THREE WORK FROM HOME TRUTHS YOU NEED TO KNOW

Friday, April 22, 2016 Gabby Bill 1 Comments



When I worked for Capital One, the company had a really relaxed work from home policy. You could basically do it whenever you wanted, which resulted in many people working from home each Friday or taking a day here and there to bang out a really thoughtful, strategic project.

And this type of flexibility is becoming more and more commonplace. My friend that works for AmEx is actually encouraged to work from home at least once a week, because the company doesn't have enough space to accommodate every employee in the office (Hello, New York rent).

Generally speaking, I think as the face of corporate America shifts and millennials rise through the ranks, companies are seeing that opportunities for non-traditional work environments, along with a greater focus on work/life balance, are two really important aspects of professional life. This is great news!

I remember personally when Capital One first told us we'd be working from home for two weeks during office construction, and I was totally shocked to find out how much I loved the set-up. I felt like I was on fire everyday. No water cooler conversations distracted me. No commute slowed down my morning energy. It was blissful, and so much so, that when I found out I was getting laid off late last year, I decided to launch my very own, full-time, work-from-home company.

BUT ... (there's always a but) ... in my 6 months as an entrepreneur who runs her own business out of her living room, I've learned that there's actually a massive difference between working from home the odd day here and there and doing it all day, every day. And the differences are not just related to me and how I have to approach my work day, but also in how others perceive my job and what I do.

Yesterday I had a particularly egregious episode with a family member who insisted that I "step out" of a client meeting to FaceTime them (I'll spare you the nitty gritty background of the familial issue that led to this). If I were in a corporate environment, this family member never would have insisted on this kind of behavior, but because they knew I was home and parked on my couch, they assumed my work was less important, less relevant or that I could take more liberties with my professionalism. When I refused to disrupt my presentation to acquiesce to this family member's pressings, they had the nerve to get angry with me for being unresponsive.

I initially wrote a version of this blog post after that negative experience, but when I woke up with fresh eyes, I chucked it in favor of something more balanced. Truthfully, I think a lot of the confusion rests in the fact that most people don't actually know what it's like to work from home 24 hours a day (...and yes, I really do mean 24 hours a day). So here I am to pull back the curtain, show you the inner workings of the magic trick and hopefully give you insight into this crazy, complicated and wonderful way of life.

TRUTH #1: WHEN WORK = HOME, HOME = WORK

As my friend Bekah of That's Normal and Method Agency so accurately stated, "When you work from HOME, you ARE home," and that means you rapidly lose the distinction between times of your day that are set aside for work and times of your day that are set aside for fun. It also means that you lose the ability to "leave work at the office," because you're often literally waking up and going to sleep within 10 feet of your workspace.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I love working from my couch, and not having to commute an hour each way means I have 120 more minutes of productivity in me. But it also means that my work/life boundaries are fuzzier. As Bekah states, "Working until 9 or 10pm or beyond is a real thing that happens often if you're not careful."

TRUTH #2: OUR SCHEDULES ARE ABOUT AS PREDICTABLE AS THE COLOR STARBURSTS YOU'LL GET IN THOSE LITTLE TWO-PACKS 
(...you know the ones I'm talking about, where you always pray you won't get an orange and a yellow?)

My friend Robert points out that, "...more often than not my work doesn't end at 5:00pm," and I'll raise him one to underscore that not only do our hours tend to extend beyond the traditional 9-5, they can also be more erratic and unpredictable.

When I was in the corporate world, I knew that I was (roughly) expected to be at the office Monday through Friday, 8:30am-5:30pm. Now some days I have a client at 8am and don't have another until 6pm. Last Friday, I helped teach a fitness class at 7pm, but this Friday I'm not. Sometimes I'll take a break for 1:30pm yoga on a Tuesday, but the next week I might be in a full-day conference or workshop on the same day. Every week is different based on how many assignments I'm juggling, what's happening in my community, and where and when I choose to fit in "fun" and self-care, like fitness.

This lack of regularity can be really unnerving to people that work a corporate lifestyle, because they can't "predict" your availability. It can be particularly challenging in cultivating romantic relationships, because we're often working weekend, early-morning or late-night hours when our companions are traditionally footloose and fancy free.

The fact is that when you run your own business or do freelance work, you have to "hustle" more than the average bear, and this can sometimes mean that your schedule falls victim to the availability of your clients or the timing of business-building opportunities that pop up. And since we don't get paid unless we're working, it can be hard to turn down an assignment simply because it falls outside of traditional working hours.

TRUTH #3: JUST BECAUSE WE'RE HOME DOESN'T MEAN WE'RE AVAILABLE

My friend Helene of Hashtagitude pointed out this really important truth: "We've got our set hours too! Sure there is the flexibility in where we work, but we still have hours/boundaries that [need to be honored] as well."

Keeping focused on the task at hand when you have the constant "possibility" for flexibility can be really hard. Part of the reason that I chose to work from home was because I wanted to be able to take a mid-day break or squeeze in a doctor's appointment without needing permission from my manager, but if I was always flexible and never structured, I would literally never get anything done.

Over time this has taught me that I have to be especially vigilant. I need to schedule blocks of time where I'm literally not going to answer the phone, respond to text messages or switch windows when I get a "ding" from Facebook messenger. I need to say no to mid-day coffee breaks, spontaneous lunch meetings and the pile of dirty dishes I was too lazy to wash last night. If I'm going to make progress, I have to pretend as though the constant distractions around me don't exist.

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU, MY 9-5 FRIEND?

Try not to let your assumptions get the best of you. 

  • Don't assume that because someone is at home they can "just take a break for a 5-minute phone call" or "just pop out and run this errand for you / walk your dog / do something else you can't do because you're at an office." 

  • Don't assume that the work they do takes less precedence over your work, or that because they work sporadic hours that they're "not working" most of the time (you have no idea what happens behind closed doors). 

  • Try to be patient with your friends (and their calendars), remembering that structures aren't set for them, so there tends to be a whole lot of added responsibility resting on their shoulders. 

  • Don't get mad if you get home and the dirty dishes from last night are still in the sink. Remember they were "at work" too, and unlike you, they probably had to deal with the smell from said dishes all day. 

  • ...and finally, don't judge if you come home from work and we're already in our pajamas with a beer in our hand (...this came from Bekah, not me, I swear...)

At the end of the day it all comes down to respect, and respecting that a work arrangement that might look somewhat different from yours doesn't make it any less valid or worthy of dedication.

What else have I missed? If you work from home, what are things you struggle with that others might not understand? What systems and processes do you put in place to mitigate your challenges? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Gabrielle "Gabby" Bill is a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. She coaches groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to their career. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more about her services by visiting www.gabriellebill.com

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