If you imagine working from home as lounging around in your nasty-ass sweatpants, barely getting dressed, having a rat’s nest for hair, and not looking like a presentable human being until you leave the house for the first time after work is over, then yeah, you nailed that in one.
It’s pretty awesome getting to be a slob nearly every day.
Sadly that’s about the extent of the freedom of telecommuting. You still have to get up and start responding to emails at normal working hours, (or before) and you’ve got to keep at it until close of business. The lunch hour tends to disappear as everyone else is popping into the kitchen for food with their laptops instead of enjoying a leisurely lunch with coworkers. The email trains are obscene- numbering in the three digit area on some days, and absolutely everything is phrased with a sense of abject urgency that a head popping over your cube probably wouldn’t convey. There’s also a level of having to wait while decisions are being made via phone calls that aren’t quickly conveyed to or overheard by you. Oftentimes you feel like you’re the last to know anything and it seems as it’s all going to crash down around your head at any moment.
Working from home also eliminates the home/work divide. Stressful day at work? Your dogs/kids/roommate/spouse/etc. is going to get the brunt of it because you don’t have ready-made coworkers one office over to gripe with, or a long commute to shake it off. Work stress becomes home stress, and it is suffocating. Due to a lack of other options, my desk is in my bedroom, and when the shit hit the fan at work a few months ago, I stopped being able to sleep in my bed. I kept hearing the constant “ding” of the email, “ping” of the IM, “buzzing” of the phone and it invaded the whole room, even after working hours. It was feng-shui the stress edition. I felt like I was trying to sleep in my cubicle- I lost sleep, my appetite, and my ability to separate my life.
That said, if I have my way, I’ll never want to go back to a “butts-in-seats” traditional work environment. I hate the feeling of being watched and micromanaged or people spending more time trying to discern how busy you are that they don’t ever accomplish anything. I’m not keen on the inanities of inner-office gossip, and after adjusting to the (usual) quiet of my home, it’s overwhelming when I’m in the office and everyone is babbling. I’m less productive in the office than I am at home because I can put my head down and just focus. I love having my dogs nearby, my own tea to brew, and the ability to stand up and look like a tool stretching from head to toe. On nice days I sit outside and get some much needed sunshine and fresh air that is in short supply in filtered-air offices. I like the autonomy of it, I don’t miss ten hours of commuting a week, and I sure as hell don’t miss staring at a clock wondering if I can make the drive a little bit better if I just leave a few minutes early.
Most articles on telecommuting focus around making sure you’re a “self-starter” and that’s a bunch of crap. Granted your boss isn’t physically looking over your shoulder, but the emails, messages, and conference calls checking in on statuses of projects will make sure you’re not screwing around on a deadline. In my experience, there’s more oversight working remotely than in office. When someone’s managing a team remotely, depending on the boss, they don’t have inter-office relationships with you to build the easy rapport of trust. They can’t just peek over your cube and see if you’re working or watching Netflix.
In its own way, it can be as or more stressful than being in-office full time, the inability to overhear the same office gossip that can drive me up a wall can also leave you feeling utterly isolated, and if you’re a social creature, it can get lonely as hell. In the depths of the winter when it’s too cold to be outside and it gets dark too early to accomplish much at the end of the day, it can feel like you never leave your house. Don’t begin to underestimate the power, and often the necessity, of getting up and going to work. Telecommuting is not for everyone, no matter if you’re the world’s best self-starter. You’re not out in the world meeting people, it’s harder to learn from mentors from afar, and you lose an excuse to spend far too much money on work clothes.
(Seriously, the lack of shopping excuses might be the worst part. Or having to look at yourself in the mirror day-in and day-out without makeup *shudder*)
So if you find yourself with the opportunity, lock yourself in your house with just a computer for three days. If you can get through it without going stir crazy, if the sound of non-stop pinging and emailing doesn’t drive you nuts, and even more so, if you can set very hard limits on the time you’re willing to give to work, then give it a shot. After all, pajamas are the best work clothes.