how to work from home without losing your mind (or your job)

Working from home might sound like a dream come true when you consider the prospect of having no commute, working in sweatpants, and doing laundry in the background. But it isn’t easy; it takes discipline and structure, and it’s not for everyone.

If you’re thinking of telecommuting, these 10 crucial steps will help keep you productive—and employed:

1. Commit to being disciplined. If you spend your workday doing laundry, organizing your closets, catching up on TV, or surfing the Internet, you’ll not only be abusing your employer’s trust—you may end up out of a job. It’s essential to focus and not get distracted when you work from home.

2. Have set hours, just like you would at work. If you don’t set working hours and stick to them, it’s too easy to say, “Well, I’ll relax this morning and make up for it by working late tonight,” and then at night decide that you’ll make up the hours later that week. On the flip side, it’s also too easy to end up working well into the night simply if you don’t have a set time to end each day.

3. Create a daily to-do list. A daily task schedule for yourself can keep you focused. If you find yourself procrastinating anyway, try scheduling out each hour of the day so you know what you need to do when.

4. Train your friends and family not to interrupt you. Friends and family may think that if you’re working from home, you’re not “really working.” So be clear with them that you shouldn’t be interrupted at home while you’re working any more than you should be at the office. You might need to explain that you’re not available to watch the neighbor’s kids (or your own, for that matter) or do chores around the house.

5. Establish a clear system for communicating with your manager and be vigilant about sticking to it. If you leave it informal, you’re less likely to have regular communication than you would if you were physically in the office together. For instance, you might decide that (a) you’ll have one regularly scheduled phone meeting per week; (b) you’ll proactively and regularly create opportunities for less formal interaction, since your separate locations mean those won’t pop up organically; (c) you won’t rely on email for sensitive or complicated issues and instead will get on the phone to hash them out; and (d) you’ll visit your headquarters at least twice a year.

6. Be accessible. As convenient as working from home is for you, it has the potential to inconvenience your co-workers, by making it harder for them to talk to you when they need something. Since they can’t just walk down the hall to your office, go out of your way to be accessible by phone, email, and—if your office uses it—instant messaging during the day.

7. Over-communicate. When you’re telecommuting, you risk losing your connection to your boss and co-workers, and even having people wonder what you’re doing all day. To combat this, proactively let people know where projects stand and what your priorities are for the week. Additionally, while you should always stay on top of your email and phone messages, it’s especially important if you telecommute. If you let emails or phone messages go unanswered, you risk people thinking that you’re not working as hard as you would if your colleagues could see you.

8. Don’t eat while you work. With your kitchen just a few feet away, it’s easy to find yourself eating more than you would if you were at an office. Many telecommuters gain weight because it’s so easy to snack throughout the day.

9. Find ways to have in-person contact. Working from home can be isolating. If you find yourself a little too excited to see the FedEx man, it’s time to get out of your house. Try to have lunch once or twice a week with colleagues, networking contacts, or friends—outside of your home.

10. Be honest with yourself about whether you’re cut out for telecommuting. Not everyone is a good fit for working from home. If you’ll feel isolated or give in to temptation to slack off, telecommuting might not be a good choice for you.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 103 comments… read them below }

    1. Ariancita*

      I think you have to just look for a regular job and then negotiate some telecommuting. That’s how it worked for me. It works with small offices that don’t have space for you or a huge budget to buy you equipment. So it’s great for them if you’re willing to work mostly from home and use your own computer (though I’d try to still negotiate new equipment because ideally, you shouldn’t have to use your own).

      1. Tamara*

        I agree – this is a good way to get into a telecommuting situation. It also lets you establish yourself in the culture before going remote. It’s not always possible, but this has been my experience.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly. Much easier to negotiate for telecommuting after you’ve worked somewhere for a while and have proven yourself. It doesn’t work for every job or every office, of course, but that’s the best path to it. It’s much harder to find a telecommuting job that telecommutes from the start (although they do exist).

      3. Piper*

        This is what I did at my old job, too. It started by working from home once or twice a month, then once or twice a week, then all the time.

        Honestly, though, as much as I liked working from home, I missed the office camaraderie of past offices. However, the office that I worked at was miserable with miserable coworkers who were gossipy and complaining all the time. And also, the office itself was really depressing in the decor and smell, and just everything about its environment. So I actually ended up working from home all the time because I hated the office and my coworkers where I my cubicle was located were not fun at all (I was contracted and these were not team members that I had to work with for projects, or at all really).

        I just got a new job that has a really fun office environment and the coworkers seem enthusiastic, so I’m actually looking forward to hauling into the office. A once in a while work from home day would be nice, but I really do like going into the office most days (if its an office I like with good coworkers).

        1. Piper*

          I would also like to apologize for all the typos and weird grammar in that previous post. I was trying to type, text, and have a conversation at the same time. I failed.

