Working from home, isn't all it's cracked up to be...

Posted by Dan on Jan 8, 2008 @ 10:29 AM

Whenever the topic of my employment comes up, everyone's first reaction when I tell them I work from home is: "Wow, that must be really nice!" While working from home definitely has some benefits, it has some cons.

As Cameron Childress mentions in his post on Coworking in Atlanta, the two hardest things to adjust to are the lack of socialization and self motivation—both are issues Cameron and I have talked amongst ourselves about in the past.

One of the very first things I found I needed to solve when working from home was the motivation problem. I found the best way to resolve this issue was to treat going into my home office the same basic way I would treat going in to a workplace office. I found the following tips really help me to get in the mindframe of being at work:

  • Groom as if you're going to the workplace (shower, put on deodorant, cologne, etc.)
  • Dress as you're going to the workplace. While I do wear Jeans and a T-Shirt most days, I stay away from anything too casual as the more relaxed I am, the harder I find it to be productive.
  • Act like you're not at home, but at an office. This means don't plan on doing a bunch of household chores during the day. Early on, my wife would ask me to do a handful of household chores during the day. It turned out to be way too distractive to me and I had to ask her to stop doing that and to pretend I'm not at home. That doesn't mean I won't take care of a thing or too during my lunch break, but I had to break the expectation of being able to do chores during work hours.
  • Work regular hours. Determine a general Monday thru Friday schedule that works for you and stick to it. If possible keep hours that correspond to a normal workplace hours (i.e. 8am - 5pm)
  • Log your work daily. When you can look at a list of things you accomplished each day, it helps to keep you going. There's nothing worse than looking at a day when you accomplished next to nothing.

These tips have really helped me try to stay focused on a day-to-day basis. That doesn't mean I don't flex the rules on occasion, but I try hard to stick to a routine. I've just found it makes getting in to "work mode" much easier each day—because it feels like I'm at a workplace.

The lack of socialization is the thing I really miss and haven't come up with a good solution to the problem. There can be times when I basically don't leave the house for days—which I really don't like. I've always been a very social person, so the lack of daily interaction with people is really problematic to me. I also really miss the ability of going in to a co-workers office and banging ideas of each other, which I think is an extremely useful exercise.

In the past I've even looked in to starting my own coworking business. I did some research about leasing some office space, but there didn't seem to be enough interest to make it worthwhile. I thought it would be nice to have a shared office space with shared dev servers, printers, high speed access, conference rooms, etc, but I couldn't seem to find enough telecommuters in the Columbus, OH area to make it worth actually going through the hassle. It would have just been too expensive of an investment without having any potential clients who wanted to share office space.

Ironically just this past spring at a conference I talked to an acquaintance who also had the same idea, so hopefully the coworking idea will pick up some steam here in Central Ohio.

I will on occasion go work from a coffee shop, but I find it's often too distracting to get any really good work done. It's a good way to catch up on my blog reading, but I have trouble writing productive code.

Anyway, hopefully my tips on working from home may help others when it comes to self motivation. If anyone has any tips on the socialization aspects of working from home, please chime in with comments!

Categories: Java, Flex/Flash, HTML/ColdFusion, JavaScript, Personal

8 Comments

  • I love working at home and really can't imagine ever having to deal with traffic or cubicles again. For socialization, you might try dropping into the CF IRC channel on DALNet, #coldfusion.
  • @Brian:

    For me, I miss the person-to-person socialization. I like the personal contact. I'm in constant communication with colleagues and friends via IM, but for me it just isn't the same.

    Working from home definitely has some great advantages. I definitely don't miss rush hour traffic and the years spent living in a cubicle.

    I didn't mean for this article to come across that I hate working from home, I don't. It's just there are aspects of the office I miss and haven't been able to replicate from working from home.
  • Lunch is a good time for personal to personal interaction. Try to book a lunch with a peer/client/friend/family a few times a week. There was a time where I had most of my lunches with other people. I work at an office, but it helped me mentally break away for a bit and connect with people. It was also good networking. I now work in a place that isn't quite as easy to get away for a quick lunch, but I still do it from time to time.
  • Interesting article Dan. People to tend to think working from home is the end-all be-all and it's not -- it's a trade-off. 

    I worked from home for about five years when I was doing mostly freelance work, and I also missed the social interaction of working in an office.

    Now I'm at the other extreme - at my office we have no cubicles, just desks in a room, and I am the oddball who has a Japanese screen in front of my desk to try to get a little visual privacy. A little too much interaction for my taste.

    When I worked from home I tried to take walks at lunchtime to get out and stretch my legs a bit, or run an errand if there was time. I also don't work well at coffee shops, though I see people doing it all the time.
  • This is in the same vein as owning your own company "is great to be your own boss!" Everything has advantages and disadvantages. Do you know anyone working in a small/startup company locally Dan? Oftentimes they'll have an extra desk, chair and ethernet connection that you can leech off if you're friends with them. I've done this a few times. Even just a day a week can make a big difference in your productivity at that location *and* at home.

    I'm in the middle of a 6-8 week 80-100hr/week crunch time right now and I know my productivity is not high today. I need to take a break so I can be more productive but deadlines are looming. Need to get a red bull.. :)

    Good luck!
  • I have worked at home now for about three months and had to deal with the motivation and interruption issues as well. As for the socialization I never had an issues because I was involve in other things outside of my work.  I am part of a Adobe RIA developers group in town and the Co-Manager of the web group so I have interaction with both of those groups once a month. My boys and I take Karate lessons every Thursday night together, we attend Church on Sunday and a small group on Wednesdays as well as helping in some other Church activities here and there. We also will invite friends over to play cards and have dinner periodically. The social aspect for people that work at home I found is the same for women that stay home and take care of the kids. You just have to find other outlets and things to do that get you out of the house.
  • I worked at home for about 8 months and ended up having to pull the plug and go back into cubville. I had just gotten married and my wife worked an off schedule, and she just never quiet got that while I was working, I was, well working. Then she lost her job and was depressed, and that was the kiss of death for me working from home. Not that I didn't have enough problems being motivated, but having her around in a bad state was the tipping point for me. 

    If you work from home, you REALLY, REALLY need to be motivated and organized, as Dan points out here. And I can't understate the importance of having your signifigant others onboard with what it means to WORK from home, because if they won't respect your space and time, forget it! No I'm not bitter! :) I'm glad Dan was able to to get his wife on board, I think my wife is through her funk and she has a schedule again, so how knows maybe I'll give it another try in the future.
  • @infocyde:

    Co-working has really been taking of here in Central Ohio. In Columbus there have been like 3 Co-Working locations open up in the past 6 months. It's definitely and alternative to working at home. You'll need to drop a few dollars for rental space, but it's a good way to network with similar mindsets.

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