A recent career change has allowed me to work from home. Not surprisingly, my coworkers like to remind me how lucky I am. However, there are others who have the same option, but choose to come to the office and work in their cubicles all day. Is working from home really everything that people imagine it would be? I am learning the answer to that question, at least from my perspective. It is also interesting to hear my coworkers’ thoughts on why they still choose to work on site. As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to working from home.
No commute. There’s really no need to elaborate here. Depending on how long your commute to work is, this can be a very appealing pro. I instantly have an extra hour in my day just by not driving to work and back.
Flexible working hours. This can vary from one employer to the next. I know some people who work from home, but they need to be logged in at a certain time in the morning and work specific hours. For other jobs, there is no one who would know when, or if, you are working. For me, it has been much easier to schedule doctor’s appointments or tend to other personal issues during business hours day and catch up on work in the evening.
Customized work environment. You control the thermostat, the lighting, the background noise, the break times – everything. For me, this may be my favorite pro. I don’t find a cubicle to be a motivating environment, and I don’t miss being surrounded by beige walls.
Fewer distractions. Depending on your home situation and your job, the amount of distractions can be a pro or a con (see below). For me, being on site brings distractions because I get brought in on work that isn’t my focus. I enjoy helping coworkers, and sometimes I even enjoy it more than my work, but I am far less productive with respect to my goals.
Motivation. Before working from home, I had been warned about how difficult it can be to motivate yourself when there are no “working hours” and no one to know whether you are working or not. I didn’t pay much attention to the warnings because I consider myself to be self-motivated. However, I was surprised by how much extra motivation it does take. And I will admit, there are days when I slough off more than I would if I was on site.
Time goes by really fast. This may sound like a good thing. Everyone knows how awful it is when the work day moves too slowly. Working from home seems to create a time warp in which times goes by and you wonder where it went. This is common among those who work from home, and it is the single reason why many of my coworkers choose to work on site when they could work from home. I start the day off with an ambitious list of to-dos. At the end of the day, I have often barely put a dent in the list, and I wonder if I could have accomplished more in a structured work setting.
Fewer resources. While not being surrounded by coworkers can be a benefit because I have fewer distractions, other people are a great resource. I can no longer pop into a nearby cubicle to ask a quick question. Or use the printer/scanner/copier/fax machine. Or walk down to shipping to check on a delivery. There are more resources available at work than I had realized until I no longer had easy access to them.
Less interaction with coworkers. This is a huge drawback for many people. A large part of happiness at work is related to socializing with coworkers. Working from home can be very isolated. I personally enjoy working alone, but for those who enjoy a certain level of comradery, working from home may not be a good fit.
More distractions. For some, working from home may actually bring more distractions. This is particularly true for those with a spouse or small children who are home during the day. Some also find that they procrastinate by busing themselves with housework or running errands rather than getting to work. In this case, it can be helpful to have a dedicated home office space where you can close the door and block distractions.
After a few short months enjoying my switch to working from home, I realize that it is not for everyone. But it is definitely for me. In my case, the pros outweigh the cons. The list I have presented includes the main themes that I have personally experienced or that others have shared with me. If you work from home, what do you like or dislike about it?
This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.