    2. Catherine*

      A lot of “green” companies, or those with a plan to go green, are offering telecommuting options. My job didn’t use to have that, but our company started a green initiative and let each department decide on its own telecommuting policies. I know work from home 3 days a week. It’s bliss. Except when my cat tries to sleep on my laptop.

      1. Anonymous*

        Ahh yes, the cat on laptop/keyboard is always an issue! My cats do that all the time!

      2. irena*

        my kitty did that too! and then she would chase the mouse pointer on the screen. ahhh kitties!!

    3. Broke Philosopher*

      I imagine that many people who own small businesses also do work from home (in addition to what others have said). I’m a tutor who travels to people’s homes, which means that my paid hours are not spent at home, but that I do a very significant amount of work from my home (lesson planning, scheduling, client management, keeping track of earnings/expenses, etc).

    4. Ponies!*

      Very large companies that have grown from acquiring many other companies *ahem like the company I work for ahem* are often good bets for telecommuters, because they have so many employees strewn about the country (or globe) as a result of those acquisitions. It’s much, much easier, and cheaper, for them to encourage (and pay for) working from home than it is to provide brick-and-mortar facilities. The city I live in is my company’s global headquarters, but because so many of my teammates are actually in other cities, I rarely go into the office.

    5. Hyps*

      I was lucky in my manager (the owner of the company) suggested that I work from home on particular days which turns out to be around 30% office and 70% home. I didn’t go looking for it but I do love it.

  1. Ariancita*

    I work from home mostly and setting hours doesn’t work for me since because I telecommute, I’m expected to be on call 24/7. However, lists with deadlines helps a lot. Also, I’m considering installing a whiteboard.

    1. KellyK*

      Ouch. Being on-call 24/7 sounds really stressful and probably not necessary (unless you’re an IT person or a high-level manager).

      It might make more sense to set daily task lists then, if you can’t exactly set specific hours.

      1. Ariancita*

        It is very stressful and entirely unnecessary but it’s academia working with a PI, so there seems to be no rules or boundaries. Alas.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Just want to point out that you wrote “because I telecommute, I’m expected to be on call 24/7.” If that’s truly the reason for the expectation, you need to talk to them about that. If the job would expect it even if you weren’t telecommuting, then that’s different.

        1. Ariancita*

          Well, most of us on the team do at least some telecommuting, so it’s expected of everyone. To be fair, I can’t definitively establish a causal relationship between telecommuting and constant availability, but there’s strong correlation (indicated by certain comments here and there). There’s also the added bit that we’re all officially part-time, but are all working full-time and more (without the accompanying salary) because of this on-call business. Fantastic projects though. There’s the trade-off…for now.

          1. fposte*

            When we’re on a grant push, we’re often 24/7 whether we telecommute or not; I’m guessing that may be more of a factor than the telecommuting.

            Though what also happens is that if a telecommuter doesn’t make set hours clear, people will want things now because they don’t know when “later” would be.

            1. Ariancita*

              Sure, with us, that’s expected in a grant push. But this happens with all our projects. Set hours are ignored. If you take a vacation day, you better bring your smartphone or computer with you because you’ll be asked to do things all hours and ASAP. It’s common to get a request for something at 11 pm and receive an email the next morning at 7 am asking where the heck the work product is and why one has been out of communication for 8 hours. No joke.

            2. Ariancita*

              I should also say, for all this complaining, the work projects are truly fantastic. Really amazing stuff I’m working on and I’m very happy and satisfied with them. I don’t even mind being on-call 24/7. I’d just like to be paid more than half-time salary for working 50hrs or so a week. That’s really the biggest issue for me. And not because I’m not willing to go above and beyond (clearly I am) but because it’s barely a living a wage at half-time but because the hours and availability needed are so expansive, I can’t take on a additional job. And yes, I’ve tried negotiating this. Employer will not budge.

              1. fposte*

                That’s a lot, then. I think that the exempt-but-part-time problem is endemic in nonprofits, especially academics, and it’s ironically tougher to tackle because there often are so many good compensations. So I got nothing for you, but you remind me to try to police the workload of those around me who might be having similar problems.

                1. Ariancita*

                  Hmmm…what do you mean by “many good compensations?” I’m not sure I’m tracking what you’re saying. Are you saying that there are other things (like great projects) that compensate for low pay, tons of extra hours, no vacation, etc? If so, then yes, I’d agree (that’s why we do it, right? because the projects are amazing).

                2. fposte*

                  Exactly what I’m saying. There are some tradeoffs that make it acceptable. I wasn’t for a moment suggesting that the payscale is so high :-).

  2. Tamara*

    A great article (and I like the “10 work habits that could get you fired” that it linked to as well). My company has a number of part time telecommuters, and all of these points are great to keep in mind. I will definitely be sharing this with my co-workers.

  3. The Other Dawn*

    I think 1 and 2 (setting hours and being disciplined) are probably the most important, at least for me anyway.

