Ten years ago, when I worked in a cube (ok, I’ve always worked in a cube somewhere), I loved the few opportunities that I had to work from home. As I progressed through my career (and many jobs), I started having more and more opportunities to work from home. But what did I do when I worked from home back then? Generally took a lot of naps, watched TV or movies and generally didn’t do more than a few minutes of work.
My family and many friends envied me for the luxury they thought I had. It also helped to work in IT in a position where the work was flexible. What they didn’t see was me working at night because that’s when I’m more productive, but there were many, many days where I did absolutely nothing when I could have been doing much more.
But with my “new” job (I’ve been in for 14 months now), I work from home 4-5 days a week. There’s a few problems with that.
Working from home sucks!
Like my friend J Money found out when he started working for himself, I also learned early on that working from home isn’t for everyone. If you find that you get distracted easily, you might be better off working in an office where the boss walks by every 5 minutes.
For me, I found that I have so many distractions at home like TV, my “nap bed”, Netflix, the internet, shiny objects, paint drying and so on. In my last job, however, I was so busy near the end that I HAD to work from home to get things done and I would put in 10-12 hour days non-stop to get it done…and I loved it. If I’m not swamped with work, I can’t focus.
In my new job, after the first 6 months of “probation”, I was allowed to work from anywhere I wanted. I’m in sales, so as long as I have my cellphone and computer (and usually internet), I can work. Sometimes I have to go into the office (15-20 miles away) for a meeting, but then I come back home because everyone leaves too. And sometimes I have to go to a customer site, but luckily we do much of our work online or on the phone (although that personal impact is important in sales).
So you have to be a self-starter and not distracted easily to be able to work from home efficiently. But financially, what are some of the other problems I have?
- Much less fuel costs and vehicle wear and tear. I’m driving maybe 30-60 miles for work, max, per week. In my old job, which was 60 miles round-trip daily, I was spending $250-300 per month in gas (plus another $200 or so for my wife’s car).
- Reduced laundry costs. I already gave you tips on how I extend the life of my business clothes, but now that I wear dress clothes for only 2-3 hours a day, maybe once a week, I go to the dry cleaner maybe every 2-3 months max, and have half the amount of clothes with me. When people don’t see you often, you can get away with wearing the same shirt as the prior week.
- I can perform my personal errands when I need to. For instance, if I need to go get some groceries, or start a crockpot meal, I can do so and then get back to work.
- I get to know my own home city more. In 10 years, I’ve only gotten to work within 20 miles of home for 7 months, so I know more friends, dining and shopping options, etc. in Pennsylvania, DC and VA than I do here in Maryland!
- Electricity and natural gas costs go up and up. While at the office, I would have our heat down about 7-8 degrees lower while we’re away and come on before we got home. Now I’m always home. I’ve mitigated this by wearing more clothes (and socks) and lowering the daytime temperature a few degrees. I also work out of the sunniest room in the house.
- Water: There’s pros and cons here. I’ll admit I shower less (like every other day, unless I exercise), so I’m using MUCH less water. However, my toilet breaks are now at home rather than the office, so more water usage there and wear and tear on our own plumbing (hey, I eat a lot of fiber!).
- Had to get a phone line: I opted for Vonage, which I explained why, although for many of you, Magic Jack or Skype would work just fine. I needed something more consistent, and I’ve been very happy with the service the last couple months. I’ve saved hundreds of minutes on my work cell already!
- Socializing: I probably miss the socializing the most. I loved going around to my coworkers and finding out the latest on our work, their lives and so on. I wasn’t a gossip, I just like being in the loop. Now, I sit at home and have no one to talk to except on chat, which isn’t nearly the same.
How have I gotten past some of the socializing loss? Well, I could go into the office, but no one is ever there, so that wouldn’t work. But I’ve started to go to lunch at a local cafe where there are some regulars, plus go to a happy hour at a local “nano-brewery” to get to know more of the locals. Since I’ve never gotten a chance to make local friends since I always worked far away from home, now is my chance. It’s not the same as socializing during the day, but it’s a way of getting “the chat” out of you so you can focus on your work.
Why am I complaining?
So from the pros and cons, it sounds like everything balances out, but in reality, as I’ve said, if you get distracted easily or are very social, you’ll have some major problems working from home. There are costs to consider that while you’re saving on gas, you’re spending on heating/cooling and so on.
While many of my friends and family were/are envious of my freedom and flexibility, I also recognize that I only get out what I put into my work, so if I choose to nap or watch TV, that’s that much less marketable or knowledge or experience or networked I am. I can put in those hours in the evening, but that’s my time with my wife (and when all my shows are on!).
So the moral of the story is that the grass isn’t always greener. Having a mixed environment of office/home may be your best bet, but can also cause challenges with people knowing where to contact you when (although a Google Voice number and call forwarding works great for connecting all your different phone numbers). In the end, if you have the option to work from home, consider the financial and social impact, as well as the potential impact on your work quality and efficiency. Working from home isn’t for everybody!