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Let’s get this out of the way: Working at home is better than working at the office.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wholeheartedly disagrees. That’s why we all want to do it.
But most of us would rather eat ice-cream than raw veggies and get massages than work out, too. Just because it’s better doesn’t mean we should all do it all the time.
There’s a balance.
Everyone has to find their own. To help you find yours, here are Kim and my pros and cons of working from home.
Pros and Cons of Working from Home
Let’s break down whether each of the following is an advantage or disadvantage of working from home.
✧ Studies Say…
Work from home advocates love to bring up to a 2013 study that found that call center workers randomly assigned to work from home instead of at the office were 13% more productive. They took fewer breaks, were sick less, and did more calls per hour.
Good for them… but we’re not all call center workers.
As this Harvard Business Review article points out, working from home may harm productivity for jobs that require coordination with co-workers and for newer workers who benefit from informal learning in a face-to-face office environment.
At the end of the day, productivity depends on your motivation and self-control. You have to do a study on yourself to determine that.
Work-from-homers frequently claim they’re more productive because colleagues can’t drop by their desks and bug them anymore.
Who are these distracting colleagues? Are they the only ones left at the office, distracting each other?
No. They’re us! We are all guilty of being distractors.
And don’t stop distracting each other when we work from home, either. We just send more Slack messages and emails instead. Those may be worse for productivity than quick face-to-faces.
On top of that, we have extra distractions to contend with at home like websites we wouldn’t dare visit at the office, our TVs, household chores we can do to procrastinate, and kids:
Kim and I would most likely get more done and be distracted less if we worked in an office, so productivity is a disadvantage of working from home.
Working from home affects all different types of relationships:
✧ Relationships with Spouses
Everyone knows that “Absence makes the heart grow stronger” but Kim and I didn’t realize until we started working from home together that the opposite is true, too:
“Presence makes the heart grow weaker.”
At least a bit.
To keep our relationship from weakening, Kim and I have learned it’s best to create absences. We regularly—and separately—get out of the home office to work in cafes, libraries, or anywhere the other isn’t.
✧ Relationships with Children
Parents who’ve shared their own pros and cons of working from home say the flexibility to cater to their work schedules around their kids is such a huge advantage that nothing else really matters.
✧ Relationships with Friends
We don’t go for lunches or after-work drinks near our office-bound friends now that we work from home.
On the bright side, we have the flexibility to spend more meaningful and memorable time with them doing other things like hosting blind taste test dinner parties, for example.
✧ Relationships with Colleagues:
With no more team lunches and water-cooler chats, relationships with colleagues become strictly business, for better (and mostly) for worse.
Working from home benefits our most important relationships more than it hurts them. Pro.
Everyone we know who has made the move to working from home has gone through the following four stages of loneliness:
- At first, we delight at the freedom and solitude of working from home.
- Delight disintegrates into monotony as the days pass.
- Monotony morphs into full-on cabin fever.
- Desperate to be around other people, we retreat back to the office, pay for desks at co-working spaces, or to buy way more coffees than we need to “rent” seats at cafés with WiFi.
It might take a while to go through these stages if you’re more introverted (like me) than extroverted (like Kim), but it’s inevitable.
The good news is that’s the only mental health disadvantage we’ve experienced from working from home. The advantages of more sleep, no bosses looking over our shoulders or silly office gossip, no commute, and being able to control the sights, smells, and sounds of our home office more than offset it.
Being lonely sucks, but it’s easier to address than all the stresses of commuting to and working at an office, so mental health is a pro of working from home.
At the office, I’d constantly nibble on snacks I’d stashed away in my desk drawer and ate mediocre fast food or hastily-prepared leftovers for lunch. Now, I only eat two freshly-homemade meals a day. (And sometimes I fast.)
In theory, working from home should allow us to set up workstations perfectly suited to us.
In practice, we take our workstations less seriously than our employers did when we worked at the office. Kim hunches over at desks and dining tables and I rotate between the floor, the couch, and improvised stand-up desks.
✧ Eyes and Ears
Our ears have benefitted from not having to wear headphones to drown out office noises, but our eyes have suffered from looking at more screens than ever now that all meetings are online.
The increased flexibility and lack of commute of working from home mean fewer alarms and more good night’s sleep in line with our individual circadian rhythms.