    Several years ago I started working at home one day a week for a couple months in an effort to catch up on my work. It was really busy at the time and it didn’t help that I had a million interruptions all day long. The first day was awesome; I got so much work done without all the interruptions. Actually, I got so much done I was ahead of the task list I had created for that day. And that led to slacking off the following week, which put me behind again,and the following week, and so on. Because of my lack of discipline I try not to work from home unless I am contagious, but feeling OK, or there’s some problem in the office building that requires us to close the office.

    1. KayDay*

      I know a bunch of people, myself included, who have fallen into the “I got so much done last week and now I’m behind” syndrome! Personally, I love having the ability to telecommute from time to time, but I actually only like to telecommute when I have a good reason (A/C repairman coming, kinda sick, need to do a lot of no-interaction-required tasks, etc.)

  4. Catherine*

    Getting out of the house is quite important. I am required to come into the office 2 out of 5 days a week, so that helps with the isolation problem, and is also nice for when I need to speak in person with people or attend meetings (I really hate conference calls). I have also started taking walks during my lunch break and right after work with a friend who lives nearby, who also telecommutes. It’s a nice break, good exercise, and we get some human interaction throughout the week.

    1. Ariancita*

      Yes! This is important. Sometimes a couple of days will go by and I will realize I haven’t been outside at all. It doesn’t help that I can have iced coffee delivered to my door.

      Also, telecommuting means increased conference calls. I have learned that conference calls are the bane of my existence.

      1. Jamie*

        “It doesn’t help that I can have iced coffee delivered to my door.”

        I so want to live in your neighborhood.

        1. Catherine*

          Seriously! I want to live there!

          As for conference calls, we have started using web conferencing more and more, which is helpful. What bugs me about the conference calls is having to listen to a roomful of people talk on speakerphone. If everyone is on their own separate line, it’s generally okay.

          I’ve also found my in-office days can be used as my “distraction days.” My door is open and I work on small tasks and talk to people those days. I don’t work on projects or tasks that need undivided attention for long periods of time. It’s nice to have the flexibility to put those things off for my at-home days.

          1. Ariancita*

            Yep, web conferencing is so much better than trying to discern a roomful of people all speaking at once.

            And yes, so agreed about how time is spent on in-office days. Those are for meetings, questions, catch-up on work stuff, etc. Serious work happens at home.

          2. KellyK*

            I have the same issue with phone conferences. It works fabulously for small groups where there’s no more than 2 people sharing a single speaker phone, but when you’re the sole “remote” person trying to follow a roomful of people talking, it gets tricky.

            Another awesome thing about web conferencing is that usually you can send a private message to one or more participants, so you can have an aside without disrupting the meeting. That’s actually one of the things I have trouble with when I’m the only one called in–someone will make a comment that I can’t quite make out, and because I’m not there to see their body language, I can’t tell whether I need to ask them to repeat it or it wasn’t meant for me to begin with.

    2. dangitmegan*

      Yes, getting out of the house is important. I’m a freelance designer so I work in my home studio and am in the middle of a huge project. I realized earlier today that I haven’t left the house since last Friday. I decided to go outside to get some fresh air and food and was entirely overstimulated and now I need a nap.

      It doesn’t really help that I work best at night so usually I’m up sewing until six am and then sleeping most of the day. I pretty much become a hermit when I have a big project. But the daily walks sound like an excellent idea.

        1. Ariancita*

          We should definitely have a “take a walk and get outside, for crying out loud!” work group!

        2. Ariancita*

          Although, caveat on further analysis, going outside daily would require me to shower daily. I need to think about this…

        3. Andrea*

          I work from home, but I freelance, so I do set my own hours and do laundry during the day and other things you mentioned as things not to do. Oops. I also have a large herb and veggie garden and a dog who needs walking, so I take five short walks per day and I have garden chores every day. For me, those things are key, and I would indeed lose my mind. It can be isolating, though, especially since we just moved here a little over a year ago, and I would like to know more people.

          Also, it is not at all unusual for me to realize that I haven’t showered yet … At 5:00 p.m.

          1. KellyK*

            I think the laundry-doing and break-taking are very individual things and they depend on what you need to be getting done and when. Sometimes stepping away from the computer to do something else is a mental break that makes you more productive. Other times, it just makes you *feel* productive because you’ve gotten a whole bunch of stuff done that isn’t work.

            1. Rants*

              Folding laundry during conference calls where I am just listening/watching a screen is actually better for me – the part of me that gets very distracted sitting in front of a computer trying to pay attention is mollified, and I can devote the rest of me to actually just listening. I don’t check emails or visit facebook or doodle, it’s really excellent.

              1. Rana*

                That’s an excellent point. I’m also one of those people whose body gets restless when doing something that doesn’t need it, so any way to distract it without distracting other people is a great thing.

              2. KellyK*

                Same here actually. Something to do with my hands while listening helps me focus.

                1. Jamie*

                  I read a study once, about how people who doodle during meetings actually retain more information. Something about how the physical act facilitates memory.

                  For the life of me I can’t remember where I read a link to that study. Was it here?

