Working from home is awesome. I wish everyone could do it! The perks are great. If you’ve never done it before though, there are some caveats you may not have considered.
I’m not writing this to “bash” working from home or to dissuade you from trying it. In fact, I originally was going to blabber about how amazing it is. As I read my original version, I realized most of the stuff I was saying was pretty obvious. You save time, gas money, no stress of traffic, and so on.
So, I figured I’d try to be different and interesting. What, if anything, sucks about working from home? I’ve been remote for four years now. These are some of the negative things I’ve encountered. Spoiler alert: These “cons” are so minute/random/not a big deal that they don’t come CLOSE to outweighing the benefits of working at home.
When I lived on the east coast, I had Cox and Verizon as ISPs. Verizon was superior in every way, but to be fair, at least Cox was reliable. Only one broadband ISP is available to us where we live in Idaho- and they are HORRIBLE. On average we experience an outage every 1 or 2 weeks. They tend to last 30-60 minutes.
It’s frustrating to not get service when you’re paying for it. It’s also embarrassing to have to tell your boss “I can’t join the meeting because my internet is out.”
Advice: Don’t be frugal when it comes to your home internet service. Sometimes your options for ISPs are limited, and there’s not much you can do. A nice fallback is mobile hotspot. It should allow you to get on any meetings you need to join. I recommend turning off your webcam to save bandwidth. My plan gives me 15GB of 4G hotspot data each month. That’s been plenty to cover me in a crunch. You can also drive to a coffee shop and use their free WiFi if needed.
When I tell people that I work from home, I always get the grin, nod and wink. Some people have even interpreted that as a politically correct way of saying I’m unemployed. Regardless, there’s this impression that all I do is sit in my underwear and play video games all day. This is ironic because another con of working remotely is…
Pressure To Be Available 24/7
Working from home is a privilege. You don’t want it taken away from you. Imagine your boss messages you and you take ten minutes to respond. What might be going through their mind? “Why is Wayne not responding? Is he really working? Is he watching TV?”
There’s this weird pressure I put on myself where if I get an IM or email, I feel the need to respond ASAP. I don’t want my coworkers to question if I’m really working.
I’m not good about taking breaks because of this. Sometimes at the end of the day I’ll have headaches from sitting in front of the screen so long. A boss or coworker have never said or insinuated anything. This is self-applied stress. It’s similar to how employees with unlimited vacation actually take less days off because they don’t want to look like they’re taking advantage of the system.
Advice: Do the opposite of what I do. Take breaks. Understand your company isn’t clocking your average response time. Take the time to formulate your answers to IMs and emails. Instead of sending an initial “um” or “I’m not sure, hold on”, don’t reply until you have the answer.
A stereo-typical computer science nerd is introverted and will actually see this as a benefit. I grew up playing team sports and like bonding with my teammates. When I was in the office, I loved going out for a beer with everybody on Friday afternoon. When things dragged in the morning, I enjoyed saying “hey man I need a break, want to go grab a coffee?” We spend more time with our coworkers than our families during the week. I like getting to know them on a personal level. In some ways it helps me learn how to work with them better.
You can’t do that when you work from home. You could try a virtual “beer-thirty” if everyone works from home. But it’s not the same.
Advice: Gradually try to get to know your teammates over IM. Don’t blow them up with personal questions and get on their nerves… but ask how their weekend was. Ask if they’re doing anything cool for an upcoming holiday. Show an interest in them. I like doing this before and after video calls. If we get on before everyone else has joined, or if a meeting wraps up early, then I’ll use that time to try to connect with the team.
You work at home all day. You’re probably at home all night. If you live in the boonies like me, there isn’t much to do nearby. So, you end up spending most of your weekends at home too. That gets so boring!
Advice: Get out of the house! Walk the dogs. Go get a coffee. Go to the gym. Go for a run. Maintain your sanity.
Miss Out on Free Stuff
My company does some cool stuff at the home office. They’ll have random days where they give out free pretzels or ice cream. They do potlucks and catered lunches. Sometimes they give out free swag and t-shirts. They’ll have raffles for neat tech gifts to get people to donate to the United Way. I miss out on those things because I’m 2,500 miles away.
This really isn’t THAT big of a deal. I’m kind of reaching for more bullet points here. But it was nice to have these random surprises during the workday.
Working remotely is incredible, but it’s not always perfect. Make sure you have good internet service. Know where the closest place with free WiFi is in case of an outage. Understand that your friends are going to tease you about working from home because they’re jealous. They don’t really think you’re a slacker. Take breaks! Don’t feel like you have to answer every incoming IM or email immediately. You’ll get to them when you can. Try to bond and get to know your teammates as best you can. And finally, make excuses to get out of the house. When the lines between your workplace and home get blurred, it can cause stress on you and your family.