Why Working From Home Kind of Sucks

Johanna Gumbrill
June 25, 2019

COVID-19 update

In recent weeks this article has been going around the internet as the world was forced into a remote working environment due to COVID-19. I wanted to update this article because unfortunately some of my “Things to Help” are currently illegal. Here are some new ideas that are “shelter in place”, “stay at home”, “social distancing”, and “quarantine” friendly. 

 

  • Support Your Back: At this point in the quarantine I am pretty sure everyone working remote has developed back problems from working from the couch, dining room table, bar chairs, bed, or wherever else there is room. If you do not want to invest in creating a small working space in your home or apartment, I would recommend buying an ergonomic seat cushion to help support your hips and back while you work. Some are designed specifically for hard chairs and they make a huge difference.

    If you do think this is the right time to create a remote working space in your home or office, there are lots of creative ways to do it even in small spaces. Something I used when I worked remotely in an apartment was a folding desk. These are great options for creating working spaces during the day that can be folded up after work.


    • Get Vitamin D: If possible, work near a window to get sunlight. Vitamin D is powerful and has many potential health benefits including helping with immunity (critical in a pandemic), supports healthy bones and teeth, and can help with anxiety and depression (also critical in a pandemic). 
    • Use Video on Conference Calls: Yes, using video on conference calls is awkward. However, there are benefits to using video on calls, and it is nice to see human faces when you haven’t spoken to anyone but your house plants and dog for the last 14 days. Break that awkward barrier and turn your video on while on calls. Being able to see visual cues in facial expressions helps when remotely communicating with clients and teammates. Everyone else has weird hair and is in their pajamas too. It's ok. If you get lucky you might get a baby or pet conference call interruption to help break the energy up!
    • Create Some Background Noise: We are used to working in spaces with noise and now are at home with our thoughts and silence. Turn on white noise, a podcast, or music you can work to in the background to break up the silence. 
    • Host Virtual Social Events: Tons of gyms and workout programs are offering free online classes, artists are doing drawing and painting lessons on Facebook and Instagram live, and companies like Jackbox Games create virtual gaming rooms with friends and family anywhere in the world. Take this time to schedule events after work to force yourself to sign off and be happy. Even if you hate everything I suggested, you can easily video call and have a virtual happy hour without any effort. Call your friends and open a bottle of wine!
    • Set Alarms to Get Up: Don’t get glued to your spot all day. In my original post I recommend going to a coffee shop or to the gym which might not be possible depending on your situation. Instead set an alarm to remind yourself to stand and stretch, go refill your water, check on your quarantine buddy, take your dog for a walk, etc. 
    • Check-In on People: This is a time to make sure the ones you love are taken care of. Two of the good things that have come out of this quarantine is that my mother learned how to use her phone to video call and how to order groceries online. Take time each day to have a human connection with friends and family.

    Why Working From Home Kind of Sucks

    For many people I speak to, working from home is the ultimate dream. “You never leave your house and it’s so easy!” The reality is that working from home can actually be extremely challenging. The most obvious reason for that is you are still actually working. Work is not always easy or fun, even when you are sitting in your pajamas with your dogs by your feet. On top of that working from home disconnects you from the social support and energy of an office, as well as some of the luxuries such as a stocked break room, printer, tech support, and in-person communication. 

    I am going to give everyone a few disclaimers going into this article. The first is that I am an extrovert and so I gain motivation from that social office environment. Not all people feel the same way, and I understand that some offices are so toxic that working from a parking lot would be more enjoyable. The second is that I transitioned into working remote from an award-winning office culture. It was more of a shock than most people might experience. 

    The first two weeks I worked remote I had that new job anxiety everyone experiences to a whole new level. “Am I doing this right?”, “Is my boss happy with my performance?”. Those were hard questions to answer when I was not physically in the same office as my boss and getting non-verbal feedback signals of reassurance that I was doing well with my onboarding. I felt isolated from the world and it started to impact me during work and non-working hours. My boss and husband would both tell me to go work from a coffee shop or office. The thought of putting on real clothes and walking into public seemed so daunting and overwhelming, I genuinely didn’t recognize myself anymore.

