What’s better than rolling out of bed, grabbing a cup of coffee, and “commuting” to your living room couch, dining room table, or home office to get to work? No high-stress traffic. No crowded public transit. No worries about spilling coffee down your shirt without an extra one to change into. As with everything, though, the good can also come with the bad. And that includes telecommuting. Let’s dig into the pros and cons of working from home.
The Pros and Cons of Working from Home
As someone who has benefited from working remotely for the better part of the last 15 years, I can attest to the myriad benefits of working from home. I’d also, however, be dishonest if I were to say there aren’t any cons. And if you’re new to working from home, it can definitely take some adjustment. As perhaps an extreme example, my high-school-aged son is now learning to acclimate to telecommuting to school.
Pro #1: Flexibility!
For most bosses and clients (and now, for many teachers and students), as long as you get your work done on time and you’re available for meetings, your time is your own. If you’re a morning person, you can hit the ground running first thing. If you really don’t feel like your brain turns on until after 10:00 a.m., then sign up for a mid-morning start. Night owl? Go ahead and keep the midnight oil burning.
And if you need a break (for example, to clear your brain, walk the dog, or run an errand), who’s to stop you? You still have to meet your deadlines and be available to your team, but you can spread your time and responsibilities around to better fit your schedule and needs.
Con #1: You’re Always at Work
Many people use their time commuting to transition mentally from home mode to work mode and back again. But when you work from home, you’re always “at work.” Need to respond to an email? Do it while eating dinner. Got an idea for your next presentation? You can get on it right then—no need to wait until you’re back at the office.
When I first started to work from home, people often asked me how I got anything done with so many distractions. I, however, noticed there are way more distractions in an office. People dropping by your desk, the boss throwing you in an unexpected meeting… heck, even going to the bathroom, printer, or coffee pot could mean a 15-minute detour if someone wanted an impromptu discussion.
Working from home, on the other hand, meant I could deeply focus on my work; the biggest interruption is when my dogs bark at a random bird on the fence or my cat walks across my keyboard. So, I often find myself working more hours—and certainly more focused hours—-from home than I ever did at an office.
But that also meant that I was working during both traditional and less-traditional hours. For example, it wasn’t that unusual for me to be working away when I needed to be making dinner. And I’m still just as likely to be sitting at my desk writing on a Saturday morning as I am on an average Tuesday.
Tip: Create a Routine
When you’re first working from home, it can feel like you’re floating somewhere between work and home. You may decide to get another cup of coffee or tea only to find yourself doing this morning’s dishes and then scrubbing the kitchen countertops. Then, while cooking dinner, you may decide to fit in a little more work, turning on the stove and burning dinner while finalizing a report.
Most people who work from home advise that you start and end at specific times, just as you would if going into your job. Don’t start working until it’s time to work (and then don’t put it off), and then once the day is done, shut the computer off completely and walk away. This works even better if you have a specific place to work, and you can open the door to start and then shut the door at the end of the day. But if you do blend your work and home spaces, then at least put your work away, so it’s out of sight when you aren’t working.
It may take some trial and error, but getting into a routine is one of the best ways to maximize the pros of working from home.
Pro #2: Time to Focus
Without any office drop-bys, many people find they can more easily get into the flow of a project and stay there. In fact, many remote workers find that they’re more productive compared to when they’re in an office, and when surveyed, nearly 30% of remote workers found a decrease in interruptions.
Con #2: Greater Distractions
Sure, you don’t have to worry about co-workers chatting by the water cooler, but what if you have kids, dogs, cats, laundry, family phone calls, the latest news, and that addictive show on Netflix constantly calling for your attention? You may start longing for the productive, focused days of a hectic office.
Tip: Manage Distractions
No matter where you are working from—an office, a coffee shop, your home office, or living room couch—there are going to be distractions. That’s part of life. To help reduce distractions:
- Get away. Even if you don’t leave the house for work, you can often set up shop away from the rest of the household. If possible, set up some sort of boundary to keep distractions (especially family members) separate.
