A little over five years ago, I began working from home for a company based in Los Angeles. I had been working for a large, Fortune 500 corporation for fifteen years when one of our clients made me an offer that was – literally – too good to pass up. 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 would be lateral. When my current employer offered me this job – working from home, making more money, reporting to only one manager 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 didn’t 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 the fact that I would be alone all day. Now I’m not a particularly social person, 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. Now, all of a sudden, I was my only companion. However, now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve come to love the peace and quiet of being home, with just the TV for company.
I also find that I’m more productive working from home, without the constant interruptions of an office environment. Factoring in countless daily meetings, coworkers popping by my desk to chit-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), a typical eight-hour workday usually resulted in about an hour and a half of actual work. But since 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 done daily.
I started thinking about the differences between my work life then and my work life now, and Now definitely trumps Then:
Then: Wake up at 6AM to shower, do my hair, apply makeup, get dressed, make coffee (in a travel mug!) and get on the road by 8:30AM.
Now: Wake up at 7AM, walk across the hall to my home office and turn on PC. Change out of PJs, brush my teeth and hair, make coffee and sit down to work. Estimated time – 30 minutes.
Then: Work attire consisted of “business casual” twin sets, skirts, wrap dresses, slacks, heels and jewelry.
Now: Work attire consists of shorts or yoga pants, tank tops or t-shirts, and flip flops.
Then: Leave house at 8:30AM and sit in rush hour traffic for over an hour to get in the office by 10AM.
Now: Leave house only to walk to the laundry room next door (literally 10 feet away) or run an errand.
Then: Lunches were usually spent eating with several coworkers in the company cafeteria or a local restaurant, or shopping at the mall a couple of miles away.
Now: Lunches are usually spent at my desk and consist of a Lean Cuisine or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. My lunch companions are now the cast of “Law & Order” or one of a zillion Kardashians. Plus, I’m saving money by not going out.
Then: I had constant interruptions from coworkers stopping by my desk or countless phone calls.
Now: Interruptions are minimal and usually consist of IM messages from my mom, my boyfriend or my boss.
Then: Daily meetings with the department director, manager, I/T guys, web designer, copywriter… Meetings for EVERY. SINGLE. LITTLE. THING and OHMYGODDOESITEVEREND???
Now: One biweekly, 20 minute conference call with the VP and the rest of the tech department to review the status of current projects. That’s it.
Then: 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 were lumped under one generic “Marketing” label.
Now: My coworkers are located in California, Oregon, Arizona, New York, North Carolina and Florida. And departments and duties are clearly defined and separated allowing everyone to be more focused on specific tasks.
Then: Unwillingly swept into the intra-office drama, gossip and politics.
Now: I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with anyone personally and I like it that way!
Then: I constantly felt pressured, micro-managed, and under-appreciated by “higher ups.”
Now: I get to work autonomously and management always makes me feel like an important piece of the puzzle.
Then: 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 or whatever, and taking vacation time required Department of Defense-style negotiations and virgin sacrifices.
Now: Me – “Can I take vacation next week?” Boss – “I’ll be out half of the week. Are you flexible?” Me – “How about the week after?” Boss – “Done.”
Honestly, making the decision to work from home was not super-easy for me. I had been in a corporate environment for so long that I was nervous at first, wondering if I would be able to succeed at this, and to adapt to this situation. A few of the things that I have learned over time and have made it work for me are:
1) 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 stress I would have as a freelancer.
2) 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.
3) 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, lessening opportunities for errors. Having good communication is essential since we are not face-to-face.
4) 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 more times, usually around lunch time and again about 30 minutes prior to signing off. I also use the preview pane so that I can quickly scan through emails and see what the gist is. If it is something that can be taken care of quickly, I do it right away and reply to the sender to let them know it’s been 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.
5) Even though I don’t have to wear work clothes, I do “dress for work.” Meaning that I do not stay in my pajamas all day. I always change into regular clothes, even if it’s just leggings and a t-shirt. Mentally, this forces me to switch from lounging at home mode into work mode.
6) 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 my brain switch into work mode more easily if I know that for X hours I am expected to be working.
7) I take little 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 getting burned out.
8 ) I need background noise. I need to either have the TV on, or have the laptop next to me with Netflix movies playing. I have tried working in silence and it doesn’t work for me because I tend to 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. There have been some recent changes to my responsibilities, allowing me to focus more intently on the part of my job that I really like, and that makes me even more at ease with the decision to leave my old job. Working at home may not be for everyone, but in my case, it has been a dream. I am very grateful for that.
Peace out, yo!