            2. Andrea*

              Exactly. I can wake up, walk my dog, come in and exercise and do some garden stuff and then get to work–instead of waking up and rushing around to shower and get dressed and fix my hair so I can rush out and drive to work.

              And really, being at home means that my house stays nice, because I can take 15 minutes to vacuum or whatever a few times per day. Small consistent efforts are what it takes to get things clean and organized and stay that way. And when I worked outside the home, I never had the time/energy to do as much of that as I should have.

              My husband works from home, too, at least 70% of the time. I freelance, so I’m self-employed, but he works for a firm as a consultant. It is great to be able to walk the dog together and eat lunch together, and most of the time, we aren’t too busy to do that. Sometimes he takes a lunch break to mow the lawn or run to the grocery store or tackle some other task that would otherwise take away from the evening or weekend. And when we’re working, we each have our own offices in the house, so we’re working alone. It isn’t for everyone, but I love it. My perspective may be different since I’m my own boss, but you’re entitled to breaks throughout the day whether you’re working in the office or in your home office, so you can take walks or do household chores or whatever the hell you want to do.

              Personally, my time is spent better and I’m a lot more productive than I was when other people and their office dramas and noises and such were around. My dog and my three cats are lazy and mostly sleep during the day, but they are pretty agreeable coworkers who don’t argue with me about whose food is in the fridge or what the thermostat is set at.

        4. Rana*

          I use DailyMile and HealthMonth to keep track of my walks. It’s surprisingly helpful!

          But yes, it’s good to get out of the house periodically when you work from home. If nothing else, it forces you to put on clothing that’s not pajamas!

      1. Anonymous*

        Gosh, I have a lot of respect for those who work at home. I want to get out of the house. I have never worked at home (except housework) before, but I want to get up in the morning and go. I already do 5 miles every day, so exercise is not my problem. I want to get dressed up again, meet new people, learn something new, earn money like when I was younger. I have already spent quite a lot of time on the computer today. I really want to get out in the world again and working from home for me would be very hard.

  5. Steve G*

    Telecommuting today because of customer meetings this afternoon and hate it! Missing all of the office drama:-). Plus my coworker just emailed a question to an important customer about a problem I already solved. And I wish I was in the office to push someone to do a walkthrough of a new customer this week. My coworker in another market started as a telecommuter and is doing pretty bad – one of the many reasons is that we do alot of sales support and ad-hoc reports and customer calls and he isn’t in the loop to see these items should get done, or even that they are his job. If there were more structured tasks, I could see it working out better for him.

  6. Anonymous*

    I’m glad you shared this article!

    I’ve been working from home for the past year, and I absolutely love it! My cats seem to like it, too. They’re not left alone for long hours anymore. I might actually get more done at home than when I worked in the office. Fewer distractions, less office drama/chaos.

    In the mornings, I’ll go to the grocery store/do laundry/workout to start the day. Sometimes I’ll take a walk around the block just to stretch my legs. And yes, I wear fleece and sweats all the time.

  7. Ask a Manager* Post author

    It’s kind of odd that this is a topic that we haven’t talked much about before now! Especially since I am totally devoted to working from home myself and love it dearly.

    1. Eva*

      I love this topic! I work from home (doing my website + freelance opinion writing for newspapers), and reading your blog always drives home to me that my lifestyle is Not Normal. It’s nice to see that there are quite a few commenters who work from home.

      What works for me is to shower first thing every day and to do an errand (usually shopping) that takes me out of the house 15-30 minutes every morning before settling down with my computer. I live in the city, and as soon as I leave the apartment building I feel the rush of other people’s purposeful activity which gets me in the mood for working myself. Perusing the comments of this blog actually helps that way too! Except when I’m stimulated to write my own, like now, heh.

        1. Eva*

          It shouldn’t be hard to find; I link to it here meaning that my username and Gravatar image link to it. I hope you enjoy it! :)

    2. KayDay*

      I’m happy you wrote about it, especially since working from home is becoming very common (especially for people who have an office, but have a telecommuting arrangement on some days). I personally feel like the I’m the only person who doesn’t really like working from home–I get distracted way too easily at home (in HS and college, I always went to the library or a coffee shop to study for the same reason). However, I absolutely love being able to work from home occasionally when I need to. Unfortunately, the way my office is set up now, I can only do about 60% of my work from home :(

    3. Ariancita*

      Indeed. I love how all the dirty little secrets of telecommuters have come to light. So good to see others are skipping showers, never wearing pants (I believe in no pants days!), having coffee delivered, not seeing the outside for days, wearing post-its and frownies on their foreheads, leaving bed only to use the loo and answer the door for the coffee… we should have a tv show: The Real House Lives of Telecommuters.

      1. Jamie*

        I’d watch that show – but before the cameras start rolling, I suggest you all put on some pants :).

