For a number of years, my friend, Rachel, worked from home. I’d talk to her on the phone and she’d be sitting at a table under an umbrella next to her pool, sipping iced tea while working on her laptop. Last year I saw that her LinkedIn Status had changed and I asked her what was up. She said she couldn’t work from home anymore because it was too isolating.
When I tell people what I do and they ask where my office is, I have to confess that I work from home. They often reply with envy and ask me what it’s like. The answer is, it’s strange.
Before I took this job, working from home was not on my list of “wants.” Although it might surprise some of you, I’m a social animal. I like living in the city surrounded by people and I liked working in an office because I was always surrounded by my colleagues who were, with only one exception I can think of, committed to a common cause that they believed in, which is why they worked there.
Then I took this job, which was ideal in almost every other respect. I spent the first two weeks training at the office in Boston and then started working from home. At first, lingering in denial, I plugged in my laptop and worked on the couch, the dining table, the bar-top. Then I took a morning off, reorganized the guest room, banished my husband’s dinosaur of a desktop to another room (preparatory to evacuation), and condensed the contents of two shelves and a desk drawer to give me space for my stuff, and settled in to my new “office” which I share with my husband’s extensive Snoopy collection (pictured above).
The space itself is not ideal yet. I eventually broke down and bought an office-type chair (challenge: the knee-hole in my husband’s beloved childhood desk isn’t wide enough to allow for an ergodynamic chair and it would be heresy to ask to replace it). Followed, as the temperature dropped, by a foot-warmer and an electric blanket. A positive of my new workspace: windows on two walls – I had wanted a window in my office for years! A negative: it’s a converted dining room and the HVAC unit is on the other side of the living room wall; so in winters it’s freezing and in summers…I can’t bear to think about it yet. I keep telling myself that my new job allows me to work from anywhere and I’ll just leave town during the summer. We’ll see. Next up, moving the dozen or so boxes and my husband’s old monitor into storage.
Aside from the physical conditions, here are a few things that I’m still figuring out:
I still miss having people around me. My company’s policy is to do meetings via video-conference as much as possible, which helps on days with lots of meetings. On days without meetings, it can get lonely. I get a lot done because there are few distraction and I try to schedule more social activities after work, but that leaves my husband out because he’s not a social animal and, after spending time in an office surrounded by people all day, he wants to be alone for a while.
In my previous life, I didn’t sit at my desk for long periods of time: I was up, moving around, running from conference room to conference room, visiting colleagues in their offices, even moving from my desk to my whiteboard as I thought out ideas. Sometimes I’d just get up and do a little MBWA, stretching my legs while checking in on what the team was up to. Now, with all my meetings online and a lack of social stimulation, I end up sitting for longer periods, and even with all the yoga, I’m not getting as much exercise. Also, since my old office was 2-3 miles away from my home, I walked at least 4 miles a day as a matter of course. It’s harder to do that now because I have to plan time to walk during the week.
I’ve heard this is a problem for some people who work from home but I’m actually better about setting boundaries between work and personal in this new setting. I still “come in early” or “stay late” when I need to, but I usually start 8:45-9 and stop 5-5:15. The one challenge is lunches, which had been a growing challenge for me in my old job as well. My inclination has been to grab something and keep working; so I’ve been making a conscious effort to get up from my chair, fix myself something, and eat somewhere else in the apartment where I can focus on something other than work. I also have a growing to-do list that I haven’t had time to get to and, when I’m at lunch, I just don’t feel like doing them. I’d like to say that they’re just not that important and I should let them go, but then I try to find something in my sock drawer and lose patience because I still haven’t gotten around to organizing it and I can’t find the stockings I want to wear today.
I recently visited my 75-year old mother at her new home in the small town my sister lives in. Before she could really settle into her new community and build new friendships, she developed some health problems and has been homebound since August. Being the oldest child, I tend to be bossy in family situations; so I bossed her a little bit: you need to spend more time with people, even if you’re just face-timing old friends and relatives; don’t sit so much, get up and move around every half hour or so and stretch out the backs of your legs; make a list of the personal things you need to do and try to spend 15 minutes a day doing a little bit from your list. The whole time I was nagging her, I felt like I was nagging myself because I need to do all those things, too.
So, bottom line, a work in progress. I’m liking certain aspects more than I thought I would. I’m actively working through a few things. And I’ve got a couple of challenges that need some more thought.
And I don’t have to wear shoes to work most days.