A Typical Morning

You wake up at 8 a.m. 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: coffee at home or a cappuccino from your favorite café down the street?

Does this sound like your typical morning? If so, you’re living the dream—the dream of working from home.

Key Takeaways

  • On the plus side, there's more time, more money, and more flexibility.
  • On the flip side, there's social and professional isolation.
  • If you're self-motivated and introverted, working at home might be for you.
  • If you enjoy being in the middle of the action, you might regret going remote.

The Remote Chance

According to Global Workplace Analytics, 80% of employees consider the ability to telecommute a workplace perk.

For many employees, it's not an option. Kindergarten teachers, carpenters, and nurses, among many others, do not work remotely.

For the rest of us, it will come as good news that the number of Americans working from home is steadily rising. 3.6% of all working people work from home at least half of the time.

Most were employed by private companies. Government employees represent only a small percentage of those working from home.

The Flip Side

In a study by Stanford University in collaboration with Ctrip, a Chinese travel agency, home-based workers said they were more productive, happier, and less likely to quit.

The flip side? Those working from home were half as likely to be promoted as their office-based colleagues. They were also more likely to feel lonely.

In the end, 50% of the home-based workers in the study requested to return to the office.

If you hope to join the ranks of remote workers, do some soul-searching before telling your boss that you think you’d be more productive if your view from the window was your garden instead of the office parking lot.

First Steps

Before taking the plunge, talk to coworkers, friends, and the people in your network, especially people who work in similar industries. Among your acquaintances who have worked from home, what challenges have they faced? Have they seen a real improvement in their work-life balance and overall quality of life? What have they unexpectedly found they missed?

In a Stanford study, 50% of home-based workers asked to return to the office.

Here are a few pros and cons of working at home to consider, whether you work for a single employer, freelance, or run your own small business

Pros

You'll have greater flexibility

Want to take a month off for the whitewater kayaking season in Patagonia every year? By working from home, you just might be able to pull it off, either by working more hours the rest of the year or by working remotely from your holiday spot.

On a less ambitious scale, working at home allows you to adjust your schedule from day to day, taking a three-hour lunch and then making up the hours at night if you want to.

Of course, many appreciate the flexibility for more practical reasons: to provide childcare or eldercare or simply to be at home when the plumber shows up.

You'll save money

Commuting costs go away. Your professional wardrobe goes seriously downscale. Whether you're a business owner or an employee, there are incidental costs to showing up at work five days a week that disappear when you stay home.

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 time is zero

In some cities and job sectors, almost two-thirds of workers say they would switch jobs if the change would ease the burden of their commutes. Think about what zero commuting hours a week would do for you.

Cons

It is isolating

You could be surprised by how much you miss the workplace camaraderie, not to mention the interpersonal drama, the office politics, and the ill-advised romances. And don’t discount the benefits of professional collaboration and social bonds forged in the workplace. They often lead to future opportunities.

Staying motivated isn't easy

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 among colleagues? If so, the solitary nature of working from home might drain rather than augment your energy. It's all too easy to take a break that lasts for hours.

Working at home requires you to motivate yourself.

There are distractions

Your home circumstances might have built-in distractions. These might include family members or roommates around the house. They might be tasks that you think you have time for now that you're not going into the office. In any case, if you can't set aside time to devote to work and only work, you can't pull this off.