If your idea of working from home involves lazing about all day in your PJs, you’re not alone. Ask anyone who actually does work from home, and they’ll tell you they get their share of jealous comments from friends and loved ones who think they’re getting away with a job that isn’t really a job.
But the reality of working from home (like the reality of anything) isn’t quite as glamorous as it’s made out to be. Sure, you can work in your PJs, and not having a boss peering over your shoulder every second can be lovely. But that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and unicorns.
Work is still work, wherever you do it from. And working from home poses its own unique set of challenges that traditional office workers may not be prepared for. So if you’re thinking of going the work-from-home route—or harassing a friend or loved one who has—please bear in mind that the following notions about working from home are all decidedly untrue:
1. It’s easier than working at an office
Certain aspects of working from home are easier. You aren’t faced with the constant distractions of ringing phones, your cubicle neighbor’s annoying pen-tapping habit, or coworkers wandering into your office to chat. You can take a break if you start to feel drained without worrying about getting in trouble. You can even run out for a coffee at Starbucks in the middle of the afternoon (the luxury!).
But being on your own requires more discipline and determination than being accountable to an ever-present boss. Sure, you could spend the day browsing Facebook or catching up on laundry, but if you don’t keep yourself on task, you’ll pay for it later by having to pull an all-nighter. And if you don’t bring your laptop to Starbucks to make it a working trip, you could have some unhappy clients wondering why their projects aren’t getting done on time.
Sticking to a schedule when you’re the only one responsible for enforcing it means you need to be very good at resisting temptations and adhering to a schedule (even a self-imposed one).
2. It’s not really “working”
Many traditional workplaces measure productivity using the “butt in chair” method: If the boss sees you parked at your chair at 8:50 a.m. and still there are 5:10 p.m., he’ll think you must be working hard. In reality, this can be far from the truth.
Plenty of people can look like they’re being productive by playing Farmville, shuffling papers whenever the boss walks by, and staying just a little longer than anyone else. But what really matters is results, and when you don’t have that “butt in chair” accountability holding you hostage, you can actually find yourself working a lot harder. When you have control over your own hours, why would you want to waste your own time?
In addition, many people who gravitate towards working from home (freelancers, entrepreneurs, and the like) are naturally self-starters who take their jobs very seriously and challenge themselves to produce their best work. This can translate to lots of late work nights and weekends, because when someone else isn’t turning the lights out at 5:00 p.m., there’s nothing to force you to stop working.
3. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want
While it’s true you’ll be able to get those coveted midday doctor’s appointments you weren’t “allowed” to take as an office worker, that doesn’t mean you can throw your to-do list to the wind and go out for a massage whenever you feel like it.
If you work in any sort of customer or client-facing position, chances are you’ll be doing a lot of your work during the typical nine to five window, simply because that’s when the people you need to interact with will be most available. Mornings and early afternoons are also peak productivity times for many people; while you can pull a night owl shift and finish up a project at 2:00 a.m., many people won’t do their best work then. And, if you live with others, it can also be easier to get your work done while they’re away at their jobs and the house is quieter.
If you’re a savvy scheduler and able to keep yourself on task, you might be able to get away with the occasional free period to play hooky, but for the most part, your business depends on your dedication, so too many absences can come back to haunt you just like they would in the corporate world.
4. It gives you better work-life balance
When I worked a traditional nine to five, as much as I hated it I could at least take comfort in the fact that I could turn off my “work brain” the instant 5:00 p.m. hit. My evenings and weekends were a completely different world in which my work played no part. Now that I work for myself, however, I find myself working more hours than ever.
Part of this comes with the hustling you need to do when starting and growing your own business, and part of it comes from the fact that it’s hard to balance work and life when there’s no physical distinction between the two. I don’t leave home every morning and commute to an office; I step from my bedroom to my den. If I have a project that needs tinkering on, I can all too easily pick away at it after dinner, once my husband goes to bed, or on the weekends.
5. Anyone can do it
The above truths can trip plenty of people up. If you’re interested in working from home because you think it’ll be a cake walk, I’m sad to say you’re on the wrong track. If you’re the type who needs a little handholding to make sure you stay on task, being a traditional employee will be much, much easier for you.
But if you see the above as challenges to rise to? Then you’ve likely got what it takes to work from home.