Let's talk about the challenges of working from home

Does anyone else get the feeling that someone doesn't want me to work anymore?
Working from home means your dogs get to tell you when to stop working.
I'm writing this post while in my pajamas, hung over, and having a little "hair of the dog" after the great time I had at my birthday dance party on a Sunday night. And that right there, is pretty much the best testament to working at home.

Photographers, independent designers, freelancers… I know you feel me! Working from home is awesome. But can we talk about the challenges of being self-employed and working from home and what we can do to combat those issues?

Lack of boundaries between work and personal life

I would never walk into my husband's work and start chatting while he's trying to record something. And yet, that guy I married is constantly interrupting me while I'm writing. The difference in both of those situations is that there's an obvious boundary crossing if I went to his work and interrupted him, while it's not so obvious when your place of work is in your living room. Can you tell by that photo up there that not even our dog respects my work space?

One day I hope to have my own office, separated by a door, and walking into that room and chatting my ear off will be the equivalent of me coming into your place of business and doing the same.

Which brings me to my next issue…

People think you're not working when you are

It's not just my husband… if I had a dollar for every time someone interrupts me while I'm working — having assumed that I'm just hanging out — I'd probably make more money than I do at work! I get it. In my pajama pants, sitting on my couch, with a laptop on my lap, it's easy for people to assume I'm not actually working.

Just like how it might look like you're just "goofing off online" when you're really working long hours promoting your new floral biz on Facebook. And yeah, you might be scanning awesome photos on Pinterest, but you're actually collecting ideas for future clients!

It can get lonely

As much as I don't miss having co-workers all up in my grill, I do miss the company. Spending most of my time at home alone has started to make me a bit anti-social. I have to force myself to actually go out and interact with other humans some times.

Thank gawd for social networking, right? Us work-from-home-ers can conduct virtual water cooler talk via Twitter and even in the Offbeat Empire comments. I also set up wedding vendor dates with other people in the biz so we can do exactly what we're doing here — get some human interaction with another person who knows the troubles I've seen.

It's sedentary

I rarely move during the work day. If I need to go to the bathroom it's steps away instead of down a long hallway. There's no need to take a break to walk nearby and get lunch as my kitchen is right there. And when I worked as a hostess I was on my feet and moving all day long.

On the Offbeat Empire especially, we're all the most productive when we're glued to our laptops. So in an effort to inspire us to step away and move our bodies, a lot of us ladies purchased FitBits. It's definitely been helping me to not turn down any opportunities to get meet my goals for the day. Wanna take a break and go hiking? (I'll reach my stairs goal!) Are my dogs demanding attention? I'll take a break to run around with them. (Highly active minutes!) Sure you could drive to the coffee shop to meet that client, but maybe you'll walk instead. (Get a higher step count!)

So those are my biggest working from home challenges. What are your biggest problems? Are they the same as mine? What do YOU do to overcome those challenges?

  1. Oh my god, YES on the boundaries issue. It's usually not much of an issue for me, thankfully, because my husband works outside the house and leaves before I start work, so there's no one to bother me except the cat. But he's a teacher, so now there are the looooong summer holidays and he's home all the time, and it's definitely a bother (and this is with a separate work room, with a door and everything!). As much as I love having him around, you know…

    6 agree
    • I feel you on that. There was a brief period of time when that guy I married was working from home along side of me. O. M. G. I thought I was going to murder him. I know it's the living room… but from sun-up to sun-down IT'S MIIIIIINE! Thankfully he went back to his normal work space.

      8 agree
  2. I got sliding doors installed in the two entrances to the big room that I've overtaken as the main office/production area in this house. I then put up a sign demanding that people knock. Then I got some thingamabobs that I can slide over the folding breaks to "lock" the doors.

    I may have also put up some other signs, such as one indicating that entrance would not be granted unless coffee was rendered.

    Loneliness has not yet been an issue for me- I work well on my own at my own pace. I do appreciate chattering over the internet, though, which I had been doing for many a year before it occurred to me to do something nutty like start a business selling fridge magnets.

    2 agree
  3. All of the above, OMG. I even have pictures of my dogs doing that exact thing (one of them likes to burrow under my arm lifting it away from the keyboard and onto his back. He's wily.)

