A little over eight years ago, I began working from home for a company based in Los Angeles. Prior to that, I had been working for a huge Fortune 500 corporation for over fifteen years. I decided to make the switch when one of our clients made me an offer that was too good to refuse. I was bored with my job, feeling extremely under-appreciated and under-stimulated, overworked and underpaid. It had been made pretty clear that the only moves I would be making going forward would be lateral. When my current employer offered me this job – a job where I would be working from home, making more money, reporting to only one director and one VP (instead of a “chain of command” that included a manager, a director, a VP and a senior VP), and being pretty much autonomous for the most part – I did not hesitate at all.
But that’s not to say that the adjustment was easy. For the first year or so I really had to work at getting myself acclimated to this new normal. The most difficult adjustment for me was simply being alone all day. Now I’m not a particularly social person (I’ve recently found out that I am categorized as an introvert), and I really hated the “water cooler small talk” type of exchanges. But I had grown accustomed to interacting with other people all day, every day and, for the better part of my 20s and early 30s, all of my friendships were with people from work. The majority of my coworkers were in my same age group and had started working at this corporation right around the same time as I did so we had, in a sense, grown up together. Now, all of a sudden, I was my only companion. And, while I think I’m pretty awesome, (J/K!) I had no idea how I was going to keep myself entertained all day.
However, now that I’ve been doing this for almost a decade, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve come to love the peace and quiet of being home, with just the TV (and now my BF, who is a freelancer himself) for company.
I have found I am much more productive working from home, without the constant interruptions of an office environment. Factoring in countless daily meetings, coworkers popping by my desk to chat, trips to the break room for coffee refills, lunch outings, phone calls, and trips to other departments (usually I/T, which was in a completely separate building on our campus), my typical eight-hour workday usually resulted in about 1.5 hours of actual work. But since I’ve started working from home, even with breaks for coffee and lunch, and the occasional errand, I manage to get at least six to seven hours of work completed daily. Even on the days when I slack a bit (we all have those, right?) I still find that my productivity level is much higher than it ever was in a corporate environment.
I started thinking about the differences between my work life then and my work life now, and Now definitely trumps Then:
– I would wake up at 6AM to shower, do my hair and makeup, get dressed, make coffee (in a travel mug) and get on the road by 8:30AM, and then sit in rush hour traffic for over an hour to get into the office by 10AM.
– My work attire consisted of really uncomfortable suits, dresses, and heels, or “business casual” twin sets, skirts, wrap dresses, and slacks. Oh, but we can’t forget “Casual Fridays”!
– I usually spent my lunchtime with several coworkers in the company cafeteria or a local restaurant, or shopping at one of the malls a couple of miles away.
– I had constant interruptions from coworkers stopping by my desk or countless phone calls.
– We always had to have daily meetings with the department director, manager, I/T guys, web designer, copywriter… Meetings for EVERY. SINGLE. LITTLE. THING. and OHMYGODDOESITEVEREND???
– The entire department was located in the same office on the same floor in the same building in the same city. And all the different areas (Internet/Web, Print, Co-Op, Strategic Planning, etc.) were lumped under one generic “Marketing” label.
– I was always getting swept into the intra-office drama, gossip, and politics, even if I didn’t care about it.
– I constantly felt pressured, micro-managed, and under-appreciated by “higher ups.”
– I worked Monday through Friday, from 10AM to 6:30PM, with no flexibility. I had to jump through hoops just to request a couple of hours off for a doctor’s appointment, and taking vacation time required Department of Defense-style negotiations and volcano-tossing virgin sacrifices.
– I wake up at 6:45AM, change out of PJs (okay, fine; this doesn’t ALWAYS happen), brush my teeth and hair, walk across the hall to my home office and turn on the PC, walk to the kitchen, make coffee, go back to the office and sit down to work. Estimated time = 15-20 minutes. And I only leave the house if I need to run an urgent errand.
– As for my work attire now, who are we kidding? It usually consists of pajamas. Unless I feel like dressing up. Then it’s yoga pants, t-shirts, and socks.
– Lunch now consists of a Lean Cuisine or whatever I can scrounge up from the kitchen. I am not ashamed to admit I’ve had Doritos and mini Almond Joys for lunch on occasion. And it’s always at my desk, unless the BF and I decide to get crazy and eat out on the back patio.
– Interruptions are minimal and usually consist of my boyfriend walking into my office to tell me about something he saw on CNET or TWIT.
– I only have to be in on one biweekly, 20-minute conference call (which gets cancelled more often than not) with the VP and the rest of the tech department to review the status of current projects. That’s it.
– My coworkers are located all over the U.S., and departments and duties are clearly defined and separated, allowing everyone to be more focused on specific tasks.
– Drama? Gossip? Politics? Nope! I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with anyone personally and I like it that way!
– I get to work autonomously and management always makes me feel like an important piece of the puzzle.
– Asking for time off usually goes like this: Me – “Can I take a couple of vacation days next week?” Boss – “Did you send me your vacation request form?” Me – “I just emailed it.” Boss – “Okay. Enjoy!” Done.
Honestly, making the decision to work from home was not an easy one for me. I had been in a corporate environment for so long that I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous at first, wondering if I would be able to succeed at this and to adapt to this situation. There are a few things that I have learned over time and that have made this situation work for me:
- I am not a freelancer. Knowing my tendency to worry about everything, the instability of self-employment or freelancing is not something that would work for me. I am a full-time, salaried employee for this company, and the security of that alleviates a lot of the stress I feel I would have as a freelancer.
- I am extremely anal-retentive and make lists for everything. Having a visual list of projects, and being able to check things off said list, keeps me organized and lets me see everything that needs to be done so I can reprioritize as needed.
- I am not afraid to ask questions. I have a good working relationship with both my director and my VP, and I know that I can always ask them about something if I am unsure or need better direction on a project. This lessens opportunities for errors. Having good communication is essential since we are not face-to-face.
- I do not live and die by my email inbox. I check my emails first thing in the morning, in case there is anything that needs to be handled immediately. After that I will only check it two or three more times throughout the day. I also use the preview pane so that I can quickly scan through and see what the gist of the message is. If it is something that can be taken care of quickly, I do it right away and let the sender know it’s done. If it’s something that requires a little more work or research, I will give them an estimated timeframe for completion. This helps to manage the other person’s expectations and lets them know that their request has been received and will be taken care of.
- Having a separate, designated home office helps me focus. The minute I walk into that room and turn on my PC, my brain switches to “work mode.”
- Although I have the ability to flex my hours if necessary, I prefer to stick to a schedule. My set schedule is Monday through Friday, from 7AM to 3PM. This is another mental trick. It helps me stay in work mode more easily if I know that for X number of hours I am expected to be working.
- I take a few 5 or 10 minute breaks throughout the day in order to keep from getting bored or unfocused. Even if it’s just to go to the kitchen and prepare lunch, or take a few minutes to check out Facebook, those little distractions keep me from burning out.
- I need to have background noise. I need to either have the TV on, or stream something on Netflix while I work. I have tried working in /silence and I just can’t do it because I start focusing on the time elapsing, making the day seem longer.
Overall, I am genuinely happy and satisfied with my job, and I do not take it for granted at all. I know I am extremely fortunate to have a job that I enjoy and that, for the most part, produces very little stress for me. I mean, there are always going to be stressful moments that come up or clients that are less than pleasant to deal with but, thankfully, those situations seem to be the exception instead of the norm. Working from home may not be for everyone, but in my case, it has been a dream come true, and I am very grateful for that.
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