The Other Side of Working at Home: It Is Not Always As Pleasant As You Think

For many who make it their workplace, a home office is a tonic, both professionally and personally — a boon to career and personal satisfaction alike.

But for many others, it turns out to be just the opposite. Working from a home office can be lonely, isolating and unproductive for those who need a boss nearby. Without the formality of a workplace, some people can’t deal with daily interruptions of telemarketers, children’s CD players or barking dogs. Others are done in by the temptation of daytime TV, a well-stocked fridge or bottles of wine in the cupboard.

What if you find that working from home is a downright danger to your work and your emotional and physical well-being?

Here are five issues to keep in mind in determining whether your home office may, in fact, be more poison than panacea.

Recognize that it’s not for everyone. Many who abandon corporate life for working from home are almost delirious in their view of a home office — a Xanadu filled with unbroken happiness and effortless productivity. Sad to say, many discover it’s anything but a Xanadu, particularly people whose decision to work from home or telecommute was made by someone else. “These days, a lot of people are being forced by their companies to work from home as consultants,” says Richard Laermer, co-author of the book “Full Frontal PR: Getting People Talking about You, Your Business, or Your Product.” “Those are people who never dreamed of working from home and, all of a sudden, they don’t have the structure that they’ve always had.”

Loneliness can make you more than lonely. It’s no shocker that one of the most potentially devastating problems of a home office is the isolation that all too easily can slither into deep loneliness. But that can bring on more than aching depression. All too surreptitiously, you may find yourself in a circling pattern of indecision and lack of productivity. “It’s really easy to find yourself in a vacuum where nothing gets done. That’s because you may not have someone coming up and telling you, ‘That job is done, move on to something else,’ ” Laermer says. “You stick to something so long you never know when it’s done. And you can find yourself working yourself right out of business.”

When time becomes meaningless. Again, here’s where fantasy does more harm than good. Many home-office workers have this image of getting completely absorbed by a project — Edison in the lab for days on end in search of the right filament! — so much so that we lose all track of time. This is fine on occasion, but a warning sign if it’s an ongoing pattern. “You don’t want to be working 12 hours straight all the time without a break — that’s unhealthy,” Laermer says. “You also don’t want to be stopping work at midnight every night.”

When eating and drinking become too easy. It’s no pearl of insight to suggest that drug and alcohol use are bona fide red flags. If you need a Heineken or two or a blunt to help make it through the workday, find someone quickly to talk to. But, while perhaps further down on the destructive scale, be aware of turning to food excessively — for comfort or just for something to do. “It’s not as easy to snack and snack at an office,” Laermer says. “But, when the kitchen cupboard is only a few feet away, why not? And, who’s going to say something when you grab the third doughnut?”

When work is all there is. Granted, it’s wonderful to embrace your work, both for the financial rewards and the personal satisfaction. But make sure there’s more to your days than time on the phone or in front of the PC — that hints at a level of immersion that may run too deep. “Be careful if you find out over time that work is the only thing you have,” Laermer says.

If any of these ring true for you, it might be time to find a job in a traditional workplace setting. At the very least, consider these countermeasures:

Schedule, schedule. Plan your workday as exhaustively as you would if you were back in the high-rise. That makes the most efficient use of your time so that you don’t become inadvertently locked into any one task.

Schedule fun. That includes recreation. Make your appointment to work out at the gym as sacrosanct as the business lunch that seals the biggest deal of your life. Set time aside to leave your home and stick to the commitment.

Have someone look over your shoulder on occasion. Work at home freedom is sweet, but don’t forego supervision if you find you need it periodically. If, for instance, you’re at work on a job, ask a friend, colleague or family member to have a quick look at it — you may have more to do but they may also tell you that it’s time to move on. That can prevent the endless spiral of needless repetition and review.

Move around. If you work and play in the same environs, you can slowly feel your feet growing roots. You may work from home, but that doesn’t preclude separating the various elements of your life. Make sure your office is away from where you watch TV or read. If you live in an apartment or condominium, at least pick up your laptop and carry it into a distant corner. However you do it, make it clear through movement that you’re actually going to a workspace other than where you happen to be at the moment.

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