  8. mh_76*

    The first commenter on the US News site mentioned a website that he’s started. I’m not sure yet if it’s another re-invention of the wheel (like Facebook, G+, others) but I’ve set up an account. Is anyone else interested in “guinea-pigging” that site ? I’m “M H” on there, username is mh876 (or mh_76…I don’t remember which…I think the first one because it didn’t like the _ character…).

  9. C.J.*

    Thanks again for posting this, Alison!

    A little over a month ago, I got a new job that requires me to work from home and I’m still in the process of adjusting to this new routine.

    (I didn’t know the position was a work-from-home one until the first round of interviews. The company encourages it to save money and expand its presence all over the world.)

    All of the business casual attire I’ve accumulated throughout the years are no longer being worn, and my PJ’s, yoga pants, and random t-shirts become my new uniform. I feel schlumpy, which I find hilarious since I have a fashion blog that I started before this job. I’m trying to muster up the interest to put on actual clothes so that I can still post in my spare time.

    And speaking of time, I’m glad this article addressed how it’s important to manage your time well as a virtual employee. Before I came on AAM, I was answering work emails–which thrilled my colleagues on the other side of the world since our schedules never sync. But I’ve got to get better at separating work and life.

    Unexpected perk–I’m not snacking all day like I thought I would (though I am guilty of eating lunch while on the clock). And now that I have no in-person contact with anyone most days, going to the gym has become a treat and I work out several days a week. I’ve actually lost weight…SWEET.

    I’m definitely going to bring up the idea of a weekly call with my boss. We usually keep in touch with each other via IM.

    Great tips and article, Alison!

    1. Catherine*

      As far as feeling schlumpy, I have found that I get “dressed up” when going out to dinner, meeting a friend for a walk (I have to wear CUTE workout clothes lol), or even just running to the grocery store. When I was in-office full time it was the reverse…come home, put on the schlump clothes, and if my husband wanted to go out there was a good bet I was going out in yoga pants. I usually curb that schlumpy feeling with a shower. But I really like being able to buy whatever clothes I want now – I don’t have to worry if it’s “office appropriate.”

      1. C.J.*

        Yes! I use any reason I can find to get dressed up–even if I’m just going to the grocery store :-)

        I still shower daily (haha), but I end up just throwing on the schlumpy clothes.

        I really like the point you made about being able to buy and wear whatever clothes you want. I didn’t even think of it that way! Pretty awesome way of looking at it.

        I’m also going to find a cute coffee shop nearby to visit and work at for a few hours to get out of the house and have a reason to put on “real” clothes.

      2. Andrea*

        Good point. I really like wearing whatever the hell I want. Most of the time, that’s t-shirts or tank tops and yoga pants or jeans with hoodie. I often work with a mask smeared all over my face, too, or with teeth whitening strips or whatever. Now that I think of it, I’m pretty well-groomed now that I work from home.

        1. Ariancita*

          Hah, speaking of things on your face. I work with those page marker post-its on my forehead because it prevents me from furrowing my brows at the computer all day while focusing and thus prevents late evening headaches (and probably wrinkles! ha!). It’s quite a sight and not one I’d be comfortable showing in the office.

          1. Andrea*

            I often work with Frownies on, too! Ha. Apparently my face makes me look angry when I am just concentrating on something. Annoying coworkers used to interrupt me when I was in the middle of something to ask if I was mad. I don’t miss that.

            1. Jamie*

              This! All the time. If I’m mad and it’s relevant to work I’ll handle it. Otherwise I’m just freaking concentrating!

    2. fposte*

      Might be fun to make it a new wardrobe opportunity. I like cute athletic-type skirts for summer; they’re generally knit, low-wrinkle and low-maintenance (mine double as my travel wardrobe), and I can go to the grocery store in them without being afraid I’ll see somebody I know.

      I will stay silent about my winter practices, save to let you know that velour features heavily.

      1. Rana*

        Those athletic skirts (and skorts) are awesome. I especially like the ones from Patagonia and Title Nine, because they can look professional in a pinch.

        As for winter, I will simply say this: washable wool yoga pants. Mmm.

        1. Jess*

          I’ve got a pair of cut off jean shorts that are The Most Comfortable Thing Ever and Yet Utterly Inappropriate for Public Consumption. My cat doesn’t mind tho. I’ve also OD’d on Lulu lemon pants. And this line of really lovely easy dresses, tshirts and light sweaters called Yala– they’re made from bamboo, which is softer than cotton, good for the environment, and gets softer each time you wash them.

          I live over seas, so it’s mostly hot here. . . however, I will say: someone may have got me a snuggie for Christmas. Snuggie might be my new Winter Business Suit. If I ever get an office job, snuggie might have to come too. I love him.

          1. Rana*

            There have been times in overly air-conditioned offices when I would have loved to have a Snuggie!

          2. Ariancita*

            My inappropriate for public wear are scrubs. So comfy. So light weight and easy. Plus, they make me feel important. :)

  10. Jess*

    How glad I am that other’s mentioned the showering thing! i thought that was just me being incredibly gross and or weird. I’ve been working from home for nearly two years now and I both love and hate it. The same way I feel about my blackberry actually: that little fiend makes the virtual office a snap, but also haunts my soul with it’s constant needy buzzing.