- Create a calendar with your to-do list. This way you can more easily keep track of what you need to do and stay focused to hit your deadlines.
- “Chunk” your work. It’s a rare person who can sit down and focus for hours on end. Create a schedule that includes regular breaks for exercise, lunch, getting some sunlight, or just taking some deep breaths to be more productive. Many productivity experts recommend working for 50 minutes followed by a 5- to 10-minute break, but feel free to find what works best for you.
- “Batch” similar work together. If you have a lot of phone calls to make or emails to respond to, set aside time to focus on that type of work. Then set up another time to do your work that involves more focus.
- Play background music. Use Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, or your favorite streaming music to find music that helps boost your productivity.
- Dress up your desk space. A little special décor can help you look forward to working. Add some pictures, inspirational quotes, plants, or anything that helps you jump into work mode. Or, set up your desk space near a favorite window to enjoy the view and get some natural light.
- Get dressed. You may think one of the biggest benefits of working from home is that you can stay in your pajamas all day long. That is, until after three days when you realize you haven’t showered, changed, or even combed your hair (and for some reason, there’s a funky smell by your desk). Schedule time to get ready for the day and actually get dressed. Part of working from home is the mental game; “getting ready” helps you get to the right mental space and helps create that schedule/routine.
- Share your schedule. If you are working with family members home, let them know your working schedule. You can even post it on your door or the back of the computer. If you have older kids, you can give them specific times when they are allowed interrupt you. Younger kids take a little more flexibility, but you can often use color codes to let them know when they’re free to interrupt, to use caution, or to please stay away.
- Know thyself. If you are the type of person who can’t focus on work if something else is hanging over your head, then make sure you deal with that before you get to work. For example, if a sink of dirty dishes leaves you staring toward your kitchen rather than getting down to work, take the time to clean up the kitchen before getting in the saddle for the day. If you find notifications on your phone constantly pulling you away, then leave your phone in another room. If social media tempts you, there are productivity apps available that allow you to limit the time you’re on them or that help block them altogether. Some remote workers use one browser for work and another for personal use to help avoid distractions.
- Make it visible. Whether it’s a printed to-do list, a dry-erase board, a bulletin board, or a giant calendar, make your deadlines and schedule visual—and celebrate when you cross something off! Seriously, it’s important to celebrate your successes.
- Get up, stand up. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should lounge on the couch all day. Help keep yourself energized and focused by moving around and breaking up the monotony. Walk during audio conference calls, stand up while running through emails (use the kitchen counter or stack some books or a box on your desk for a make-shift standing desk, for example), or just take the long way to the coffee pot.
- Take advantage of the freedom. If you find it’s difficult to focus where you are, go someplace else. During the spring and fall, I often head out to work in the backyard at the patio table. I am privileged with a laptop that can go with me anywhere, but I find my favorite time to get outside is when I’m working on a project that doesn’t require a computer. As a bonus, the change of scenery can help me gain new perspective and ideas.
Pro #3: Healthy Food Options
It’s your house, and that means you’re in charge of stocking the food. Fresh veggies and fruits, delicious protein powders (and no line for the blender or complaints about how loud it is), a place to eat anything you want (even more “stinky” foods like tuna or curry). Plus, it’s easy to grab something to eat throughout the day whenever you’re hungry. And, it’s typically cheaper to make food for yourself than to grab take out.
Con #3: Eat Anytime You Want
You’re struggling with a project, feeling unsettled and unfocused… why not see what’s in the fridge (for the 600th time today). When working from home, it’s easy to mindlessly snack on a handful of nuts here, an extra serving of that there, until you feel like all you did today was eat. Even with the healthiest choices, if you’re eating mindlessly, the calories can add up.
