manage them.

You Still Need a Schedule

What I like about working from home is flexibility. My time is my own, which allows me to build a day that reflects what’s important to me. I can pick people up from the airport, take a break to go for a run outside on a beautiful day, or visit with a friend who suddenly appears in town. That said, it’s remarkable how quickly all the fun stuff can cut into work hours. Overall, I try to keep a pretty consistent schedule. And when there’s nothing fun to do, I pile on as much work as I can stomach. That gives me some breathing room when I get a good reason to ditch my desk for the afternoon.

People Assume You Don’t Work

If you work from home, many people will assume that you spend the day napping and watching TV. I haven’t figured out how to be paid to do this yet, so it doesn't happen (but I’ll keep you posted). The truth is, I’d probably be lazier if I was working on someone else’s time rather than my own.

Deductions Are a Good Thing...Sort Of

There are definitely some cost savings to working out of a home office: no commute, no business suits, no Starbucks latte. You can also deduct some home and business expenses. But there’s one thing people forget about deductions, which is that you have to spend money to take them. As a result, having a ton of deductions isn’t necessarily such a great thing. It just means you spent a lot of money to make money. You can also deduct some home expenses, such as Internet, telephone, and utility bills. The catch is you can only deduct the portion that’s used for your work. And trust me, once you divide it all out, that deduction won’t be nearly as exciting as you thought it would be.

You’ll Work a Lot

When you work and relax on the same turf, it can be hard to figure out where work ends and home begins. That tends to mean that I’m often typing away on evenings and weekends, too, because if I can be making some money, I should be, right? Actually, no. Because the longer I work, the slower (and grumpier) I get. And that doesn’t make for good writing — or a good life, for that matter.

It Can Be Lonely

I recently fell off my bike and hurt myself badly enough that I couldn’t do any of the things I normally do to get myself out of the house, such as taking a run with my friends, going to yoga, or strolling the neighborhood with my boyfriend. This meant that I basically never left the house for an entire week. If you work from home — and I can’t stress this enough — you need to find activities that will get you out of the house every day. Otherwise you will basically become a hermit. At home. In your PJs. And frankly, that’s a bit sad.

Working at home isn’t for everyone, but it certainly has its perks. If you’re pondering making this shift, be honest with yourself. Some people are well-suited to being their own bosses, but that isn’t true for everyone. I also have a hunch that if people realized how much work they’d really be doing, they might not be so keen on ditching the office job. Plus, it’s nice to get dressed sometimes.

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Meg Favreau's picture

YES. So much agreement here. I really love working from home, but I do have to bite my tongue a little bit whenever someone tells me how awesome that must be -- they always get the reasons why it's great wrong.

And I'm so sorry to hear about the bike accident -- both because of the accident and the socialization. Last week I was working on a big project that had me leaving the apartment and seeing people a lot, and it's been tough going back to a normal week when I don't necessarily have a reason to leave my apartment every day.

Tara Struyk's picture

Aww thanks. The upside was the my boredom led to a very productive week work-wise.

Guest's picture

It would be nice to have the option of working from home a few days a week, however I think there are some things you just simply need to be in house for. When questions arise, it's much more of a hassle having to call and work out a problem over the phone than being able to speak to someone directly. At home however, I think I would get distracted much more easily by other things that need to be done, as well as simply the environment being more laid back.

Guest's picture

When people find out that I work from home, some are envious whilst some think it's not a real job. But I love this set-up for its many perks.

Tara Struyk's picture

I think the idea that working at home isn't real work is slowing changing, though. I've seen a lot more companies offering that as an option. As long as they get the productivity they want, it sure makes sense for the bottom line!

Guest's picture

So true..! I recently left my full time job for Full time Writing and Consulting, however I have to deal with the loneliness factor quite a lot.

Being at office and home is certainly different for a lot of people, including me, and hence I joined a public library here to work from. It's certainly better when I find people around me, I find myself a lot more energetic than being at home.

After all, you just cannot change the personality within you.

Guest's picture
Janet Day

My question is, how do you even find an at-home job? All such jobs I've researched have turned out to be rip-offs.

Guest's picture

I want to know about that, too. That is a goal of mine so I can be there to work and have my kid. I have two degrees and I am having a hard time seeing wha potential
is out there. Also, I live on one of the more remote islands of Hawaii and maybe you need a big city near to get a job a home? Anyone have something to say about this?