Working from home has long been considered the peak of businesses-related achievements, shortly beneath raises and a corner office in terms of bragging rights. People who work from home get to structure their day around their normal work routine, and they’re not staggering into the house at some hour past 6PM to cook a ready meal and fall asleep midway through eating it. People who work from home have more time, have all their comforts, and they don’t need to wear a suit and tie to go to work, or deal with traffic woes on their way to the office.
It sounds ideal, and for a lot of people who have responsibilities beyond the office – children, a sick family member, a chronic illness they need to manage – working from home can be the best solution to both keep their job and also upkeep their other responsibilities. Even for people who don’t have those responsibilities to keep in check, working from home can be a decent break from routine to jump-start creativity and increase your productivity. Furthermore, if you don’t have to deal with the 8:30 gridlock that spreads throughout all of Malta every morning, it will put you in a better mood, and eager to start your job instead of showing up late and grumpy to the office, and procrastinating because you haven’t woken up properly and can’t face the job at hand.
That said, working from home has certain pitfalls that are difficult to see when you can only see the benefits. The truth is, working from home is the same as keying into your office, except your office now needs cleaning and organising. And you might have made your lunch, but in all likelihood working from home means you’ll also be doing the cooking.
Here are four hidden difficulties of working from home that you might not have considered.
Even if you’re not a people person, you have to admit that colleagues make the day go by faster. Whether you’re chatting at the water cooler, or with your headphones on and vaguely aware of other people in the room, your colleagues are the biggest, and noisiest, difference between working from home and working from an office. True, getting away from office politics and gossip hounds who haunt your desk trying to figure out what you did this weekend is refreshing. That said, the day is a lot longer when you don’t have anyone to talk to.
Having other people around isn’t a necessity, but those intermittent little breaks can do a lot for your mental health. Taking breaks from your work is crucial to your productivity, and more importantly, your mental health, so the value of having someone to distract you from your work, and someone to talk to when you do take those breaks, shouldn’t be undermined.
Furthermore, there’s another aspect of working from home, alone, that isn’t spoken about a lot: it gets lonely. Having someone in the background or in the same room is a comfort. At home, unless you have a pet of some kind, you are alone, and while in the short-term this can be just the mental break you needed, in the long-term it’s difficult to work long days completely alone and still enjoy it.
Your first day of working from home is going to fly by – that’s just what happens with new experiences. You’ll have the most productive day of your life, only pausing to eat and to wash the dishes you ate in. Later, you will do some extra work sitting at your work table. Maybe you’ll keep going until later.
The thing is, people are under the impression that working from home is not really ‘working’. There’s no boss, no structure to keep you in place, so little transgressions like checking Facebook feel like you’re letting the entire company down. Also, when you’re working from home, it’s difficult to get perspective and gauge how much work you should actually be doing.
And when there’s no boss walking by and no structure to keep you accountable, you might just do more work than necessary, which is fine, once or twice. Work from home constantly, though, and that once or twice will turn into a nightly routine.
On paper, doing more work doesn’t actually sound all that bad – it’s only an hour here, a half hour there, maybe you eat at your desk or kitchen counter and read through your emails. In practice, though, it’s a quick way to burnout, and while your boss might be happy, it’s likely that they don’t understand how much work you are actually doing. Keep that pace up for months, and you’ll start to get locked down in time-wasting activities because you dread going to work – which, as you’re working from home, also means your brain won’t switch off from ‘work mode’.
In the office, it’s easy to communicate with your colleagues if you have a problem or you don’t understand what you’re working on. In reality, if you’re working from home, connecting to clients and your colleagues to understand a difficult brief might be harder than you expect. Between the regular problems that could arise from working from home – weak wifi signals, missed calls to the office – there’s also the problem that, because everything is conducted through email or over the phone, tasks that need immediate attention amount to just another interruption in the day, which means they might not get done sooner, or seen quickly enough. Furthermore, it’s hard to gauge someone’s mood and attitude through email, which could lead to a lot of misinformation and cause problems later on.
Admit it, everyone has those days where the effort of focusing is just too much to deal with, and your eyes start rolling in your skull every time you try and narrow your attention to whatever you’re doing. It’s pretty common for people to run out of productivity steam by the middle of the day, and when you’re working from home and not in an office, it can be easy enough to decide to watch a couple of episodes of a show until you get your mojo back.
However, that is a slippery slope. People who normally suffer from motivational issues should think carefully about working from home – when you’re already struggling to focus in an office with other things happening around you, adding the extra temptation of being able to do what you want without having to answer to anyone (in theory) is not a good idea. That said, even if you are one of the most productive people around, having an off day when you’re working from home is that much more difficult to overcome it when you have nobody to talk to to get your motivation back.
All of this might make it seem like working from home is more trouble than it’s worth, however it is not the case. Working from home occasionally can be a good idea; home comforts can help you feel more productive if you’re having a slow day, or provide a source of encouragement if you’re struggling to get work done.
Furthermore, if you have family members that depend on you, such as children or the elderly, or if you have a chronic illness and can’t be at the office for long periods of time, working from home is a good balance between independence and giving up your job. As with any new experience, it’s important to remember that working from home isn’t for everyone, and even if you think you are the most antisocial person around, working from home can take a toll on your mental health and make you feel isolated and unhappy.
If you’re struggling to work at home, taking a trip to the office could do wonders for your productivity. If you can’t go into the office, consider working from a different setting to normal, such as a busy coffee shop or a library just to get yourself out of the house. When you work from one location, it can be easy to grow complacent and therefore find it a struggle to finish basic tasks. Similarly, working from home might make it difficult to relax at home, so it’s important to be strict with yourself, and set limits and goals to complete by the end of the day. If you haven’t finished everything by the end of the day, there’s always tomorrow. Even if it’s tempting to finish that task you were struggling with, going over the time limits you gave yourself will just enforce the idea that your home has now become solely for work.
Ultimately, working from home has a lot of benefits going for it: it’s flexible, it makes it easier to achieve a good work-life balance, and it allows you to spend more time with your loved ones. However, if you’re prone to loneliness, working from home can do more harm than good, and increase your sense of isolation and reduce your productivity.