I’m writing this from the sweet comfort of my living room. Jealous? Well, you might not be for long. As technology advances, the definition of “the workplace” becomes more abstract. A corporate office cubicle, a shared workspace, your living room couch, or a local coffee shop all qualify. Technology has facilitated easy connection with our colleagues and bosses no matter where we are. Your company’s base could be in another country and you may never even meet your coworker’s face to face.
I’ve worked in an office, currently work remotely, and would like to shed some light on the pros and cons. Working from home is often looked upon with envy by my friends who have to drag themselves into an office every morning. But as much as there are perks, there are setbacks. As the saying goes, “the grass is always greener,” so let’s get real.
This is a big one. Physical comfort is almost guaranteed when you’re working remotely. There’s really nothing more unpleasant than air conditioning you have no control over or stiff work clothes getting in the way of your repose. I’ve been there and more often than not the only thing you can do is suck it up and tough it out.
In the fantastical world of remote work-life, you have the freedom to choose almost every aspect of your coziness. Having the perk of choosing your wardrobe is frankly wonderful. Sweats are totally acceptable work attire (even going au naturel if you’re into that). The way we’re dressed affects the way we behave. Formal dress can create unhealthy social pressures and lead to more stress and unhappiness. Beyond the clothes on your back you also have the option of choosing the temperature, smell, and lighting of your space. If it’s too hot crack open your window, too cold? Turn up the heat. Not enough social interaction? Go work at a cafe or link with a friend. When you’re not restricted to the confines of an office for the hours of the working day, your comfort becomes an affordable luxury.
This may be a personal plus, but I find myself much more creative when I have the freedom to switch up my workspace throughout the day. Working remotely means if you’re feeling creatively blocked you can easily walk to a library or a museum and take some time to stoke your inspirational fires. This isn’t to say you should be taking massive chunks out of your day to dilly dally, but having the option of refreshing and regrouping your thoughts with a change of scenery is something an office space can’t offer. As someone who spends my days writing and occasionally (or always) suffering from writer’s block, the ability to step out into the fresh air does wonders for my creativity.
When you clock in a nine-to-five, you find yourself with a schedule that’s difficult to tailor. Making time for breakfast, workouts, and squeezing in social life can seem impossible.
Trust me, I’ve tried it.
Despite the fact that you may be putting just as many hours in when you work from home, you have much more of a say over when those hours are. If you’re more productive in the early morning or late at night you can adjust when you get your work done. I’ve found that as long as agreed upon deadlines are met, your boss will usually not have a problem with how you’re meeting them. If you’re feeling especially European you can even squeeze in a siesta without offending everyone in your office and looking like you’re slacking off. A rested mind is a productive mind, right?
Unless you’re the CEO (or you work remotely — hello!) atmosphere in the workspace is entirely out of your control. I’ve got to say working next to someone who is eating their lunch a little too loudly, or listening to a receptionist complain about a failed Tinder date (all “hypotheticals,” of course) can be excruciating when there’s no escape. If your coworkers are too high strung or too relaxed, it can massively throw off your productivity and overall happiness.
When you aren’t required to be somewhere specific while you’re working the vibes around you are in your control. Whether you find solace in a buzzy cafe or a quiet nook you have the freedom to choose. Personally, lighting some scented candles, making a cup of tea, and cozying into my favorite chair with my laptop in-hand makes for the perfect workspace. Calm, focused, and fragrant. Call me Mrs. Atmosphere.
Obvious, right? Transitioning from an hour-long commute at my last job to waking up and being in my “workplace” has saved me money, and a humiliating amount of getting lost on the subway. Not needing to cram into a crowded train, or walk in the rain first has really done wonders for my soul. Nothing goes with your morning coffee quite like a homeless man’s yelling and thus far working from home has cut that out of my routine. I have found I can sleep more (no commute), save money on coffee (homebrew), and transportation (bed-to-chair transit = $0). I’ve also been able to cut down on the stress of getting to work on time. As someone who is chronically (and fashionably) late, this is a huge plus.
