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Do You Really Want to Work at Home?
I just told my wife. “I’m going to lie down and do some work.” That may sound funny, but I say it a lot and she knows what I mean. So here I am in bed, lying back against a few pillows and tapping away at this laptop. I have a cup of tea and some sunflower seeds on the table next to me. I like working at home.
My work consists of freelance writing, running a few of my own websites, and a couple other small ventures. There are various other businesses you can operate at home, and there are also employers who allow you to work at home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics about a quarter of workers do some or all of their work at home.
It may sound great, but do you really want to work at home? There are some big advantages to be sure, and those are listed below. But you might be surprised by the many disadvantages of working at home. Let’s start with those…
Ten Disadvantages of Working From Home
I love making a living at home, but I’m sometimes tempted to get a “real” job. One disadvantage of the home-based work I do is that my income fluctuates wildly from month-to-month. Here are some disadvantages you may face if you try working at home.
1. It Could Be Bad for Your Career
Some employers offer the option of working at home, but doing so may hurt your career. Research done by MIT Sloan Management Review found that “Employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long.”
A partial solution, if your employer is nearby, is to meet regularly with those who will affect your future with the company. These could be formal meetings or just informal visits to the office. The important thing, according to the research, is to have “passive face time” with supervisors and coworkers.
2. You’ll Miss Out on Collaboration
When you work alone you’re less likely to benefit from creative collaboration. That’s why CEO Marissa Mayer eliminated home-based positions at Yahoo. She told employees, “communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.” She added that great ideas come from talking in the hallway and cafeteria.
If you think isolation might hurt your job performance, consider working in the office one or two days weekly, if that’s allowed.
3. You May Have More Interruptions
Whether you have more interruptions at home versus in an office cubicle depends on the office and home environments. But beyond the predictable interruptions of personal phone calls, kids running around, and the dog barking at home, there are the many temptations that can interrupt your work, like the bagel waiting for me in the kitchen.
It helps if you create a quiet place in the house for work. You should also have some rules about when you can and cannot be interrupted.
4. You Might Lack the Self-Discipline Needed
Yes, I stopped to eat a bagel, and I’m going to have more tea before this article is done. But I always finish the work. Whether or not you have the self discipline to work at home is something you might not know until you try.
A more structured schedule can help, so you may want to have set hours, even if your employer doesn’t require them. It can also help to create a more structured environment. Don’t try to work next to the kitchen or where the TV will be visible.
5. You Might Work Too Much
If you exhibit some of the signs of a workaholic, you may work even more when working in the privacy of your home versus at an employer’s office. I can tell you from experience that it’s easier to just keep working when at home. This is especially true if you make a living with an online business or other at-home venture.
It may help to have well-defined working hours at home, and/or to track the hours you work so you have a clear idea how much you’re working.
6. You’ll Mix Home and Work Life
It is tough to be at home working and not respond to the usual home dramas. For me that means jumping up in the middle of an article to clean up cat vomit. For others it can mean dealing with the demands of a spouse or child, or an overflowing toilet.
Perhaps a bigger problem than interruptions is the tendency to feel like you’re still working at any time of the day. I find myself discussing my work with my wife at all hours. This non-separation of work and home life is probably not healthy.
Having set hours and a separate office space helps. One man’s intriguing solution, as reported by Entrepreneur magazine, was to take the car for a spin around the block when the workday was done. That allowed him to “arrive home” for the evening, creating a nice psychological separation between work and home life.
7. It’s Harder to Be Professional
Yes, working in bed (and in my pajamas, by the way) is not very professional, but I don’t have a boss, and I’ve never met a client at home. On the other hand, if your work involves talking to people on the phone and you have kids screaming and dogs barking in the background, that lack of professionalism might hurt you.
There are psychological factors too. Some home workers say it’s hard to be as professional when working in your underwear, even though bosses, clients, and customers can’t see you.
Emma Siemasko, writing for The Work at Home Woman blog, suggests that you brush your hair and put on office clothes to start the day. Keeping the kids and dogs quiet and out of the room is a good idea too.
8. You Might Have Unexpected Expenses
Your employer might not pay for everything you need to work at home. You may have to provide your own desk and office chair, for example.