We’re not clean freaks, but no more bathroom breaks in nasty office toilets and no more contagious colleagues’ sneezes and coughs are a plus.
Working outside on the patio makes even monthly accounting somewhat agreeable.
Working from home has a healthy advantage over working from the office. Pro.
It’s easier for a boss to lay off a name they can barely put a face to than some poor sucker they see every day.
Plus, if you can do your job online anyone with internet access can too, so you’re competing globally, not just locally, to keep it.
Job security is irrelevant to self-employed people like Kim and me but we’re secure in our conclusion that it’s a disadvantage of working from home.
Before I “pretired,” I felt the need to work extra hard and stay connected extra long to prove to my bosses and colleagues that I wasn’t slacking off when I worked from home.
Now that Kim and I are our own bosses, we don’t have to worry about that. But we still have our family and friends’ misperception to deal with.
They have a hard time believing we need to work, so they ask us to do stuff they’d never ask an office worker with a “real job” to do, like walk their dogs the middle of the day. And sometimes they unfairly resent us for turning down invites for things like golf or hikes in the middle of our workday.
People still perceive “working from home” as “not seriously working,” so it’s a disadvantage.
✧ Professional Skill Development
When Kim and I had office jobs, we learned how to work professionally by observing high-risers, could approach trusted coworkers for advice, and our bosses could give me immediate, in-person feedback.
Now that we work from home, we count on podcasts, blog posts, and courses to develop our skills. It’s not as effective.
✧ Social Skill Development
Working from home, we live the life of a stereotypical video game nerds, sitting in our underwear, glued to our screen all day. I won’t speak for Kim, but I’m starting to feel it’s causing my already weak social skills to devolve down to stereotypical video game nerd levels.
It doesn’t take much skill to figure out that skill development is a disadvantage of working from home.
✧ Offices Are Like Vegas Casinos
Like a gambler in a casino, I’d lose track of time and reality and forget about the outside world inside the office. And when I’d eventually stumble out bleary-woeyed, I’d wonder what the heck just happened.
That’s why most normal people only go gambling in Vegas for special occasions. But I had to return to the office five days a week. Not good for work-life balance.
✧ Working From Home Is Like Online Gambling
Like online gambling, working from home is dangerous because it’s right there, silently calling for you 24/7. It’s not as addictive, though, and there’s a much better chance your friends, family, a nice day, or a sweet smell from the kitchen can drag you away from it than when you’re in an office.
✧ No Delusions
Kim and I could delude ourselves into believing we had a life when working at offices because we were getting out of the house and around other people.
But when work and home are the same place, the delusion disappears. This motivates us to pick up hobbies, spice things up, and generally get a life.
Work life-balance is heavily imbalanced in favor of working from home. It’s a big advantage.
Time and Money
Working from home, we spend:
- Less time and money commuting.
- Less money on workwear and less time putting it on. (We don’t even need to wear pants for conference calls!)
- Less money spent eating out.
- Less money on babysitters and dog walkers (…eventually when we would potentially need those things).
- And many more lesses.
Working from home is a time and money-saving bonanza. Pro!
(Apologies in advance if you were homeschooled. This will probably offend you.)
Working from home feels like being homeschooled.
We spend the bulk of your time in a personal bubble. No longer do we make small talk or have lunches in the cafeteria with team members who we’d never interact with otherwise. And we rarely need to exert our social muscles to get along with (or at least tolerate) people who talk, believe, smell, and act differently from us.
Instead, we spend most of your time alone and the rest socializing with people like us.
This is bad.
The more people work from home like us, the more stratified society risks becoming. Eventually, the world could be run by grown-up homeschooled children sitting at their computers.
The negative effects on societal cohesion is a definite disadvantage of working from home.
Final Verdict: Balancing the Pros and Cons of Working from Home
Let’s recap our personal pros and cons of working from home:
- Mental Health
- Physical Health
- Work-Life Balance
- Time and Money
- Skill Development
- Job Security
- Societal Cohesion
The score is five to five…
…but the points aren’t evenly weighted. For Kim and me, working from home most of the time, with regular office hours in cafés around town, works best for us.
Your priorities and preferences differ, so your verdict will too. Try working from home, be honest with yourself about its pros and cons, and find your balance.
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