As perky as comfort is, there’s definitely a danger of becoming too comfortable and obliterating your productivity. I’ve found myself falling into this trap more than once. It has a lot to do with getting the hang of so much freedom at the beginning — i.e. having time management. Transitioning to remote work started off with me thinking my bed was an acceptable and productive office alternative. I swiftly realized that no-one can work under that level of relaxation. I know, cry me a river, right? But it’s true.
You read everywhere that being calm and anxiety free is key to productivity but I’ve found that too much calm also destroys it. There is a fine balance of nerves and zen (different for everyone, I’m sure) that make for the optimal headspace. A little bit of “anxiety” or stress around a deadline, for example, is a natural chemical response in your body and can be helpful. Anxiety can motivate you to respond faster and get things done. Stress definitely gets a bad rap, but the complete exclusion of it can stagnate your work.
This is my biggest con. I do often miss the collaboration that is naturally felt in an office space. Whether everyone is happy and motivated or tired and miserable, at least you’re in it together. Being able to look up from my laptop at a friendly (or anxiety-ridden) face of a coworker is something I miss.
Studies have shown that technology has made us more prone to depression and loneliness because it cuts out the necessity for human contact. Technology creates a simulacrum of human interaction and can leave us hungry for it. I’ve found this to be especially true working from home. Although I’m communicating with my boss regularly, responding to messages from friends, and reading tons of articles written by other people online throughout the day, I am always desperate for a dinner plan by the end of it. When I was working in an office, getting back to the solace of my own home was much needed and very gratifying. I love my alone time and it was something I really longed for after a long day’s work. I have now found myself in the opposite position — desperately needing some human interaction at the end of a workday where my computer is essentially my best friend.
In the same boat as human interaction, miscommunication is a potential con. Although this can be avoided, having things explained over messenger rather than face-to-face can take a few tries and audible grunts. (Pro: can grunt audibly.) As a Millennial and expert texter (if I do say so myself), communicating over messenger is second nature and time efficient, but there have definitely been moments where there is room for misinterpretation. Having something explained and demonstrated to you in person is probably the most efficient way to understand a concept quickly.
To me, pressure and motivation are concordant and accompanying. I need to feel the heat in order to really get myself on a work grind. I live alone and work from my apartment so there’s really no one around to pester me into getting things done. It’s taken some time (and I’ve probably given myself a mild anxiety disorder in doing so), but I have finally learned how to light the fire under my own seat. When I started remote work everything felt pretty laid back — scroll back up to the pros for proof — and this actually made my motivation plummet. Having your boss at a neighboring desk is a sure-fire way to get you pumped to meet a deadline, but when you have to rely on yourself it can get aggressive. I frequently find I’m mentally yelling at myself to “get on with it.”
I am guilty of putting the “pro” in procrastination on more than a couple occasions. All of a sudden the pattern of your carpet is the most fascinating thing in the world and 45 minutes have flown by staring at it. Making a cup of coffee can spiral into cleaning the whole kitchen, and answering a “quick” phone call can slip into a 30-minute catch-up. There are just so many “fun” ways to avoid doing what you have to get done and it’s made infinitely easy when there’s no one around to hold you accountable. Distractions and procrastination, I find, happen when I desperately need a break. Scheduling reasonable break times into your day can help cut this stuff out.
Working remotely can be truly wonderful. The freedom that comes along with it can enhance the quality of the work you produce, make you a calmer person, and generally reward you with a much more comfortable lifestyle. I will say it’s not for everyone. If you find you have trouble focusing and finding motivation, being left to your devices can quickly have the opposite effect and you could find yourself out of a job. The important thing to keep in mind, wherever and however you work, is that your situation is the most productive for you. You can always tweak your remote office and communicate with your boss if it’s just not your thing. Most companies have an office space if you really feel you need one, but if not make sure you’re designing your workspace and schedule to produce the best work you can.
Written by Delfina Forstmann