If you’re a freelancer or run a business at home you’ll cover all of the related expenses, and they will not necessarily come when expected. For example, the laptop I had to replace last month should have lasted another two years (or so I thought).
If you’re convincing your boss to let you telecommute be sure you understand who will pay for what. If you are self-employed at home be financially prepared for anything you use to stop working at any moment.
9. It Complicates Your Tax Returns
The good news is that as an employee working at home you can deduct expenses at tax time. The bad news is that the rules for unreimbursed employee expenses are not always easy to understand.
When you work at home the whole record-keeping/tax filing process is more complicated.
Fortunately you can pay someone else to prepare your tax return (but you’ll still have to keep good records).
10. You Have to Keep Selling Yourself
Typically you “sell” yourself at the interview and then, once you have a job, your work speaks for itself. But that work is less visible when it’s done at home. So, as suggested in the section on diminished career prospects, you need to regularly let your boss know what a good job you’re doing.
If you really don’t like self promotion you should keep in mind that with freelancing and other home businesses it’s even more necessary. You have to constantly sell yourself and your services to keep clients and money coming in. I would prefer to just lie here and write, so for me this is one of the bigger disadvantages of working at home.
My (partial) solution to this is to keep good clients happy so I don’t have to go through the whole process of getting new ones as often.
Ten Advantages of Working at Home
Despite all of the disadvantages covered above, you might still like the idea of working at home. And with good reasons! Here are some of them…
1. It Can Be Healthier to Work at Home
As reported by Harvard Medical School, numerous studies show that sitting too much is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and even premature death. In fact, prolonged sitting leads to an early grave even if you exercise daily. Humans are not designed to sit.
Of course, when you work at home you can install a standing desk, or you can lie in bed as I do. You can also take more breaks to move around. I just got up to shave.
2. You Save on Commuting Expenses
The distance between workers and their jobs is growing according to the research. And unless you walk or bicycle to work, there is a cost. For example, if your job is 10 miles away and it costs 30 cents per mile to operate your car, your commute will set you back $1,560 per year ($0.30 x 20 miles daily x 5 days x 52 weeks).
When you work exclusively at home your commuting cost is zero. Even if you can work half-time at home it can save you quite a bit of money.
3. You Save on Commuting Time
The average travel time to work in the U.S. is about 25 minutes. That’s over four hours weekly going to and from work if you work five days.
When I get up in the morning I pull the laptop out from under the bed, turn it on, and I’m at work. That sure beats my forty-minute commute (each way) with a previous job. Working at home can free up a lot of time.
4. You Save Money on Work Clothes
Yes, I really am in pajamas. Enough said.
5. You Avoid Workplace Drama
Is it just me, or does it seem like there is way too much drama at most workplaces? I’ll take the occasional cat vomit incident at home versus dealing with neurotic coworkers.
6. You May Be Able to Work When You Want
Some employers may need to dictate your schedule even when you work at home, but most at-home positions allow more flexibility than on-site jobs.
Of course this is even more likely with self-employment at home. For example, I work whenever I feel like it (usually from seven to eleven each morning).
7. You Can Take Breaks When You Want
Some at-home jobs, like say, customer service representative, might require that you take breaks according to a schedule. But with other home-based positions you can take breaks when you want and even as often as you want, as long as you get the work done.
Again, this advantage is even more likely with self-employment at home. For example, when I finish this article I’ll take a break to soak in the hot tub before returning to work.
8. You May Be Able to Live and Move Where You Want
My wife and I have lived in twelve different homes in five different states since we started working online twelve years ago. Not all at-home work offers that much flexibility, but it’s certainly more likely than with out-of-the-home location-based jobs and businesses.
9. You Can Spend More Time With Family
When you work at home you can more easily share lunch and other breaks with your children or your significant other. For example, Jack, my cat, is hanging out with me today, lying against my leg at the moment.
You also get more family time due to all the hours you save by not commuting. Because of this and other reasons…
10. You May Be Happier
Not surprisingly, the research shows that home workers are happier. However, it also shows that those who work partially at home and partially in the office are the happiest. The balance of social interaction in the office and personal freedom at home seems to be important.
The research cited looked at employees who work at home. There seems to be less research on the happiness of those who are self-employed at home, but my experience suggests that there is an advantage here too.
If you work at home, or hope to, share your experiences and thoughts below.