Tip: Eat Mindfully
Don’t eat in front of your computer and keep your “office” or at least desk a no-food zone. Instead, head to your kitchen or dining room, prepare your food, and eat while you’re not distracted by a device. There are many pitfalls from eating mindlessly, and it’s easy to do from home.
Do, however, keep plenty of liquids around; make sure you have a water bottle and feel free to sip on coffee or tea as you work. Or, enjoy fruit-infused water throughout the day. We keep a pitcher filled with water and lemon slices in the fridge at all times. So, it’s super easy to fill up the water bottle with delicious, refreshing lemon water any time with minimal disruption.
Now isn’t the time to stop meal prep either. Having healthy options ready to grab and eat will help you keep your nutrition on point, no matter where you work from.
Pro #4: You’re an Introvert
You prefer being alone anyway. Working from home is heavenly, thank you very much.
Con #4: You’re an Extrovert
Working from home can be lonely, especially if you gain energy from being around other people. If you think about some of your best friends throughout the years, you likely met them at work or school. The people you chat with regularly at the office, hit the gym with at lunch, have drinks with after work, and enjoy spending time with. Now that you’re working from home, it’s difficult to connect when you only see people via FaceTime, Google Duo, Skype, or Zoom, talk on the phone, or communicate by email.
Tip: Stay Connected
I’m about as introverted as you can be, so in my first months of working from home, I soaked up the isolation. Then one week, I realized I had not driven my car in literally weeks, and I began to wonder if I would be able to carry on a conversation that wasn’t about a work project.
Even if you are an extreme introvert or you are alone most of the time (by choice or not), being connected to others is vital for health—both mental and physical. Find ways to socialize; enjoy an online social hour, call friends and family, wave and smile at neighbors when on a walk, or even chat with the checker at your local grocery store. You’ll feel more like the human you are when you can get away from your desk, take a break, and visit with other people from time to time.
Pro #5: Advanced Technology
With high-speed internet, light-weight laptops, and more apps and programs than you could ever imagine, working from home is becoming more convenient than ever before. In fact, a number of companies operate solely with remote workers as it drastically cuts down on overhead, and again, many workers find they’re more productive away from the office.
It’s also so much easier to communicate. From Microsoft Teams to shared Google Docs to a wide variety of team workflow management/process programs (like Monday.com, Asana, Trello, Hive, and so many others), it’s easier for teams to keep track of where each and every project is.
Con #5: Unreliable Technology
Internet goes down, computers crash, files you’ve been working on for days (weeks?) disappear to some nether region of the cloud. Ack! Now you’re your own IT person, and it’s on you to figure out why that document won’t open, who made the latest changes, or why your computer won’t turn on this morning. (There are worse feelings than that when you’re on a deadline, but it can definitely raise your stress levels from mild to extreme.)
Unfortunately, it’s also easy to misread communications when they’re all electronic. There is no body language, facial expression, or tone of voice to indicate humor, lightheartedness, or mood, and it’s easy to misconstrue intent and assume the worse.
Tip: Communication Is Key
Prepare for the unexpected and stay in good communication with your team. For example, if you know your internet is spotty, have a plan B for where to work when it’s down (even if that’s parked outside of a coffee shop). It also doesn’t hurt to know of a computer shop or two to take your machine if there’s trouble. And remember to always backup your work (which is so much easier now with automatic cloud backups).
In addition, if you’re working remotely, strive to overcommunicate and emphasize the positive. The extra effort is worth it and could prevent unnecessary tension or discomfort with a co-worker, boss, or employee due to a simple misunderstanding.
Pros and Cons of Telecommuting: A Recap
Everyone is different, of course, but many people find that working remotely has positive effects on their mental and physical health, their finances, their career, their family life, their life goals, and even their social life.
Working from home does pose challenges and may take some time for adjustment. For most workers, however, by creating a schedule, learning to communicate positively, and better understanding themselves, they may discover that working from home, at least part of the time, positively impacts nearly every aspect of their lives. At the very least, it can teach you a lot about yourself and the type of person you are.