Thursday, 13 March 2014

Working From Home - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

I've been a home-worker for seven whole years, I realised with a shock the other day. It only seems yesterday I was waving goodbye to office life, a secure pay packet and actually leaving the house in the mornings. Seven years on, I would still say there's a lot to be said for working from home but there are some things I was perhaps a little unprepared for when I decided to go freelance. It was meant to be the solution to the eternal problem of finding some "work-life balance" but of course the reality has been not quite as cut and dried as that...

There are days when it's great; other days where it drives you to the edge of reason and has you wondering why the hell you ever complained about working in an office. It won't necessarily offer the answer to your childcare/stress/money problems but as a method for paying the mortgage, there are worse things you can do. 

Here are some things I've discovered about the reality of home working over the years - the good, the bad and the ugly...

1. Your home office won't look like the home offices in magazines

It will be a permanent mess of paper, tax documents, invoices and dirty coffee cups. It won't look anything like those sleek home offices you see in the magazines. Even though I've got a nice little space and a wall adorned with cool-looking postcards and prints, applied with fashionable washi tape, it still looks like a crap-hole most of the time. Don't expect your office to be a child-free zone either. Your kids will leave grubby smears of unidentifiable origin all over your key board and discarded apple cores in your desk drawer - and that's a best-case scenario.

2. There is no help desk at home

One of the most painful realisations about working from home. Getting a weird message every time you boot your laptop up? Could be nothing to worry about or it could mean your hard-drive is about to explode. And of course you won't have done a back-up for ages. The trouble is, there's no one around to ask, and you're not 'technical'. My advice would be to cross your fingers and back up ASAP.

3. Your time management skills may need some refining

It's amazing how much time you can waste when working from home. You might have an urgent deadline with a newly acquired client but managing a sudden, overwhelming desire to clear out the junk drawer or descale the kettle can be a challenge. Jobs you never knew needed doing suddenly become impossible to resist, even though there's a nagging voice in your head telling you you really should get on with that 5-hour website audit. You can waste hours on random activities - examining your pores under a microscopic mirror or colour-coding your wardrobe, for example - when you know you should be getting your head down. That said, if you fancy putting your feet up in front of Breaking Bad at 11am - just because you can - treat yourself. There aren't many proper 'tangible' perks of working from home, but daytime TV viewing is one of them, so enjoy it from time to time.

4. Multitasking isn't as easy as you thought it would be

Now that you can load the washing machine in between working and nip out to the shops to pick up dinner, your home life should be super organised and stress-free. But somehow it doesn't seem to be. You will still find that come Monday your child's school uniform is languishing at the bottom of the laundry basket and your husband doesn't have any clean socks. That's not to say you should be responsible for all household chores but the expectation will somehow fall on your shoulders because you're the one 'at home'. Multitasking becomes a byword for taking a client call while on the toilet. 

5. You will experience moments of crushing loneliness

In all seriousness, this is something you should definitely take on board if you're considering going it alone. There might be days where you literally don't speak to any one all day and even if you're not the most gregarious of people (I'm not) the lack of social outlet can be soul-destroying at times. As you'll be taking in parcels for everyone on the street now you're a home worker you may find that exchanging a few pleasantries with the postman or courier is the highlight of social exchange during your day. But even if you have the nicest postman, it's not quite the same as having a gossip with a colleague over a coffee in the canteen. 

6. On a positive note, your health may improve

It can go either way when working from home. Now you don't have a walk to work and you can eat as and when you like you may find that a few extra pounds creep up on you. There's something about working from home that makes me ravenous so the key is to strip the house of biscuits and chocolate. Being able to take an exercise class during the day is a real perk of working from home but even if you can't do this, it's important to integrate some sort of exercise into your routine to get you out of the house. If you're prone to flatulence, no worries - your home, your rules. Feel free to blow off at will and enjoy the sensation of not arriving home each night crippled with trapped wind. 

7. You will be permanently freezing

Working from home makes you frugal. Whereas company budgets stretch to luxuries like round-the-clock heating and air con in the summer, when it's coming out of your budget (whether you claim it on your tax return or not) things can get a bit puritanical. My self-imposed 'no heating until 4' rule means I'm usually to be found sitting at my desk clothed in a dressing-gown over my clothes, sometimes with a hot water bottle in my lap and a blanket over my legs. 

8. But on the whole it works

And the flexibility and freedom makes up for the not so good things. If you're self-employed you will probably find yourself working much harder than you ever did before and it can be just as exhausting as office-based work. There are frequent irritations to deal with - invoice chasing and filling out tax forms - that perhaps you didn't have to worry about in your previous life. All this stuff takes time and will frequently spill over into your home life. But as a way to mix some semblance of a career with looking after children - particularly when they're at school and long summer holidays become a childcare nightmare - you could do a lot worse...

If you're a home-worker I'd love to hear your experiences - add a comment below...



  1. Lol this post made me laugh. So true of working from home life. I don't even have a desk at the moment, I spend most of my day sat on the floor with my laptop on the coffee table, not ideal, also with a blanket over me to save on heating ;-) Thanks for linking up to #ThriftyThursday

  2. Just read the working from home post, its fantastic! Really funny. I must say, I am not tempted. I think I will stick with the BRI...

  3. I've been working from a home office for a decade and love it. I do have what was the spare bedroom as an office and I could not function working on the kitchen table. It's great to be able to shut the door as the end of the day and forget about work for a while I have been considering renting a small office place somewhere close by just to have a change of scene.

    1. Hi Robin. I work two days in an office, 1 day at my other half's office and two days at home at the mo which I'm finding hits the right balance. Working from home full time was good for a while but I did reach a point where I was crying out for human contact! My dream is to have a little home office/general hideaway/sanctuary in the garden!

  4. Heh - I have just started to try to escape from home to a studio. I think I'm going to like the heating in the winter. :)


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