    One of my biggest issues is that I am about ten times more focused and productive during the first part of the day, but my husband is a chef who works afternoons and evenings, so if I want to see him at all, I kind of have to form my schedule around his. The result being that I ended hazily and inefficiently trudging along from about 3-11pm instead of just blasting it all out in the morning and having a nice enjoyable evening off. I daydream about being able to hold myself to a nice 9-5 schedule. I do have my own studio/office, though, and no one to interrupt me except husband and dogs most of the time, so that's nice.

    I've been trying to devise ways to get out of my hermit hole a little more often and actually interact with people, but of course those are probably going to interfere with my shitty night time hours 😛 Unless I can find some friends who love going out for weekday brunch.

    1 agrees
    • First: Oh yes, I know that "needle nose" move very well. The big one (pictured above) does that and the little one (not pictured) just scratches at me until I scratch her.

      Second: You are a LOT nicer than I was to my partner with a different work schedule. He asked me to sleep later so that I could stay up later to hang out with him at night. I am a legit morning person who also loves to go to sleep. So early bed times are my favorite. That caused some strife. I felt like he was asking me to go against my very nature, he felt like I had the more accommodating schedule so why couldn't I be flexible. It was one of the worst moments of working from home. Thankfully, he got a new job that gave him better hours, because I was NOT able to stay up late.

      1 agrees
      • Luckily I tend to stay up late-ish anyway, but the hours between about 9am-1pm are my peak productivity time. After that it's all repeatedly refreshing Pinterest and staring into space.

        3 agree
  4. Oh yes, I have these issues. So much so that even given a long long long commute and the choice to mostly work at home, I mostly haven't.

    Between the studio apartment with my unemployed fiancé being ripe for interruption and it being far more difficult to discuss problems and challenges and projects with coworkers from home, (yes, gchat and google hangouts help, but in the "office" of my startup, there are 3 of us at one table in the garage so collaboration is really easy.

    I've also found the fitbit really helpful.

  5. This came as a surprise to me, but I actually find eating more difficult at home.

    I'm a person who works through lunch and doesn't take breaks. It's not the healthiest way to be, but it's how I've always been. I find stopping to prepare (or drive to purchase) lunch really difficult, which often means I don't eat/eat something that takes zero preparation, like a granola bar/eat pasties at a coffee meeting and call that a meal/etc.

    3 agree
  6. While I don't actually work from home, I am a full time grad student so that is my only job. My days are filled with housework or homework. So many of my friends want to hang out between their classes at my house or all hang out when they get off work. My husband has even started coming home on his lunch break because I "must be bored and lonely." It's like I have no time to get anything done myself! I clean best when I'm alone, have errands to run, homework to work on, the dog to take care of. I really just need to work on enforcing my boundaries and say, "Not right now. This is homework/housework time. I'll call you when I'm free." My days are not just free time!

    3 agree
    • Oh man, I feel you. Why is it that people assume that any time students don't spend on campus/in class is free time? It's infuriating.
      I go to school full time and I have THREE jobs that I do from home (they're all project based so it varies when I'm actually working), but all of my school work/work work revolves around the computer, which is a problem because people assume that: on the computer=playing around. Worse is that one of my jobs is marketing related, so people assume that because I'm on pinterest/facebook/twitter that I must have nothing to do, when I'm really working.

      1 agrees
      • This reminds me- it seemed like I was always getting comments about how "fun" college is. I don't get that at all; I worked, worked, and worked some more to get my comp sci college degree, and since I started this stationery business while still in college, so well, that was work and work and more work. Even before I started the business though, I had other jobs. I'm mystified by where people get the idea that college is a party. Aside from a few silly movies.

        4 agree
  7. I *just* started a work from home position as a technical writer, and my husband works shift work as a baker so he has plenty of opportunities to pester me while I work. I work in my pjs on the couch and the only other option is the bedroom (no thanks) so I've decided to work at my local coffee shop once in a while. Thankfully I have to visit client sites and stop in the office occasionally, though they are an hours drive away, so I get some face time with other people 🙂

    1 agrees
  8. Yes, yes, and YES. Lonliness drove me to take a part-time job on a food truck for awhile just to get out of the apartment, I've had to force myself to buy and then USE an elliptical because otherwise I'm just sitting, and scheduling between me and the boy has been hell (he's a 9-5 engineer who goes in early to hit the gym, and I'm a third-shift night owl).

