Without fail, the first reaction I typically get when I tell a friend that I work from home is ‘You’re so lucky! You get to work in your PJs?’.
The truth is, yes, there was a time I did work from my pajamas on occasion – but that was because I was awoken at four in the morning by emails flooding in from East coast business, and I’d usually completed half of a day’s work before I’d even had time to pour my first cup of coffee.
The moral of this story? The work from home environment isn’t the glamorous, easy-going, path-of-least-resistance that many assume it to be. It requires fierce discipline and determination and will test your endurance (and discipline) every step of the way.
Based on my experience for the past five years working from home (including while at WorkBook6), I’d like to share why it has been the most challenging experience I’ve ever encountered, and why it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
Work-life balance…sort of
I will never knock the advantages of missing out on the daily work commute or the convenience of eating lunch from your own fridge.
There are a lot of perks to combining your work and living space. The disadvantage unfolds when the blended to-do lists begin. Suddenly, five-o-clock is about more than just work deadlines and instead becomes a mad dash to complete chores, squeeze in daily home distractions and accommodate unannounced visitors.
Work distracts you from home and home distracts you from work, leaving you feeling unaccomplished at the end of the day.
The true meaning of ‘work-life-balance’, that I’ve discovered, is not to be able to finish that marketing report while you’re in the bath, or squeeze in your daily workout while muted on a conference call. The intended solution was to cut down on all the extras – the commutes, excessive meetings, the lunch time scramble and the cumbersome office policies.
It took me years to figure out that working from home didn’t mean I could accomplish everything in the same amount of time; instead, working from home has given me more concentrated time for work and given me back more time for life. It was never meant to double life responsibilities in half the time. The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a remote employee is to work while I’m working, and to completely unplug while I’m not. Work-life balance isn’t always natural, it’s achieved.
What kind of achiever are you?
It’s obvious why the under-achiever flops in the work from home environment. Self-discipline and reliability are key traits for a successful ‘work-from-homer’ and if you don’t practice these skills daily, you’ll be invited to find a new working opportunity pretty quickly.
Unknown to most people, over-achievers tend to fail in the work from home work environment as well. Why? Because your usual nine-to-five confines becomes a twenty-four-seven work environment. While these workaholics may take home the remote employee of the month award, it won’t be long before you are burnt out, run down and losing track of day and night.
During my time as a remote executive assistant, I definitely was an over-achiever. I answered emails at midnight and was glued to my phone as if every incoming text and email was a matter of life and death.
It took me three months before I was so disgruntled that turning on my computer (which let’s be honest – was never turned off) took a herculean effort.
Lesson learned here? Do your BEST work but pace yourself based on strategic prioritization and setting daily work hours. If you finish nothing – you lose. If you try to finish everything at once – you won’t.
I will make a bold statement here, that perhaps you’ll disagree with.
More important than the work you’re doing, are the people you’re doing it with. If I could go back to the beginning of my work from home journey, the best advice I’d give myself is to worry less about the position you’re starting in, and instead focus in on the example your leadership sets and what type of team environment is established.
A former colleague of mine once expressed that he’d prefer the remote work environment so he didn’t have to interact with anyone. That was a sorely mistaken understanding of how communication works outside of the traditional office. You have to communicate more in the remote environment. It takes more effort to not only convey your message, but to correctly convey your tone through whatever digital resource you are using (I tend to use a lot of emojis in my team chats).
I’ve worked in several different company environments from home. I worked for a rapidly growing mega-corporation, as a client-facing independent contractor, and as the founder of a small company. I have found myself to be a different type of employee in each of these environments, some far better than others. I see it as my extreme fortune and privilege to have found a home with WorkBook6.
I could write an entire blog on the inspiring leadership, strong team environment and pure talent on my current team. Fully crediting my current team’s dynamics and values as an organization, I have developed far more professionally than I ever expected and feel I have accomplished my best work to date.
If this tells you nothing else, it’s that the work from environment isn’t an excuse for isolation, it’s an opportunity to expand your marketability and find a team (even outside your hometown) that bring your best work (and self) forward.
Work From Home Conclusion
It’s maybe not the cookie-cutter description of working from home, that embodies the “no-pain, all-gain” philosophy that some have of working from home (from the sofa, in your pajamas, while your favorite Netflix re-runs play in the background).
The most honest insight I can give you is that working from home comes with a plethora of challenges and takes a lot of adjustment and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. It’s not always easy, but those of us who meet the challenge, learn to become resourceful and find clever ways to prevail even at times with limited resources.
When we say we work from home, we do indeed ‘work’, harder than some and often times, smarter than most. We’re grateful for the opportunity to put our best foot forward for our teams, no matter where our desks are located!