As I enter my fifth year of running my own Public Relations business from the comfort of my home, I got to thinking about how this experience is so vastly unique compared to the few years I spent working in a traditional office environment.
I made the entrepreneurial leap not that long after graduating college, which means I truly have limited knowledge as to what it’s like to work a 9-5 job from an office building. However, I make up for my lack of cubicle-life experience with the many valuable lessons I’ve gained from running a successful business under the same roof in which I raise my family.
There are pros, there are cons and there is no shortage of comical experiences I could share, but for now I want to focus on these six important lessons I learned from working from home.
You still need to structure your day
When you work from home, you can structure your day however best fits your personality and workload, but the key is that you must still incorporate structure of some type. I like to get up early to catch up on emails and knock any daily, reoccurring tasks off my list right away. I then spend time with my family and get them on their way before I use the rest of my morning to tackle my biggest and most pressing tasks of the day.
I break my big to-do list down into the must-do’s for each day of the week. I set realistic expectations for the day and try my hardest to reach them before taking a break or doing something off task. This is the structure that works best for me.
In a work-from-home environment, failing to plan is planning to fail. You need to be very clear about what you plan to get out of each day and keep yourself accountable to this task list.
Some of the “perks” of working from home are better in theory
Sure, when you work from home you can multitask and clean or do laundry, you can also sneak in a workout anytime of the day. I have found that these “perks” can backfire and disrupt my day if I am not careful. People who work in a traditional office environment can more easily push these household or personal tasks out of mind because they are out of sight. Sometimes I too need to let these wait until my off-hours so I don’t waste my workday doing things that aren’t related to my clients.
Another perk that is better in theory? Having endless access to snacks. I really have to use self-control to not dive into those leftover brownies or grab a snack because I’m bored. When I worked in an office, I only ate what I packed for the day and was able to more easily stay away from the break room.
You have to be intentional about separating work and personal time
My home is my office and my office is my home. You can’t be the commute, but the flip side is sometimes it can be hard to switch from work mode to family mode. If I leave my laptop open on the kitchen island, I tend to check emails and try to work ahead on work tasks when really I should be focused on quality time with my family.
Other people get to leave their work and worries at the office. When you work from home, you don’t have this obvious separation so you must be intentional about leaving your virtual office for the evening. Most everything can wait until the morning!
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
Because I work from home and set my own schedule, I can sleep in, watch reruns of my favorite TV show, do some online shopping and run errands that are completely unrelated to my client work. But this doesn’t mean I should do these things. I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder to see what I’m working on, which is all the more reason to be accountable to myself.
No matter where you work, you still have to do work to keep your job. Taking a little break to indulge in a guilty pleasure is not only a perk of working from home, it’s a necessity for keeping your sanity. But be sure to balance what you can do with what you should do.
Fight to not revert back to “cube life”
It’s surprising to me how so many people who fight for the freedom to work from home still manage to recreate all the crappy parts of a traditional office workspace. I once worked for a company that was completely virtual, yet made all their employees sign into skype between 9 and 5. We were expected to be strapped to our computers during this time unless we “made an announcement” via the online chat that we were getting lunch, going to the gym or heading to the bathroom. That’s not only as bad as a traditional office workspace – that’s worse!
My lesson here is embrace your freedom to work from a local coffee shop one day and your back porch the next. I know I said to need to structure your day, but this doesn’t mean every day has to be the same. Maybe this means one day you tackle tasks early so you can take an afternoon nap and the next day you close up shop early to head out of town for a long weekend. Most importantly, never take a job where you feel obligated to announce to your coworkers that you’re stepping away from your computer to take a shower.
Even introverts need human interaction
Finally and most importantly, working from home can be a very isolating experience. The majority of the time I love the peace and solitude of my house during the work day when the only sounds are the clicking of my keyboard. But there are other times when I really wish I had a cube-mate to engage in some casual conversation when I’m feeling stressed.
As an introvert, it feels ironic to admit that I need human interaction from time to time to energize me. This is why I attend weekly networking meetings and scatter client meetings and phone calls throughout the week to ensure I get just the right dose of time with real people before I retreat back to the sanctuary of my home office.
Do you work from home? What life lessons has this experience taught you? Share your thoughts by commenting below!