Working from home is both the best thing that has ever happened to me and one of the most challenging aspects of my job. It has taken years to figure out my rhythm and I know that I still have so much to improve upon. All of that being said, it’s totally a decision that I made for my family with that abstract and surreal goal of balance in mind. And it kinda works! Here are some of the pros and cons of a home office.
A creative environment: My current workspace fills me with inspiration, keeps all of my ‘must-haves’ within arms reach, has tons of natural light (though apparently not enough to keep all of my plants happy) and can shift and reshape to whatever project I’m tackling at that moment (be it a work printing project, a craft project for one of the girls or a website design for a marketing client). It’s the one space in my house that’s okay by me if it stays in a state of ‘collective chaos’ (I’m trademarking that if it isn’t already) without me worrying so much about keeping it perfect. I remember my corporate cubicle days and I’m so grateful to have a space that is ‘me’.
Managing my time: It’s really nice to be able to break up my day to fit the needs of my family and my productivity schedule. I think that it’s challenging to expect our creative/analytical/problem-solving brain to be ‘on’ for 8 to 10 hours straight. Instead, I find that breaking my day into chunks for family, work, family, work, family, work helps to break up the mundane AND helps me to feel like an excellent mom (most of the time). I could go into this in more detail in a future post, but for me that sort of looks like: 7-9am family, 9-1pm work, 1-3pm family, 3-6pm work, 6-10pm family, 10-midnight work. In a perfect world I’d chop off that last chunk, but to be truthful I’m a night owl and I would totally rather work a couple of hours more after everyone is in bed rather than pull a chunk out of the daylight hours and away from my kiddies.
Some days I’m lucky enough to sneak away midday for a little break with the girls (SD New Children’s Museum)
When I first began working from home I let myself work at all of the odd hours of the day. I stayed up until 3 or 4am (night owl!) finishing projects and leisurely slept in until 9 the next day (pre children, though they are great sleepers). I’ve since learned how to better approach my to-do list by not only programing my work clock to my most productive hours but also to better manage those ‘chunks’.
No commute! When I’m onsite up at my corporate headquarters in Monterey (about an 8 hour car trip north of San Diego), I’m amazed at how much of my day is spent getting ready for work, driving to work, driving for lunch/coffee, traffic home from work, etc. I feel incredibly blessed to have 1-2 hours each day of bonus extra time just because my commute is 10 steps from the kitchen. I love walking my daughter to preschool (two blocks) on a given Tuesday, coming home and plopping myself into my office seat ready to go.
The freedom to work from anywhere: My laptop is really all I need to plug into my office environment (maybe an external hard drive, maybe a reference book). It’s really nice to know that if need be, I can swing by a coffee shop while on vacation or even answer important messages and conquer projects from my in-law’s dining room table over the holidays. I used to actually try to work on vacation so as not to take so many vacation days (vacations have so much down time! and time off is a hot commodity) and then I realized that I was missing out on the whole point of a vacation and now attempt to keep my computer shut. It is nice to know that it’s possible though. Not being confined to one space where a supervisor might be looking over your shoulder to count hours of body-in-seat is refreshing.
Attempting to use my computer with the curious resident donkey at a guesthouse (B&B) visit in Marrakech
Spending less money: I can’t swing by Target on my way home (haven’t been in maybe a year! my ‘off work’ time is sacred these days) or pull through the drive thru of Starbucks everyday (though I do have my moments). I make 99% of my own meals and have stopped investing in ‘work’ clothes. I must keep a careful eye on that online shopping though :), it can be awfully tempting…
With all good comes the bad. It might sound incredibly dreamy to work from home but I have also found it to be very isolating, distracting and a little bit lonely.
I rarely leave my home: Because I work from home and have sitters who come to the house (most of the time) I actually don’t really ever leave the house. That can be lonely and tough. I miss having colleagues to talk to (even though I have many daily conference calls) and think fondly of the days when I had a real reason to leave my four home walls on a daily basis. At moments my job can feel very isolating without the team spirit, group lunches and water cooler chit chat that comes with most office environments and team meetings. If you feed off of camaraderie to feel motivated and jazzed about your job, working from home means that there’s no one to lift your spirits if you’re having a bad day, no one to share about your weekend with, no one to motivate you on a group project if you’re feeling sluggish. Creative jobs sometimes require collaboration and there really often is no one to bounce ideas off of.
