Working from home is great. You can saunter into the office at any time, wearing pajamas and bunny slippers, and no one cares. Working from home is awful. When you need help, there’s no one around to ask.
Whether it’s writing a paper, reviewing a grant proposal, or analyzing data, there are lots of tasks that you don’t need to be in the lab to do. In fact, many of these tasks can be done more efficiently without distractions. So will working from home work for you?
The good news is the office is always right there. You can run in and check email or look something up in a file at any time, without having to drive across town to pick up a missing folder. No more wasting time commuting into the office, you can just step in and work whenever you want. Whether you’re a morning bird or a night owl, your desk is always handy and ready to go.
The bad news is the office is always right there. The temptation to check email, or answer the office phone when you’re “off duty”, can be too much, and just checking to see if there’s anything important can turn into several hours before you know it. You never get away from work, because everything is always right there. And being in the same place all day and all night can be draining – especially when you realize it’s been three days and you haven’t been outside.
The good news is there are no colleagues around to distract you. You can focus on a task, and no one will break your concentration. If you learn to ignore the phone and only check email at infrequent intervals (and you should), you can have large blocks of uninterrupted time, and most people find they get much more done, and are much more efficient, when working from home. If you need quiet time to focus, this may be your idea of heaven.
The bad news is there are no colleagues around to distract you. When you need help, you can’t just walk down the hall and ask a colleague to take a quick look at something. No one will pop into your office to ask a question about a project, or stop to chat as you’re walking down the hall, so you’re much less likely to hear rumors about the new direction a project is taking, personnel movements, and early rumblings of change. In fact, you’ll need to work at sustaining relationships with your co-workers – balancing discussions of work issues with small talk, being connected without being cloying. If you thrive on personal interactions, being alone all day may seem like a prison.
The good news is your family members are around, so you see them more often and can interact with them on a more regular basis. You can fit your work around their schedules, and enjoy breaks with your loved ones. You can break your work day up into several long chunks, taking breaks in the middle of the day to take care of personal issues when stores are less crowded, then working again in the late afternoon or evening.
The bad news is your family members are around, and if they don’t respect your work boundaries, they can be just as distracting as your colleagues were. If you’re in the house, it can be very easy for them to interrupt you for “just a second”, and being continually brusque with them can strain your relationship.
Working from home requires discipline, and the ability to balance personal and professional needs on daily. You will be pulled in both directions, and when they’re all in the same location they’re harder to ignore. Some people solve this by putting hard lines between work time and home time, while others prefer allowing them to blend and optimizing over both realms simultaneously.
Very few things in life are black and white (except skunks and zebras). If you check email at night, or keep your work cell phone with you at all times, you’ve already started merging your personal and professional lives. If your supervisor is agreeable, set up a dedicated work area in your home, and spend some of your working hours there. You might be surprised at how much you get done – or it might make you appreciate the professionalism of your office. Either way, you will have learned something.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.