Confessions from a Home Office

So 2017 has been hectic so far! Consequentially my latest posts are related to work – I have been a busy bee and therefore, my mind is circling around all topics related to working! Today, for example, I want to talk about working from home.

I have been working from my home office roughly a year now. It has been quite a ride with several ups and downs, yet probably one of my favorite ways to work so far.

There are still many people that have never tried it yet tend to think that working from home office is slacking off and others that say they could never do it themselves, as they would be too attracted to the fridge or the television.

In my experience, none of that is true. For me working from home is actually both liberating and motivating at the same time. It definitely has given a boost to my life quality. To be fair, at the same time I have noticed that there are some related downsides too that everyone planning to work from home should be aware of.

Therefore, I have summed up here the good, the bad and the neutral I have experienced and that everyone considering working (virtually) from home will want to know:

The Good:

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+ Working from home saves tons of time you would otherwise spend in traffic, which you can invest in taking care of yourself instead. The time I would normally spend on commuting I now turn into a daily morning yoga session and a longer stroll with my dog or a moment to take a breath and relax after I am done with the busy workday and before attending to my other responsibilities and engagements. Taking this time to center myself, getting my breathing right and tuning my thoughts does heaps for my ability to concentrate and maintain a positive outlook on work and life.

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+ You are healthier, both physically and mentally. Apart from the fact that I have more time and opportunities to work on my state of mind and keep stress under control, I actually eat better and get sick a lot less. Back when I went to the office every day I regularly got a cold with sometimes only a few weeks after I had gotten well from the previous one. The cold temperatures and constant wind from the old air conditioning that chilled the back of my neck were often the main culprits of me becoming from tired and stressed to actually sick. In addition, witnessing the constant complaints of negatively minded colleagues in a small open office drains your energy and weakens your immune system pretty quickly. Have you ever noticed that?

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+ You are more productive. A small open office setting where everyone speaks out loud at the same time can be very distracting. Imagine someone speaking loudly on the phone, someone else’s phone ringing, a pair of two people having a heated conversation near you (even if it was in whispers), someone yelling a question to everyone out loud and someone arriving in the office – all that happening at the same time. This is what day to day in a busy yet small open office looks like. Now imagine having to concentrate in a setting like that while trying to ignore all distractions. For me this was a difficult task. I would either completely shut everything out to focus on my work, and thus, miss all attempts by my colleagues to communicate with me, or stay alert at all times and find it difficult to get immersed in a task at hand. In a home office, however, I have the office space all to myself and have taken all distracting factors to a minimum, so concentrating is not a problem at all. The consequent effect is that I get more done in the same amount of time.

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+ It can be a good way to balance work and personal life. In addition to saving time not having to commute daily, you have more flexibility to manage all your responsibilities and activities during the day. For example, I get a chance to have lunch with my husband during working days. Or I can fit a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day and make up the time at any other point. From time to time, if I choose to, I can work from an internet cafe, a library or even another city to vary and not completely exclude myself from the society. The list of examples is endless here.

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+ You will enjoy going out much more!  Since you spend a large part of your day inside your home, going out becomes a much bigger deal than it used to be before. You will look forward to getting out of the house to play sports, practice hobbies, grab dinner or just meet up with friends and family. Even getting ready to go out somehow becomes a much more meaningful and careful process. And if you are more of an introverted type of person like I am, you are happy that you can spend your limited amount of energy for social interactions on people and activities you actually care about and want to spend your most important resources – time and energy – on.

The Bad:

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– Sometimes it feels like you are becoming a social freak. When you have been working from home for a long while without going to the office and actually meeting people in a professional setting, one you do, you might find that you are not sure how to behave anymore. When working from home you can be yourself in all aspects – you can wear what you want, sit the way you want, think loudly, react spontaneously and expressively to anything and everything. Once you get out there and step among other people you suddenly realize you cannot do that anymore – social norms apply, yet being you at all times has become quite instinctive so you will have to pull yourself together and observe yourself from the distance.