    Honestly, though, the worst part for me is perception. All of our local friends are 9-5ers that we met in college, and they're not to subtle in their envy of how I "don't work". Comments about how I wouldn't know how it is to deal with a pain-in-the-butt client, or how I'm so lucky the boy has such a good job are common and infuriating. The best I can do is block them out and try to remember that the boy and I are on the same page with me building this business, and that I'm happy with my life choices, even if my friends don't approve.

    Also, I've found that the burrowing doom-cat can be avoided by working at my desk (she can burrow into my lap, but I can still actually reach the laptop). 😛

    5 agree
    • Lonliness drove me to take a part-time job on a food truck for awhile just to get out of the apartment

      This is awesome! The loneliness is the hardest part for me too, which is part of why I work in a coworking office once or twice a week, but I love the idea of taking on a part-time social gig, too.

  9. I hear you! As a tech writer with the opportunity to work from home, I found that I'm so much more productive throughout the day if I'm at home. By nature I'm pretty anti-social and working from home really does turn me into a hermit. Which makes me depressed… which can make it difficult to work. However, when I'm at work, people LOVE to talk to me (don't ask me why) so I don't get a lot done. I've found a couple days at home and a couple days at work make a huge difference to me. I'm not sure how I'd do it if I freelanced (which I'd love to do, so if anyone has any hints, I'm OPEN!!), but for the moment, the combination works well for me, my husband (who works at the same place I do), and my pets. My pets also lay across my keyboard, decide to type for me by clopping keys, and want snuggles ALL DAY!

    2 agree
  10. I think for me, there are a few challenges that haven't been mentioned yet (and of course, a few that have, which I can totally THIS!)

    1) People assume I can take time off whenever/go run errands with/for them at any time without much, if any, notice. What? Especially frustrating when it's people who feel like they have "real" jobs and can "park" their guests at my house while they go to work. I'm not sure how they expect me to entertain their people and get *my* work done — oh wait, they don't feel like I'm actually working, so it's ok.

    2) From the other side, I work remotely from a large company. Many of my coworkers also work from home, but many of the managers work together in a central office. There's an expectation that working-from-home means I never ever ever ever leave my screen. If they ping or call and I'm in the bathroom, there's a sudden flurry of emails to "track me down" because I should be working. Um, I also should pee in a toilet, not a recliner. The idea that I'm available 24/7 at their beckon call because I "just work from home" and "can work a little longer on this project" is an office culture issue, but it's pretty in-my-face.

    3) I end up not just screwing with meal times like Victoria mentioned above, but I work straight through sick days, too. Because it's still jammies and laptop and food network in the background while I type and sniffle and sneeze and whine my way through, but I'm not in danger of making anyone else in the office sick…. so I just keep working. This is silly and I should stop and effing sleep it off like a normal person sometimes.

    To combat these challenges, I'm still working on finding the perfect solutions for me.

    1) I've learned to say no, and if my boundaries are being ignored, working from coffee shop with free WiFi is just as good to people in my office, and I am not even at home to be "surprised" with guest-parking.

    2) I worked with my supervisor to set expectations and I have work requests go through or at least cc her. That way she's a funnel point for tasks, and she's aware that a) nature calls and b) I meet my deadlines, even if I do stop to make myself a cup of coffee and don't respond immediately to that crazy email. I also make a point of turning off the work email at 6pm. I don't look at it again until morning. It's taken months, maybe over a year, but people are finally catching on that working from home doesn't mean I work 24/7.

    3) When I catch myself working through being sick, I've started to weigh whether I'm actually being productive against whether I want to take the day "off" to sit in the same chair without the laptop. If I'm headachy, stomachachy, or just really need the sleep more than the check next to the task list, I call out and go to bed. It makes me a better employee and it makes me a better me to take care of myself, even if it looks to my husband like nothing's different except that I'm looking at Pinterest for lemon-honey throat-fixer-magic-juice-tea-things instead of working on some gawd-awful powerpoint update.

    Any other suggestions/ideas?