    I work at a magazine, and my head office is actually in another country (I live overseas). It’s about a 40 minute flight, and I do it once a month to spend a week in the office closing the magazine. This has been the saving grace as far as time management goes: I’m on deadline and I know I must have everything done before I go to the office, so I can never get too far behind. I do set daily tasks and try to keep office hours, and actually having the flexibility of a home office has really cut down on stress (I can give myself a time out when needed).

    But the showering thing. . . man. When I first started working from home, I swore I wouldn’t let this happen. I’d get up every day, shower, dress in real clothes, put on makeup, and work like a grownup. Recently? I looked in my closet and realized my wardrobe is now entirely pjs and formal wear. Wearing jeans to the office once a month seems like an affront: what, I must wear pants for eight hours in a row? Egads! Because I live in a compound that’s equipped with a grocery store, laundry, coffee shop, etc that delivers, I have gone days without leaving my flat. I purposely got a roommate though, so there is someone arriving home every day at a set time to be accosted by my puppy-like need for human contact, and also give me a good reminder to turn off my computer and go do something else: I often find myself working around the clock, out of a weird sense of guilt that since I’m not wearing a bra, I need to produce more than my shackled compatriots in the office.

    1. Catherine*

      “I often find myself working around the clock, out of a weird sense of guilt that since I’m not wearing a bra, I need to produce more than my shackled compatriots in the office.”

      LOL. I feel the same way sometimes. And I will go for a a stretch of a day or two without wearing real pants or showering. It’s just so easy. You’re not alone. Hey, just think – we’re saving water!

      1. Jess*

        Gross workers unite :)

        You know, this is where Skype conferencing is evil. then my coworkers can see me in all my pajama’d glory.

        And yes, I have put on a blouse on top while continuing to wear my PJ bottoms for skype meetings– they can only see my top half anyway :P

        1. Rana*

          Jess – my husband once Skyped an interview wearing a button-down shirt and suit jacket… and shorts below. :)

      2. Andrea*

        I do shower every day, but it is often late afternoon before I get to it. Especially in the hot weather–if I’m going to get all sweaty when I walk my dog at 1:00, I might as well wait until afterwards. My thing is that I pretty much only wear sports bras now, and whenever I have to put on a “real bra” I feel much more formal. Ha.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wearing jeans to the office once a month seems like an affront: what, I must wear pants for eight hours in a row? Egads!

      OMG. I feel this way. I thought it was me being weird.

      1. Jess*

        YES! Screw pants and their judgemental waist bands :)

        Another evil-yet-awesome plus of working from home: quasi sick days. When I worked in offices, there were days when I was just getting or just coming out of a cold. I wasn’t sick enough to stay home (and avoid typhoid-mary-ing my coworkers, which is my biggest office pet peeve. Now, in my hermetically sealed bubble of personal germs, I get far fewer colds then when I worked with Coughy, Sneezy, and Plague-y, the coworker dwarves), and yet I wasn’t 100 per cent, and suffered through the day. Now? Just bring the ol’ laptop to bed! I can get my work done AND snuggle under my duvet. Awesome.

        The trouble is, when I am legit sick, I still tend to answer email, etc. . .

        1. Ariancita*

          I admire your bringing the laptop to bed when sick. I’ll try to strive for that (perhaps along with more frequent showers) in the future, as opposed to my current set up where I wake up, roll over, pick up laptop from side of bed, roll back into bed, and begin working.

          I am a determined mix of hard working and super lazy.

          1. Jess*

            Oh I’m so glad you do that too! I work in bed all the time. . . I think it’s the next step in the evolution of never taking off my jammies.

        2. Jamie*

          “I get far fewer colds then when I worked with Coughy, Sneezy, and Plague-y, the coworker dwarves)”

          Can I tell you how much I love this sentence?!

          1. Jess*

            Thanks :) Seriously, I go into the head office once a month, and doing flu season I basically treat my coworkers like vampires. Back back foul and villainous carriers of disease.

            Sharing an open plan office is like working with pigeons. Pigeons who have been rolling around with plague carrying rats. and now want smooches.

  11. Daryl*

    I was told not to even ask about it at my current employer. It is verboten. No idea why. It’s not a technology issue.

    1. Catherine*

      At my last job, which could have been performed perfectly well from home, we were forbidden. The administration was obsessive about everyone being in the office at all times (worked at a college). There was even one day when it iced over and was dangerous to drive, and they made my department come into work – no one else, just my department – even though we had work laptops at home and much of our work could be completed on the internet without even using VPN.

      1. Anonymous*

        My work is very old-fashioned at times, but it has always seemed silly to me that we pay rent for an office. We have a small full time staff, and work with consultants all over the world. My boss travels internationally about 30% of her time. Visitors rarely come to our office, and the never come by unannounced. However, my boss is often concerned about what will happen if the office is empty.

