Here's what's said behind closed doors and what you should know if you're thinking about working from home.
There's a lot of debate on the topic of working from home. Experts can't agree on whether it's the greatest innovation since the internet or the worst thing that's ever happened to our productivity. And there's a slew of conflicting research supporting both sides.
While the experts sort out the data, I spoke with real entrepreneurs from my virtual coworking space to ask what their personal experience was like working from home (WFH).
Here's what they had to say and what you should know if you're thinking about setting up a home office:
1. People don't believe you're actually working
Sure, it doesn't matter what other people think. But you're human and we all are susceptible to the judgy eyes of our friends and family who think WFH is synonymous with "catching up on Homeland."
It wears on you after a while. People will assume "flexible" schedule means you don't really work that much or are available to do things mid-day. This is particularly true for extended family and friends visiting from out-of-town.
People will interrupt you, violate your boundaries, and assume you're a hobbyist. If you were "serious," you'd go into an office.
The good news is if you begin to refer to your home office as "the office" you can mitigate this effect. Changing your language to reflect traditional work norms helps people take you seriously. For example, if you have a Zoom call, you tell the nosy person who just interrupted you that you are "walking into a meeting" and will have to call them later.
The more you respect your own boundaries, the more others will. But expect that in general, people on the outside assume a home office is synonymous with "not really working today."
2. The majority of household chores fall on you
It's no one's fault. It's not on purpose. And it's certainly not intentional. But being home leads to feeling obligated to do more household chores because you're "technically" home (as in, you're physically in the house).
It starts with little things, like that Comcast guy who's supposed to stop by between 1-5PM. It's not a huge imposition, you're already home. So, of course, you'll be the point person on that task.
Before you know it, you're the point person for everything - finishing up what's left of the dishes, being available for package deliveries, and (worst of all) being the babysitter when school declares "Snow Day!"
The majority of us don't even realize this lopsided division of labor happening until it's too late. The entrepreneurs I spoke with said, "Do not be afraid to say no. I cannot be available for the Comcast guy," even if you can.
Set the boundaries upfront that this is your workday. You're not available for groceries, laundry, or dishes.
3. Kids will walk in when you're on video calls.
This was a huge point of contention in our group and the consequences of it depend on your industry. If you're in a more conservative industry, kid-interruptions can have negative consequences.
Some clients will find it "off-putting" and "unprofessional." Others will think your business isn't "serious," deeming you unable to take on their "important" (non-child-interrupting) work.
Luckily, in my industry (online business), no one really cares. Everyone works from home and interruptions are par for the course. We all take calls in sweatpants, outside, without makeup, and (of course) with kids in the background.
Some women even breastfeed on calls so they don't have to stop working. It's incredibly emancipating, but only works when you're in a field where the person on the other side of the call is not judging you on your appearance, but rather your output.
In the virtual company world, the norm has shifted to reflect the realities of running a business instead of maintaining a corporate facade. We value efficiency and completed deliverables over showing up with straightened hair and a blazer. But not all industries are as progressive.
So, if you're nervous about kids interrupting your work, you might want to return to the corporate office (or get some new clients). Because if you WFH, it will happen.
4. Your health improves
It's well known that commuting is one of the worst things for your health and productivity. It's bad for your waistline, mental health, marriage, productivity, finances, sex life, and more.
When you work from home, you get to be in control of your time and your diet. You can sleep later because your office is right in the next room. You're more productive because you aren't wasting an hour in the morning putting on makeup, choosing an outfit, and making your lunch.
Your waistline shrinks because you're in control of your kitchen (no more birthday cake in the break room because it's 2PM and it's a Tuesday and you deserve this for making it to 2PM!). And you can squeeze in a workout in the 30 minutes you have between calls without the social shame from coworkers for being "that person" (or not having showered yet...).
Working from home lets you be more in control of your time and diet in a way an office can't. Your health and quality of life improve significantly as a result.
5. Cabin fever is real, but defeatable
Even if you're one of the lucky few who enjoys long stretches of uninterrupted time alone (guilty), you're still susceptible to cabin fever. Some call it "founder isolation," others call it loneliness.
Whatever you call it: it's that moment when you realize you haven't been outside or seen a human other than your spouse in days.
It leads to social awkwardness where you forget how to make small talk or how to behave at dinner parties with other normal non-working-from-home humans.
The social awkwardness is funny, but the emotional isolation isn't. It's hard to find people who get what it's like to work from home and understand the emotional rollercoaster you go through on a given day (and no, your spouse doesn't count).
It can leave you feeling really alone and stuck in your head. The key to surviving this one is making a point to get out of the house. Bonus points if you put on real clothes. The next key is finding people like you. This takes time, but having a tribe who understand what it's like to work for yourself buffers against the deleterious effects of isolation, leaving you free to get back to work.
Do What Works For You
Don't listen to the stats about working from home. Make a choice based on your specific circumstances and personal disposition.
If you're someone who thrives off the energy of others, working from home is a bad choice, regardless of all the benefits. Alternately, if you're someone who thrives off the promise of uninterrupted quiet time (and/or enjoys being in control of her own time), you'll love working from home.
The point is to be honest with yourself about what you need and what is best for your health, sanity, and business.