Imagine a world where you get to set your own work hours, there are no annoying coworkers to deal with, your commute is two seconds long, and you can even work from bed if you want to. During my days at a mundane desk job, I had run this imagined world through my mind over and over again. There would be friends dropping by to say hi and maybe even fresh flowers at my desk. Instead of the corporate buzz of fluorescent light bulbs, I would work beside a window filtering in streams of natural light. In the summer, when it was too hot to function, I could work in my underwear; free from the suffocating scratch of H&M professional “blouses” I had come to know too well. And in the winter I could wear my wooly mammoth slippers without anyone saying anything, because there wouldn’t be anyone around. Of course I would miss the company of others sometimes. Even if I never liked my coworkers very much, at least I could depend on them to ask me how my weekend was and send the smell of fish roaring through the office when they microwaved their leftover dinners for lunch. But it would be OK. If I needed to rub myself in the anesthetic of other people I could visit friends.
When I was fired from my mundane desk job I saw only two options: find another mindless desk job, which seemed to be the only thing I was qualified for, or run straight into something outside of all the comforts I had laid out for myself with the stability of 9 to 5.
I knew that finding a “career” job was, and continues to be, difficult. I won’t tell you how many resumes I sent out on my last job-hunt, only because the resume to response ratio is embarrassing, but I will say that my countless resumes with varying “Objective” headlines yielded only one offer. It was the perfect offer to misplace all my shiny new-grad ambitions into—just fancy enough to swap the will to pursue my dreams for 500 glossy business cards, a horrible boss, and the lukewarm comforts of a stable income. I did not trust myself to not fall for the trap again. And more importantly, I definitely did not have the mental or financial capacities to spend another three months sulking about not getting email replies.
This is the essential problem with working from home: it can feel like a last-resort, so many don’t often choose it. Instead, the choice to turn bedroom to office to bedroom again is often the result of several compounding factors that can make it feel like working from home chose you, but not in a glamorous way. As evidenced by the oversized wool kimono I wear to “work” every day, the whole ordeal is rarely ever glamorous.
The exciting part is that working from home can give you the creative freedom to work on projects you care about. The terrifying part to this is that if these projects fail, you are the sole owner of that failure. There is no one to hide behind or point to and blame. But no matter what happens, if you do find yourself in a situation where it seems like your dining table might be your most promising workspace option, here is what you should know, and what I wish I knew when I started:
It’s going to get weird
Before you know it it’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday and you’re wearing sweatpants, dipping pretzels into a jar of peanut butter while posting on Reddit and yelling: “I AM GETTING WORK DONE!” to your boyfriend/roommate/what have you who came home from work early that day. Accepting this as inevitable is the first rule of working from home.
Some people won’t believe that you’re actually getting anything done
People will send you job applications
It will be hard to convince a lot of people that working from home is not an intermission between “real” jobs. The worst part is you know the people sending you job postings mean well. But the constant nudging, which has taken the convenient form of emails with subject lines like: “this looks promising????” is undermining your work, and you can’t tell them any of this because you don’t want to make them feel bad. Even if you are looking for a job on the side, having job postings constantly hurdled in your direction can feel like you’re not being taken seriously. Asking these good-intentioned job seekers to stop will make them feel bad at first, but it’s probably your best bet.
Guilt is part of the process
You will experience moments of extreme guilty. It’s worth noting that reading the entire Internet can seem wildly appealing when you have a project you’re stuck on and no one watching over your shoulder telling you what to do. There is also the type of guilt that comes from feeling like a loser because your invoices are being held up, and you don’t have any money. And the other breeds of guilt that happen when you don’t take your work schedule seriously and sleep in too late, or when you haven’t worn “real” pants in weeks. Guilt, in all its various forms, will find you. Eventually you will realize the various comforts around you—like soft pants and not having to deal with horrible bosses—are too great to give it all up. Working from home is an endless cycle of feeling guilty, followed by comforting yourself with your own cushy privilege—kind of like being white in America.
You’re going to need some boundaries with the people you live with
Your relationships with the people you live with will change. One criticism I have received is: “YOU’RE LITERALLY ALWAYS HERE.” A word of caution: asking people you live with to change their behavior because you have decided to turn your living room into an office will not end well. Maybe find a coffee shop instead?
Most coffee shops get old in a hurry, but you need them now more than ever
I have a few questions for the coffee shops of North America: Why do you have to play the music so loud? Why does the wifi move at a glacial pace? And why must everyone speak so loudly around me? For years I thought people who worked on their laptops at coffee shops were taking up precious latte space. Turns out these people are just trying to find a quite roommate, family, TV, fridge, boyfriend, and pet-free zone to get work done. They are your new peers.
No one can force you to shower but you probably still should
This seems straightforward but believe me when I say it’s not.
You are going to feel lonely, and that’s OK
The process of working from home is an isolating experience; there is really no way around it. Sometimes you’ll meet up with a friend at 8 pm and realize that’s the first time you’ve spoken to a person all day. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel lonely when all you have is the hum of the radiator and Facebook chat to keep you company. Occasional loneliness is the tradeoff you make.
Deadlines are your new best friend
Figure out what schedule works best for you and stick to it. External deadlines are your new guardian angel. Even if your project doesn’t have a deadline, set one and tell everyone about it. Get someone to hold you accountable. Give yourself a reward when you achieve it. Deadlines are everything. Deadlines will save you. Deadlines are the reason we are all here. Deadlines.
A lot of time is wasted in the traditional workday
Without talking to people, commuting, meetings, “reply all” emails, and surprise “moral boosting activities,” you might find you’re getting much more work done in much less time. Did you know that, on average, workers average only three productive days per week? Do with this extra time as you will.
It doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s OK, too
Working from home requires a strange blurring and remaking of boundaries. This process of making and unmaking can be exhausting or exhilarating, depending on who you ask. If you just can’t seem to focus at home there are office share spaces available for rent across the country. Or you can just go outside and try again tomorrow. In general you should try to remember to go outside. It can be easy to forget but there are things happening out there, too.
[Image via HBO]