    3 agree
    • Ooh, yeah, that whole "work a little longer on this project" thing can be issue too. I do this to myself to be fair. But it's just easy to keep working after you've told yourself/your partner that you'd do a hard stop at a certain time. That can be SUPER tough.

      2 agree
  11. I've only had typical 9-5 jobs, but my last job was a bit farther away so occasionally I'd work from home on days when I wasn't feeling too well or had to do something during the day (post office, dentist, etc). I imagine it would have to change if it were every day, but on those days it was very hard to be productive! I needed to set up an office-like space at my dining room table, and even then it was easy to get distracted because no one was going to walk by and see what I was doing. Then I'd continue to half-work well into the evening, even after roommates came home, because I felt bad about not getting anything done. It was hard to draw the line for when my work-day-from-home actually ended.

    Those of you who can stay focused for long periods of time at home, I salute you!

    3 agree
  12. YES! My fiance and I both work from home and it's really really hard sometimes. Coworking has saved our life's. I have a desk in an office that I go to 3 days a week. I still have a ton of flexibility and can come and go as I please, but get that office atmosphere interactions with other creative freelancers. It's GREAT!

  13. I'm an editor and I bloody love my job. It's gotten so much easier now that my husband works 9-5 (or 9-11… but that's a different story). I have trouble with him understanding the separation of work and home, but I have more trouble getting myself to create a separation between work and home.

    I do all the housekeeping, so I can easily justify procrastinating by acknowledging that the laundry/shopping/bathroom DOES have to get done. Then I leave work and clean or cook or shop. I give myself maybe one day off a month and then a few light days here and there. Even on my days off, I answer emails or do something small. I work from coffee in the morning to bedtime.

    Because of that, I also build my schedule around my husband's. I work the most when he's out of the house so that I can at least give him the option of distracting me when he's home. We also have built in dates every week to help us keep on track. When my brain starts to ping, I force myself to take a full day off. And those rare TV hours are much sweeter now than they used to be. It's still a balancing game I'm working on though.

  14. I'm fortunate that I frequently travel to our real office. I rarely feel starved for human contact. In fact, when I do show up at the office the additional stimulus can be overwhelming. I have to accept I'm not going to be completely productive that day. ( Oh! The troubles I've seen! )

    One problem I do notice though is the expectation that working from home makes me the default backup childcare provider. However I cannot watch a child while I'm working. Period. So if you ask me to pick up your child from school because you can't leave work early today, please understand that you are in effect asking me to leave work early. It's not "ok" for me because my boss doesn't notice it and I don't value my work less than I value yours, dear friend.

    But to be honest, even this is a pretty small problem. A little negotiation and compromise will usually resolve it. I'm dragging it out here just so I can have something to talk about, ya'll.

    Working from home is just awesome.

    1 agrees
  15. I work in my studio at home and I find separating house work from my work is challenging. I always feel guilty and/or annoyed that the house needs to be cleaned and it is taking time away from getting my art work done. I am trying to spend a little bit of time every morning doing some house work so that it isn't totally out of control on the weekends but that means I usually don't start "work" until noon or later.
    My husband works out of the house so he rarely interrupts me, but friends and family call me during my work day, which I know wouldn't be happening if I had an office job. I do ignore the phone some times but it always kind of nags at me that I should see what they need.
    My cats think that I am at home for them, they pace in my studio and pester me for attention, I feel guilty and stop what I am doing to try and get them settled down some place out of the way. They have cat beds in the studio but that is not enough, they need personal attention, they are cats after all.
    A friend and I walk every Tuesday morning so that we see each other once a week, other wise a month or two could slip by with out making time to just hang out, this way we get a little exercise and socialize regularly. My other friends see me when we manage to make time, some are better than others at taking the time to make time.
    I love working for myself but finding balance is a challenging.

  16. Amen to this whole list. I work from home and honestly I don't really like it! And people never believe me.

    I miss the climate-controlled vacuumed-by-someone-else office, the guilt-free minute or two spent chatting while waiting for coffee to brew, the hard line between work time and rest time, the fact that my work (which is great, but tiring, hard, intense) isn't right next to my bedroom; I have it in its own room, it only gets used for office work, but still. I've been working from home for several years and I CAN'T WAIT until I can move again back to a city that holds one of our regional offices.