Team wine tasting event when our partners from China were visiting.
Oh, the distractions: I’m a multi-tasker by trade and it’s sometimes very convenient for me to be able to toss in a load of laundry in the morning, swap it to the dryer an hour later, wipe down the counters on my way for a midday coffee, etc. But working in your home also means that most piles, unswept floors and dirty stacks of whatever are sort of sitting over your head while you’re trying to concentrate. I usually cave and give in to putting the kitchen, living room or girls’ room back together because it’s like an itch that must be scratched. Before you know it you are wayyyyy behind. I am often envious of my husband who can leave for work at 7:30 and come home at 6:30 without a thought on the maintenance of our house all day.
Alternatively, because I choose to not work for a solid 8 hours (or two 4 hour chunks) it’s also distracting to sometimes have to break that train of focus to pick kids up, serve lunch and turn on mommy time when you have a work project that you just want to pound through.
Easy to mix personal and work life: I’ve learned my lesson. Work and play do not mix. I can’t adequately analyze, build reports and create solid material when I am also with the girls. Likewise I can’t be a fun mom that builds block towers and bakes banana bread when I’m also checking my phone for important updates.
I used to let my work day pull into my creative time with the kids (just before dinner) because I ‘just needed to send that one last email’ but I end up getting frustrated with either the work or the kid side of the coin and I hate that feeling. I try my best to start to ‘close’ my work day about 30 minutes before I turn into all-attention mom. It’s not a perfect science yet, but while many will close their office door behind them for the day (and I don’t really have that luxury) this little exercise has helped to cut back on last-minute items that I must complete that have snuck up.
Professional clothing: I sometimes miss wearing suits or business casual outfits and I relish the organizations that I’m a part of and the occasional event for the opportunity to feel professional. But I also love that I don’t stress about what I’m wearing (see comment on commuting) and that I can pull shorts and a tank from the closet and call it a day. In the beginning I would literally be in my pjs all day. Why not? And then a friend would stop by unexpectedly to borrow a hammer in the afternoon and I’d be without bra. Same goes if you don’t bother to wash your face in the morning or put on makeup. You kind of sort of just feel icky about three hours into it and I hated that feeling. My policy after about six months of PJs was to be dressed and ready to seize the day first thing so that I didn’t have to think about it. Even if it means I’m dressing for my once-a-week noon yoga class at 8am.
Health and me time: When I worked outside of the house I also ate healthier lunches and made time to visit the gym. Something about already being on the go, packing lunch the night before or purchasing a salad from my favorite deli. Working from home I sometimes forget to plan healthy lunches or am just too lazy to cook for one and I might go several day with eating crackers and peanut butter for lunch (true, very true). Alternatively, I love that I have access to a full kitchen all. day. long.
I recently started scheduling in a pedicure every few weeks, I used to feel so guilty taking away from quality kid time because my time with them throughout the day was already so sporadic, but now I realize that I need a little me time, too :).
All in all I wouldn’t (and haven’t) given up my work-from-home situation even though better offers have come across my desk. My company allows me to work remotely and focuses on my results rather than the time of day, and I’m grateful for the freedom to have somewhat of an unusual schedule. I love that on most days I can hear the girls, even if they’re not playing with me, from the room just across from my office with their sitter. I love taking long breaks in the day to walk them to the park and to the library.
Working from home takes a bit more organization, planning and work ethic (back to that distractions point) but the flexibility it comes with is so important for me in my life right now. I imagine that as the kids get older I might find a creative shared space to work in. But for now I am so fortunate and happy to be right where I am :).
Let’s continue the discussion… more random thoughts here, and I’d love to hear what you think! Do you work from home or do you wish you did? Do you love your workspace ‘group think’ environment? If you’re a stay at home mom, do any of these ring a bell as well? I think that they totally would…