        While we can do some work from home, our server is set up so that remote log-in isn’t allowed. When we installed a new phone system, we looked into getting a “hosted PBX” that would work at home and internationally just like in the office, but ended up settling for a regular phone line. It’s very frustrating how behind the times we are! But, honestly, if I didn’t have an office to go to, I would probably turn into a crazy hermit, start only speaking in gibberish, and completely lose all of my basic social skills….so maybe it’s for the best.

    2. danr*

      They are afraid that cyber-pirates will steal their information as it makes its way through the internet pipes.

  12. Kristi*

    I recently relocated and came across two different positions in my field that included telecommuting. I’d always assumed I’d try telecommuting if I could but relocating changed that. An office and coworkers would bring that social aspect I want even more in a new city, in addition to the gym and clubs and group activities. I think I’d more interested once I had established more of a network. I think telecommuting a portion of the week would be just about perfect.

    I came across another position as the sole employee of an office, and even that has me concerned. Volunteers may come and go, but otherwise I think its one person throughout the week. At least there are neighbors from other businesses in the building but how often do we get to know our neighbors?

    In the end, I think its about making the situation you have work.

    1. KK*

      I once relocated to a new city and was working from home. And I was living by myself. It was really tough. I was lucky that I met someone who worked near me and she’d sometimes stop by after work on her way home for a beer. It was a life saver! The good thing is that with technology now you can really stay in touch with people easily and while facebook isn’t a substitute for face to face time with your friends outside your city, it’s better than nothing and it made me feel like I was involved in their lives a little. But I was starved for human interaction for a long time. I’m glad I did it though.

  13. mh_76*

    I’m in the minority here – It is nice to be able to work from home sometimes (though I have yet to have a job that will allow that…except for some freelancing) but I am generally more motivated to be productive when I have to get off my a$$, shower (usu. at night), make myself presentable, and be somewhere at X time. That is why (when I’m financially able) I plan to go to grad. school (p-t MBA) in a bricks-mortar or hybrid (online and B&M) setting vs. solely online. I do get HW done but it’s nice to have some structure also…a blend is best. I would love to, though, never have to wear dress-up clothes to a job again…they’re expensive to dry clean…pain in the a$$. Much eaiser to be in jeans/cargo pants, tevas/sneakers, b-ball hat, whatever shirt I pull out of the drawer having maybe worn it once already (but not twice).

  14. Rana*

    I think what I like best about working from home (I freelance, rather than work for an employer) is the flexibility. I appreciate that if I’m efficient and hard-working, I can earn myself time to go on walks and browse the library, and that if I’m willing to work late at night, I can enjoy the daylight hours when things are open and the sun is shining.

    When I was an hourly office worker, it drove me nuts that the “reward” for finishing projects ahead of schedule was hours of nothing to do (even after asking for, and finishing, additional work). I had to retrain myself to be efficient when I started working for myself.

    I don’t like the lack of benefits and the irregular income, but that’s a separate issue to the actual work.

    I am also laughing at the wardrobe comments. Like many of you, my clothes tend to be either very formal or rather casual; the office wear I have is about ten years old and dwindling. I would struggle if I suddenly acquired an office job and needed to dress appropriately for it.

    1. Kelly O*

      +∞ to the issue of not really being able to manage your workflow in an office. I appreciate the concept of ROWE, but it’s not reality in a lot of places. I’d work a lot more efficiently if I could duck out and go to the grocery store or the gym, or whatever. Instead I ration it out to make sure I’m not redoing my files for the fiftieth time.

  15. Kelly O*

    Seriously y’all there are times I wish we were allowed to work from home, especially when I have big projects that require a lot of concentration – the office has too much noise and I have a hard time focusing properly (and since we’re not supposed to wear headphones anymore, I lost my little escape.)

    And y’all please go walk during the day for those of us who feel quite literally chained to a desk. Between that, the kid, and the heat I have zero time to do anything exercise shaped sometimes. And it’s making my shape rounder. (I know some people say they gain weight when they work from home. I’ve almost always lost, because I have access to all that good stuff I buy at the grocery store but inadvertently forget to bring with me while I’m rushing out the door. At the office, I get stuck with all this junk I don’t normally buy, and Donut Friday, and the birthday cupcake thing… it’s really hard to pass them up like I need to.)

    1. Jamie*

      “Seriously y’all there are times I wish we were allowed to work from home, especially when I have big projects that require a lot of concentration – the office has too much noise and I have a hard time focusing properly (and since we’re not supposed to wear headphones anymore, I lost my little escape.)”

      I’m the opposite – I can’t get anything done at home between the kids, the dogs, the noise and interruptions. For serious concentration I prefer the office after hours or weekends.

      I have had to work from home on occasion (those colds where you are contagious but feel okay to work – I stay home with my germs) and I actually resent it, in a way.