    I like that I have no commute, I like that I can go barefoot, I like that I can keep my job while doing some theoretically temporary life stuff for my significant other. But for real, I can't wait.

    • I feel you on that. After four years of working from home, I have moments of fantasizing about a job that requires me to A) get dressed B) go somewhere C) see people. Avoiding a commute is awesome, but it comes with its own challenges… for me, most of them are social.

  17. I found I really had to focus on "work time" Verses "Computer time". Other wise, I would pull up my work everytime I'm sitting watching TV or just hanging, and would spend all day working instead of just a set hours. I also give myself one day off a week- for me it's Sunday, I don't work on Sunday. I don't open my work email or the program I work from, and I dont answer questions. Other wise I literally would spend all my time answering emails and working and become No Fun Chelsea.

    I also had to convince my boyfriend that there is a difference between me being on my computer and me working on my computer.

    I do miss having work friends, and getting out and being social, so I started getting up every day and showering and getting dressed. Even if I'm going from PJ's to leggings and a long shirt, at least i'm wearing real clothing.

    • Oh yes, I definitely change from pjs to leggings most days. Still just as comfy, but I can actually go out when I wear them.

  18. Thank You for this post!
    I just moved my whole shebang into an Artist Live/Work space because well there are times I need to pull an all nighter and get cranking to loud tunes until tomorrow's gown is d-d-done. The workspace far from home was a constant problem especially with New England Winters disrupting everything from power to having to shovel myself in and out every single time. Also there were days when I just didn't want to go over there.
    Disciplining the others to give me work time and space is now the challenge! I'm digging Angela B's idea of a "knock" sign and locking the door, totally going to do that.

  19. I work from home with my husband as my main and sometimes only coworker. My in-laws also live next door and own the company we manage. Separating work from home is the hardest part about it all. Sure I don't always have to cook dinner because my mother-in-law will make dinner for us all (me, hubs, our kiddo, her and her husband, and her parents, and sometimes her siblings and their spouses) but then I have to eat in someone else's house and spend time after dinner socializing, and often times that socializing turns into a late night meeting about business things so we can skip the early morning breakfast meeting the next day. We have all worked it out that some times we each need to walk away so there is a loose rule that if someone calls a "Nope" that we all respect it; as in "Nope, I'm not going to grab my laptop and make that business purchase right now, we are going to finish this card game/movie and just hangout. Amazon.com will still be there in the morning."

    Luckily our work is very physical so I don't need a lot of extra exercise time – we run an RV campground with cabins for vacation rentals and an event space – I could spend 8 hours a day weeding and cleaning cabins before coming in at night to update our website, keep us active on Twitter and Facebook and research this winter's trade show marketing road trip.

    Despite the huge amount of family around, and daily interaction with new people it still gets lonely and I found that throwing myself into other commitments has really helped me not get bogged down in that loneliness – I volunteer to teach art for my daughter's 1st/2nd grade class, as well as an after school program there, I am on the planning committee for a couple different groups in town, and I attend a weekly Bible study/coffee klatsch. The structure of scheduled events makes it easier to get out of the house/off the property, more than trying to make plans to grab drinks with friends would.

  20. I work for my dad, who owns his own machine shop. Thank goodness the office/shop is 10 minutes away, because if he had a machine in the garage (like some people we work with), he'd always be out there. Instead he just goes in on quiet weekends or days we take off.

    On the other hand, since I still live at home, he thinks I can work all day. He has a bright idea at 8pm on a Tuesday? I have to do it. He wants to pick up a new toy this weekend? He knows I'm not doing anything!

    I flipped out one day, and now we have some more boundaries, but I still get the why can't you drive 6 hours this Saturday to pick up a machine every once in a while.

    The worst part is when I complain about how I'm getting out of work at my normal time, but I have to run 6000 errands for work after dinner, and they say something like, well, I have to take care of my baby, and you don't hear me complaining about it.

    Um? I don't get paid or choose to run my errands at these times. You chose to have a baby. Or live your life. If I worked someplace else, I would not be expected to do this.

    Don't even get me started on the 4 months I worked for free as a "personal favor" to my dad. They complained about my hours.

    /end rant

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