Office Romance: Why Working From Home Sucks
For the ten years I worked as a lawyer, steadily climbing the corporate ladder, I had a secret fantasy.
No, not that sort of fantasy.
I fantasised about working from home, for myself.
I imagined I would lounge around in my active wear while occasionally checking my email as my business grew. I would take conference calls in my kitchen, or write up reports from my local cafe. Surely working from home would beat the 100 hours a week (yep, really) I spent at my desk clocking billable hours?
When my partner secured a job in Hong Kong it dawned on me the time was right to take the leap. I set up the home office, bought some excellent active wear, and launched irislillian.com.
But after 18-months of slogging away, I had to face up to a brutal truth – I am not a house cat.
In my imagination I was going to be sitting around Carrie Bradshaw-style, tapping away on my laptop and hitting the gym (or the shops) whenever my new workday schedule allowed.
In reality I was lonely, miserable and still in my pyjamas at 2pm. The fridge was my closest companion. I spent most breaks basking in its cool interior, feeding my Parmesan cheese addiction.
In reality I was lonely, miserable and still in my pyjamas at 2pm.
I called it – it wasn’t working for me. I went and got myself an office job. And you know what? I’ve never been happier. I even enjoy eating lunch at my desk. Kinda.
So, (with apologies to Ms Bradshaw), I couldn’t help but wonder: was it just me? Or is working from home not everything it’s cracked up to be?
Why self employment & working from home is not for me
Belle Taylor, a journalist and Iris Lillian contributor, said she found herself in a similar predicament when she quit her newspaper job to freelance.
“I felt rudderless,” she said. “I suddenly had a weird amount of time on my hands, which sounds great, but it was just a little lonely. There was no one to chat to, and it can be difficult to motivate yourself if you don’t really have any firm targets to hit.”
Some people are excellent at working solo. They head to the home office at 9am and sit at their laptop until the day is done. But it is certainly not for everyone.
We need more from our jobs than just a pay cheque, so before you take the plunge, consider if working from home is going to give you what you need from a job. Here are three things your home office should give you, if one is missing, it can be tough going.
1. A place to belong
The office is more than just a place to work, it’s somewhere to go everyday, a place where you are needed.
“A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter,” Psychologist Karyn Hall Ph.D said. Ok, you may not always feel you need the office like you need food and shelter, but the psychological need for belonging is a strong one.
Working from home didn’t check this box for me. If I failed to rock up to the study and sit in front of my laptop, would anyone notice? Nope. Could I catch up with Annie in accounting about how that second date with the guy she met on Tinder went? Nope. Could I discuss with my desk mate the relative merits of the noodle bar up the street versus the one across the road? Nope.
When I went back to an office job I could do all of these things. I was part of a team, a community. It made me happy.
2. Being good at something
After eight years of study and 10 years on the job I had become confident in my skills as a lawyer. I had become a highly competent legal adviser. I paid my way with years of effort and sacrifice to hone this particular skill set and, in hindsight, what I got in return was discovery, fulfilment and growth. Then suddenly, I quit. My new, working-from-home venture had nothing to do with the law. I went from being really good at something to feeling a little lost as I attempted a career change from my living room. And I didn’t even have a boss to blame.
If you are going to work from home, make sure you are confident in what you are doing. When you’re all alone you don’t have colleagues to bounce ideas off or mentors to guide the way. It’s hard to grow in isolation.
3. A structured environment and routine
For many people having structure in their lives is key to contentment. I’m certainly someone who thrives with structure and stability. I always have. For me, waking up in the morning with no definitive place to be at a specific time throws me right off my game. Holidays are the worst.
Designer and journalist Emily Morgan of Made Maternity had a similar experience.
“I loved it when I first started because the sense of freedom was fantastic,” she said. “But I then found working from the apartment isolating and horrible. It affected my mental health for sure. I thought I’d love not having to get dressed for the office, but actually, that’s an important thing for me; to shower and dress for the real world, and then to have to put on a happy professional face even on days I wasn’t feeling it. I think some people would love working from home but I need to be around other humans.”
Knowing where and when you need to be each day gives many people a sense of (perceived) control and establishes a routine. It’s a framework to base the rest of your life around. For me, one of the things which makes me happy is my morning coffee ritual. Walking to the train via my favourite coffee shop, chatting with the barista and collecting an Americano sets me up for the day.
But some things don’t require an office. As of today, I’m happily heading off on maternity leave. I can’t say how I will fare in this new un-structured environment where control will remain elusive for the better part of 18 years. This is a discussion for another day, perhaps. Watch this space.