When people hear that I work from home full-time, they typically have one of two reactions—they either say, “Oh, you’re so lucky!” as if working from home is like winning the lottery, or they say, “I could never do that,” as if it’s the hardest thing they can imagine. The truth is somewhere in between. Not having a commute is wonderful, and once in a while, when I’m not very busy, I can even sneak in a mid-afternoon nap. (On those days, I feel like I’ve won the lottery.) Working from home can also be brutal, and there are days when I spend every waking moment on the computer.
I’ve been working from home as a freelance writer for most of my adult life, but it has become common for people to work remotely even if they’re full-time and on salary. To get another perspective on this stuff, I talked to my friend Emily Parker, the director of development at Food Forward, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent food waste. She works from home one or two days a week, and for her, that balance is essential. She said, “Our organization has grown so much that when I’m in the office, I’m in a meeting almost every moment of the entire day. It’s great, because I really like the people I work with and I like collaborating, but I also have a lot of other work to do. I’ve found that my work-at-home days are vital to my productivity, because I can limit my interruptions.”
For others, working from home is too quiet—and too lonely. Emily told me, “The person I share an office with always talks about how she likes having background noise, and having people around. My dream situation would be to have my own office, and be able to close my door. I work better when I’m not being distracted.”
Do You Have What It Takes to Work from Home?
You know yourself and your work habits better than anyone else. Below are six questions to ask yourself before you ask your supervisor about the possibility of working from home.
1. Can you stick to a schedule?
If you typically start every day by hitting the snooze button multiple times, and then rushing through your morning routine so your boss won’t yell at you again for coming in late, working from home might be a bad idea. You have to be able to motivate yourself to get up, start working, and stick to a schedule, even if the only person you’re accountable to is yourself.
2. Are you organized enough to manage your workload?
I use a paper calendar, Google calendar, and a to-do list that I check throughout the day—and this is still challenging for me. I have to be flexible enough to reprioritize my to-do list as new assignments come in, while also keeping an eye on the big picture so everything is turned in on time. As a freelancer, my workload is always changing, and staying on top of it is the hardest part of working from home.
3. Can you handle being your own office manager and I.T. person?
When you work from home, it’s up to you to make sure you have everything you need, from coffee to printer ink to wifi. When my internet connection goes out, or my computer does something strange, I have to solve the problem myself. If you’re freelance like me, you also have to have a system for sending and tracking invoices, or else you won’t get paid.
4. How good are your communication skills?
I prefer receiving project information by email, or through a team chat program like Slack, because that way I have everything in writing, and I can refer back to it if necessary. Using text-based methods to communicate has disadvantages, though. Sometimes I find myself sending follow-up messages for clarification, when in person, I would’ve sensed my editor’s meaning by the look on her face. It’s tricky not to have those visual cues, especially when it involves a heavy topic, like if you’re asking for more money.
5. Do you like spending time alone?
As a writer, most of my work is solitary, and I appreciate having a quiet environment where I can focus. If you perform best when you can bounce ideas off of other people and get immediate feedback, you’ll probably find working from home frustrating. My friend Emily pointed out, “Working from home full-time is tough if you really like collaboration. You can use Skype and have conference calls, but those are never going to be as good as being in the same room with people.”
6. Are you strong enough to resist distractions?
Offices have chatty coworkers and lots of background noise, but when you work from home, you may find yourself completely surrounded by distractions. Should you blow off work for a few minutes to wash those dishes… or a few more minutes to throw a load of laundry in? If the fridge is empty, should you do your grocery shopping in the middle of the day when the store is less crowded? Should you climb back into bed, because extra sleep might make you more productive? Should you watch Netflix in the background as you work, just because you can? Should you check Instagram again, just in case your friends have posted something new? The real question is, can you get work done without your boss looking over your shoulder? For working from home to work for you, you need the willpower to make work your top priority.
Working from Home Isn’t for Everyone.
I love the freedom and flexibility of working from home full-time, but spending so much time alone can be really lonely. If I didn’t have my dog, I could easily go all day without saying anything out loud. Chatting with coworkers online isn’t the same as hanging out with them in person, so I don’t have any real “work friends.” If I want to talk with a friend over a cup of coffee, I have to find a time that works in both of our schedules, and drive somewhere to meet them. Being social in even a small way like that takes effort and time, so when I’m busy, it’s often the first thing I drop from my schedule.
Another issue: At home, you’re eternally out of the loop on office gossip. I hate gossip in general, but when you work in an office, you tend to hear about certain things in advance. Is somebody getting fired? Did somebody accept another offer? Are major budget cuts coming? That kind of information can be useful to have, but since I work from home, I’m always the last to know.
Want to Try Working from Home?
Talk to your current boss, and see if there is any chance you could work remotely once in a while. They’re more likely to say yes if you ask about working from home part-time at first. If that goes well, they may consider letting you work from home every day.
If you’re looking for a new job that you can do from home, be very cautious about “work from home” job listings you find online, because many of them are scams. Instead, talk to friends, family, and former coworkers to see if they know of any opportunities.
Real work-from-home jobs exist, but they can be challenging to find.
The expression, “It’s who you know,” is especially true of working from home, because people who know you personally are more likely to trust you to get the work done. Almost all of my freelance work has come from people I know in real life.
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