An example: last week I sat in a meeting with about 15 people, all around a big table next to or facing each other. My first thought was: “Well, this is nice!” And then it escalated quickly to something else: “Am I sitting correctly? Do I seem too relaxed? Oh, heck, I forgot to throw away my chewing gum! No one else is chewing gum… Am I being rude? Is everyone noticing? There is no bin nearby and I cannot stand up and leave the room now that the meeting has started… Well, fine, I will just stop chewing. But what if I need to speak? Everyone will see I have something in my mouth and it will be weird. What if I just stick it behind one of my teeth? Will they be able to see it anyway? If so, it would be even weirder…” and so on and so on.

To make it short. When you spend a lot of time in your home office (even if you make many calls and have online meetings), your social skills and how comfortable you are in a social setting get a little rusty. That is a fact. You can find balance, though, by scheduling a regular visit to the office, meeting  with colleagues for lunch, if possible, or finding other places, like co-workings to work from time to time

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– Nothing beats a good one on one. Even though nowadays most communication can easily be done via internet and/or phone, there is no equal to a good old one on one conversation, especially if it comes to difficult topics or problem solving. In high importance or high emotion situations words might not be enough to correctly interpret the intention and the message your interlocutor is trying to convey. However, with time you will learn the art of always presuming the best, counting with the chance of misunderstandings and thus, avoiding unnecessary or futile conflicts. At the same time you are risking the chance of never getting to the very bottom of what the other truly means and how they feel about the matter and yourself.

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– Loud background noises that you cannot avoid may come off us as unprofessional and be very embarrassing. We all have had that moment when one of the neighbors starts drilling loudly right when you enter an important call, a dog nearby will not stop barking or a kid next door yelling – especially if you live in an apartment. When working from home office these noises are sometimes hard to avoid or muffle, yet you definitely cannot reschedule important meetings based on the current noise levels. The only solution I have come up with so far is to find the less noisy spot and push through it. Thank god for the mute button on the microphone for the moments you do not have to speak, though!

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– It is harder to disconnect. Once your office is inside your home, you can never actually leave the office. Even though you might have your hours and/or specific tasks after completing which you could call it a day, it is still harder to disconnect. Therefore, you often find yourself reading work e-mails during dinner, on your way to the gym or late at night and be compelled to respond them right away, because you kind of are already there. So working from home can allow more flexibility to organize your life, but at the same time it can blur the lines between work and personal time which is not quite right even if you absolutely love your job.

The Neutral (can be good, can be bad):

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+/- Sometimes you just need to ask a quick casual question from a colleague. It can be disheartening at first not having someone to consult or discuss ideas with by your side at all times. But then again, when you have to do it by other means of contact than face to face communication, you generally will think twice whether the question is important enough to actually “bother” someone, and most often end up finding the information or making the decision yourself.

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+/- You may have the chance to fit in some domestic chores during the day when you have time to spare but you might actually be doing yourself a disservice with that.  Yes, it is awesome that you can hang your clothes out to dry right when they are done washing in the middle of the day or use your lunch break to look after the kids (if you have any) or take your dog out for a walk. However, you do want to be clear about the fact that work time is work time and your paying job comes first during the designated hours, otherwise your family or roommates might start to think that since you are home most of the time anyway, you could probably do all the chores around the house. Do not confuse (or let anyone else confuse) working from home with being a housewife/househusband! Have your own office, where you can shut the door and make it clear that when it is closed you should not be disturbed, unless it is an actual emergency.

All in all, working from home is definitely not a synonym for not working, quite on the contrary. It is rather an opportunity to take full responsibility for your time and what you deliver, since you have more flexibility to decide on your own how and when you perform your daily tasks.

These are the main effects of working from home I have experienced and/or picked up from my friends’ and acquaintances’ stories. I must say, the opportunity of a home office especially in a big bustling city with horrible traffic like São Paulo is a real blessing. Nevertheless, I do know that not everybody thinks that way and not everyone has mainly positive experience with it. So please, I am curious:

All you home office associates out there, what (the good, the bad, the so-so) would you add here from your own experience?

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