      I totally get how it works for many people, but I really like having a delineation between my work and my personal life. I don’t consider anything I can take care of by phone or iPad to be working from home – that I don’t mind. But if I have to break out the laptop and fire up the VPN …that’s where I get weird about it.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m the same way Jamie – I’m far more productive in the office, especially after hours or weekends. At home, there are too many appealing distractions, and I get weird and resentful about firing up the laptop at home. I purchased a cheap little netbook for my home internet surfing so I wouldn’t feel inclined to bring my laptop home unless I really had to.

        The technology is there for me to work from home, and my director and staff person prefer it, but I’d much rather have the formality of a desk, office chair, dual monitors, a phone I can ignore after 5pm… I also need the camraderie of people around me being busy. My napping cat just doesn’t make me feel like I should be working.

        (Of coures, I have to fill out timesheets accounting for what I do all day. “2.1 hours – nap” probably wouldn’t fly.)

        1. Andrea*

          I have an office here at the house–not my couch, not my kitchen table, but an actual room where my desks and supplies and things are, and that’s where I work. I have two really nice office chairs (though sometimes I stand to type; I have a high desk, too.) I have a laptop that stays in here and that I use pretty much only for work. (I have another computer elsewhere and a tablet for my own use.) If I didn’t have this setup, I don’t know that I could do this. There’s no way that I could sit on my couch and work, for example…I’d just want to turn the TV on.

    2. Anonymous*

      I think your post is so cute. It sounds like you live in the South, with reference to the heat. Also, I thought the birthday cupcake was cute too.

  16. Anonymous*

    I work from home and love it. I am able to take the kids to school and be home with my toddler. I can also put on a load of washing and prepare dinner in between telephone calls and bookings. The only dull point is also sharing my home with employees. We have a large office area which is joined onto the lounge area and find that privacy can be a bit hard at times. We are on 24 hour call and work is always there to be completed. Another positive point is security of stock and vehicles. At our old offices (which we rented) we were continuously broken into and the damages and theft sent our insurance premiums souring. We employee a terrific group of people and there is never a dull moment in the office, our employees have become part of our family.

  17. Anonymous*

    My roommate has been working from home awhile now, and it has not been the best for them. They do graphic design/color separations/briefly web design. It’s been too easy for them to stay up late hanging out because there’s no place to go in the morning, sleep in, and put things off. They lost a good job (the only one that could afford to pay) by not getting things done in a timely manner. They’re in a pickle now because the other company they work for is going slowly and very little money at all is coming in. But they’re also not so good about an office job.
    My roommate has been doing computer work for over 20 years and thinks they’re going to find the perfect place to set up and make tons of money drawing people. Honestly, I think a lot of their expectations are a little too great, especially since their not making any money is making our living situation difficult. I wish there were an easy way to get it into my roommates head that “this obviously isn’t working so well for you right now. Maybe you ought to suck it up and get a regular job while you pull yourself together”. I was out of work for awhile and have a lot of student loan payments to make, and I can’t at all afford to support both of us.
    Working from home may sound great, but when you aren’t productive enough (screw the excuses) and have a sketchy work history for the past few years, you need to accept that no matter how much experience or seniority you have, you need to whip yourself into shape and do what you need to do to pay bills or save up to plan for what you really want to do. I got a low-skill labor job while I work on trying to get my career started (college grad. No experience)
    Sorry, it’s just frustrating that I don’t know how to get my roommate back to reality. I’m much more blunt and, I think, realistic and I know it hurts their feelings sometimes like I don’t believe in their abilities or something. So I don’t know.

    1. Tamara*

      It sounds to me like the issue is that your roommate is just unreliable when it comes to certain responsibilities (such as work and financial). If they’re not good at working from home OR office jobs, then it’s not so much an issue with telecommuting. I’ve known (and lived with) similar people, so I can definitely relate.

      It also sounds like the financial situation is your biggest frustration, and if that’s the main issue you want to address, then you need to be up front – but not about their working from home. Either your arrangements need to be spelled out more clearly, so that you don’t get stuck footing the bill all the time, or you might need to find a new roommate. Obviously the latter is not easy, but if it gets to the point where you’re essentially supporting your roommate, you’re already in a difficult situation.

      As for the work behavior, unfortunately, getting it “into my roommates head” is just not likely – especially since you did say that you know it could hurt your roommate’s feelings. It’s a similar sentiment to “my significant other is perfect except for X, but they can change!” Behaviors are very difficult to overcome, and typically a person needs to come to the realization that change is needed on their own. That’s not to say that you can’t try to push them toward the realization, but they have to be participating a little. Otherwise, your pushing will likely just be taken as “uninformed meddling”, causing a defensive response (and possibly making them even more stubborn about the issue). A couple of options though would be to encourage the good behavior (“great job finishing that project – looks like you’ve found a niche!”) or to make positive & polite suggestions if & when your roommate expresses frustration over finances, such as referencing when you had to pick up your “low-skill labor job” to make ends meet.

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