You wake up at 8 a.m. without an alarm and with the sun streaming through the blinds. As you take a leisurely shower, you listen to the radio and hear rush-hour traffic’s a nightmare: good thing you don’t have to jump in the car to head to the office. In fact, you don’t have to go to the office at all. Sure, you’ve got two deadlines to make by the end of the day, but that’s nine hours away. At the moment, the more important question seems to be: cereal and coffee at home with the newspaper, or a bagel sandwich and a cappuccino from your favorite local café down the street? After all, a proper breakfast and some morning relaxation will no doubt focus you before digging into work.
Does this sound like your typical morning? If so, then you’re living the dream. You know, the dream of working from home. Yet for many employees who are required to clock in at regular hours or do work that necessitates being onsite – teachers, government employees, skilled tradespeople and those in the healthcare and hospitality industries, among many others – this dream remains a distant reality.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, 80% of employees consider the ability to telecommute (see Top 4 Financial Jobs You Can Do From Home) a workplace perk. For these employees, it will come as good news that the number of Americans working from home has been steadily on the rise. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that from 1997 to 2010, there was an increase of 4.2 million people working from home. The majority of home-based workers are employed by private companies, with government employees representing only a small percentage of those working from home.
Do you hope to join the 2.6% of the American workforce that now works from home? If so, do some soul-searching before telling your boss that you think you’d be more productive with a change of view, preferably a view of something other than the office parking lot. Before taking the plunge, talk to coworkers, friends and those in your networking circle, especially people who work in similar industries. Among your acquaintances who have worked from home, what challenges have they faced? Have their work-life balance (see Maintaining Work-Life Balance For Financial Professionals) and overall quality of life been enhanced?
To jump-start your process, here are a few essential pros and cons of working at home to consider.
Your hours and your life are more flexible. Want to take a month off for prime whitewater kayaking season in Patagonia every year? By working from home, you just might be able to pull off this kind of adventure, either through working more the rest of the year to offset the lost hours (easier if you’re a freelancer or have a seasonal business) or by working remotely from your holiday spot. Of course, most people appreciate flexibility for more prosaic reasons: childcare, eldercare or simply the ability to be home when the plumber shows up.
If you run your own business, you save money on overhead. Not having a brick-and-mortar location for businesses that can be easily run online, for example, can save massive overhead costs. The downside? You lose foot traffic, important to retail operations.
Depending on your work style, you may be more productive. Are you an introvert who finds social interactions more draining than energy-giving? Then you might thrive in a work environment without other colleagues. If you feel more focused in a quiet environment with few distractions, working from home may give you the opportunity to be your most productive.
Your commute is zero. Among possible deathbed regrets, it’s probably safe to say that you won’t wish you had spent more time in rush-hour traffic. In fact, more than two-thirds of workers would switch jobs just to ease the burden of their commutes.
Working alone can be isolating. If you’re an introvert – or have had your fill of banal office chatter revolving around the weather, where to go for lunch or the last episode of True Detective – then maybe isolation is exactly what you crave. Yet even those who eschew workplace camaraderie (not to mention interpersonal drama, office politics and ill-advised romances) in favor of going solo may find themselves staring at their computer screen with an inexplicable feeling of ennui. And don’t discount how personal collaboration, as well social bonds forged in the workplace, can lead to future opportunities, including a greater likelihood of promotion. While the symptoms of isolation may be trickier to recognize, workplace burnout can happen when you’re home alone with your golden retriever at your feet.
Depending on your work style, you may be less productive. Are you an extrovert who thrives on collaborating with others on projects? Do you get energy and inspiration from the kind of impromptu socializing that occurs during breaks, lunches and conversations on the way to the parking lot? If so, the solitary nature of working from home might drain, rather than augment, your energy.
Working from home can be distracting. Do you have roommates who also work from home or who work at night and hang out at home during the day? Are you a parent who is doing what might be the world’s most challenging form of multitasking – caring for an infant or toddler while attempting to do focused computer work for several hours? Even those who find themselves more focused in their home office will find such distractions challenging to their productivity. To read about this, see 5 Delusions About Working From Home.
The Bottom Line
In a study led by Stanford University in collaboration with Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, home-based workers proved to be more productive, happier and less likely to quit. The flip side? Those working from home were half as likely to be promoted than their office-based colleagues. They were also lonely: 50% of them requested to return to the office. For more information, see How To Make Money By Working From Home.