A couple weeks ago, Shawn Blanc asked on Twitter,
“Do you work from home (remote or for yourself)? What’s the best thing about it? What’s the worst?”
I gave a quick reply then, but I think this a question that deserves a more detailed answer.
Now, I've only been doing the “work from home” thing for a few months now and I'm definitely not making a ton of money yet1, but I feel like I'm starting to at least get a grasp on which things I like and dislike about the experience.
The funny thing I've noticed is that it seems like each pro is also its own con. I know that sounds silly, but if you check the responses to Shawn's tweet, a lot of other self-employed people feel the same way.
I'll explain myself a bit more in the sections below.
More Time with my Family
The upside: When I was doing the corporate stooge thing, I felt like I rarely got to see my wife and son during the work week. I would leave early in the morning, come back late in the evening, and maybe get a couple hours with them before bedtime. Then we'd try to make the best of our weekend time, but of course it just flew by like that and it was back to the grind. Wash, rinse, repeat.
But now, I'm just as much of a stay-at-home dad as I am a work-from-home guy. I get to set my own schedule, which means I get to wake up and have coffee and breakfast with Chelsea, then a little playtime with Brendon, before I sit down to get my work done.
This has had a profoundly positive effect on my relationships with the two of them, especially with Brendon. Now that I'm actually around more often, his attitude towards me has improved noticeably — to him, I'm no longer just the guy he used to see sometimes, but “Daddy”, and that means the world to me.
The downside: There is no such thing as an office (or basement) in my house, not even so much as a real desk. My “workspace” options are: the living room, the dining room table, bed, or somewhere outside like the front porch or back yard. And really, that's one of my favorite things about working at home, but there is nothing to truly separate me from the goings-on around the house.
Brendon is too young to understand that there are things I need to get done, and that it can't always be playtime whenever he wants. I can always lock myself in my bedroom and let Chelsea watch him, but he knows where I am and he'll sometimes just stand by the door and cry for me, which I have a hard time ignoring.
There are times when I can leave the house and work from a coffee shop, but I tend to stay home more often than not because we share a single car and my wife needs it to run errands.
The upside: Like I mentioned earlier, I'm able to set my own schedule. Since my work is all web-based and the internet never closes, I can work at any time I please. Maybe I'll write after breakfast, maybe I'll do it in the middle of the night after the others are asleep — the choice is entirely mine. I can also take breaks or get some house chores done whenever I want.
The downside: With such an open-ended schedule, I'm discovering just how hard it can be to stay focused on my work. I've written about focus before, but that was when Unretrofied was more of an after-hours project rather than my primary gig. Man, was I ever naïve.
No, working from home requires focus of a far higher order of magnitude. I no longer have a boss watching me like a hawk and micro-managing the things I do. I am completely responsible for myself, for better or for worse. If I succeed at writing something awesome, or if I fail (probably because I wasted time repeatedly checking my various inboxes), that's all on me.
There's a lot of pressure involved with that. It sort of feels like graduating from high school only to find out that my doctoral thesis is due tomorrow.
Another downside is that when I do manage to get in the zone and start being productive, it can be hard to draw the line on when to stop. There have been times that I've stayed up until 4am writing something when I should have long been asleep. Allowing myself to stop working on a half-finished project, and being okay with its incompleteness, is harder than I expected it would be.
Less Social Interaction
The upside: I realize it's somewhat fashionable these days for people to dub themselves introverts, but that is truly the way I feel. I don't want to sound like an asshole about it, but being around other people tends to exhaust me after a while.
It's so nice not having to deal with the kind of silly small-talk I had to endure daily at my corporate job. It was a call-center position and I was on the phone with chatty florists all day, so you can maybe imagine how much I began to hate it after five years.
The downside: Just because I tend to prefer solitude doesn't mean I don't want any interaction with the outside world. I'm at a point in my life where most of my friends are off starting their own families and having full-time jobs and everything else that comes with being an adult. I can't even remember the last time I hung out with someone other than my relatives, and even that is only on occasion.
This is somewhat alleviated by social media – in fact, I think I interact with my internet friends more than my real-life ones at this point – but it's not quite the same. I feel like Paul Rudd's character from I Love You, Man, as if I need to go on a bunch of man-dates to feel normal again. (I'm only half-kidding.)
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Obviously, there was no way to fit all of this into a tweet. There's a lot of nuance in how I feel about working from home, and although there are some downsides I'm still trying to work through, I'm very glad for the experience and I hope to continue doing it as long as possible.