    Some quick Google searches seemed to confirm my greatest fear: my personality type was not meant for a remote working situation. I was doomed to fail. That research also led me to several resources for remote workers, and I felt like if I put more focus into the source of my emotions then I would be able to make this work.

    Problem One: Feeling disconnected from my team and unsure of my performance.

    I had a very open conversation with my boss about how I was feeling and we decided to adjust our communication patterns as well as my work. Every morning I would have a 30 minute meeting with my boss where we went over what projects were top priority and work through client details together. While this might sound like mico-managing, it really was just allowing for a scheduled but informal space for us to go over what was going on. The same way you might have a quick 1:1 with coffee in the morning and run through what is happening on accounts in an office. We would also get off topic and just chat about a funny story from the night before, or talk about something my dogs had done that morning. It was a great way to build our relationship and that trust that coworkers need to work together. After a month of these morning conversations as part of my onboarding, I had a good understanding of my role and expectations from my boss. We also had a foundation for our relationship and I felt comfortable being open and honest with him.

    Problem Two: Feeling alone and trapped in my apartment.

    This one took a little more work on my part. Get back to a routine and force myself to leave the apartment. To do this I essentially pretended I had to go to an office job again. Alarm set, taking early morning workout classes, taking the extra 30 minutes to do my hair and put mascara on (even though only my dogs would see it), these things all took intention daily. I also scheduled more social outings that forced me to leave including coffee shop working meetings with friends who also had remote flexibility, weeknight dates with friends or my husband, or simply blocking off time on my calendar to leave my desk and walk my dogs while listening to a podcast. I began to feel alive again as I pulled positive energy from outside my apartment back into it. When I signed off at night I felt relaxed in my space vs that trapped feeling I had before.

    Fours months into my new job I feel like I have a solid routine and work-life-balance that I wasn’t sure was possible for an extrovert that works from home. Things I am extra grateful for include not needing to pay for pet care when my husband travels for work, having my kitchen available for healthy meals and snacks instead of unhealthy office treats, doing laundry during the week vs weekends, and the flexibility to work anywhere. I got my car fixed the other day and worked from their quiet waiting area with desks and strong wifi for three hours - at my old jobs that would have been a half a day of PTO. When family is sick I can travel to be there and still be connected to my job without missing a beat. Slack is also a lifesaver because it has helped create a remote culture where I can still chat with my co-workers about the Game of Thrones Finale on Monday mornings. 

    My number one takeaway would be that work is still work, wherever you are. You need to like and want to do your job even more when taking on a remote position because you alone are responsible for your own productivity and schedule. It can be the best thing ever if you take the time to make it work for you. My boss and I worked through a list of pros, cons, and solutions together. I hope this helps whoever is reading this find a perfect balance within a job they love.

    Common Pros:

    • Flexibility to work whenever/wherever
    • Be more productive and hit yoga at lunch or start a load of laundry before your client call
    • No distractions from the office such as crazy co-workers
    • Live anywhere you want
    • No time wasted sitting on a long commute
    • Time with pets!

    Common Cons:

    • Never stop working / unhealthy work-life balance
    • Million distractions at home!
    • Lack of communication with the people at work that motivated you
    • Feeling lonely / Out of touch 
    • Never move your body or leave your house
    • Office services (coffee, snacks, etc)

    Things to Help:

    • Exercise and walking breaks
    • Start your day early at a scheduled time
    • Get dressed in normal clothes
    • Utilize co-working spaces / coffee shops
    • Be super organized and set reasonable deadlines
    • Schedule things, even your breaks or personal errands
    • Create more communication with your remote team to build that team mindset and motivation
    • Make regular evening plans to force you to sign off and go be social (extra important for extroverts)
    • Have multiple working spaces within your house
      • Standing space, office with a desk, outdoor/patio space, etc