Working From Home: What I’ve Learned So Far

A year ago I joined a company that lets me work exclusively from home. It was a major career change after working for 13 years in the IT and contact center industry.  I’m celebrating my first anniversary today, and to mark the occasion I decided to write about my experiences and what I’ve learned so far.

1. It’s a lifestyle change.

A major one. Let’s get the question of compensation out of the way. There isn’t a lot. In stark contrast, IT and contact center companies pay a huge amount because they have a notoriously high rate of attrition. It takes a certain type of person to really commit to years of night shifts, double shifts, holiday and weekend work, and unpaid overtime. So they have to compensate for that. And if you don’t fit in with the culture, it takes a toll on your psyche. In my old life, I made up for all the stress by shopping all the time. I bought a lot of stuff that I didn’t need – clothes, shoes, gadgets – only because I could afford it. I’m not bragging, because it was the only thing that gave me any semblance of satisfaction. I was working 16 hours a day, unhappily, but at least I got a new dress out of it. That was my way of thinking.

Now, I don’t make as much, and I don’t shop as much either. But you know what? I don’t need all that stuff anyway. I’m more satisfied and happier with my work, so I don’t need to buy useless things. And having to be more conscious of my finances helps me focus on the things I do need and want.

2. Not everyone will understand.

Leaving the corporate grind is such a momentous decision, especially among my peers, because as one of them put it, we were practically raised with the mindset that corporate slavery is the only way to go. Anything remotely creative is completely out of the question. It’s been a year and some of my friends still don’t know what I do (I work for a website, by the way). Some well-meaning friends even ask me if I don’t get bored staying at home all the time. I’m sure they have good intentions, but really, questions like that reflect their own hang-ups more than they do mine. So I just smile at them and say “No”. The honest, heartfelt answer? “Are you fcking kidding me? I get to work comfortably at home, with no more 3-hour commutes! I get to stay home with my dog! In the past year, I’ve had more time to take care of myself, exercise, go to the spa and have massages and facials! Sometimes I can take a quick trip to the mall on my lunch break. And sometimes, I even get to work from coffee shops! My weekends are finally relaxing because I’m not exhausted all the time! So no, I am not bored, thank you.”

Some people will even ask you matter-of-factly, “So when are you going to get a permanent job”? Umm, this is it. This is not a hobby or a pastime. They forget that they didn’t even ask you how you feel about your job, or even congratulate you for finally leaving a toxic environment. It took me the best part of the last year to move past this type of reaction. It can even get hurtful if it comes from people you expect to support you. But at the end of the day, who cares about them, really. Sometimes you have to make decisions for yourself, and to hell with everyone else. You’re not running for President so their opinion doesn’t count.

3. You have to set boundaries between “home” and “work”.

My family at home still haven’t figured out what is urgent and what is not. Sometimes I’m working and they’d burst in to tell me that the postman arrived with a letter for me. Okayyy, thank you, but surely it can wait? And sometimes they’d decide to talk right outside my window while I’m in a call. This is a problem because my family is LOUD, so shouting at each other is the norm. I thought I found a way around it by closing the door of my room, but I swear 8 times out of 10 they still forget that I have a job. (It used to be 9 times out of 10, so it’s an improvement, I guess?) Most times I just have to shrug and turn up my music, because what else can you do?

It’s also a must to make your bed first thing in the morning. No, this is not some profound metaphor. You just literally have to make your bed. When I first started, my workspace was in my bedroom, so I definitely needed to fix everything around me first before I could feel ready to work. Even when I moved to another room, it’s still the first thing I have to do. Studies have shown that making your bed is one of the best habits you can develop, because knowing that you’ve already accomplished something within 10 minutes of getting up (even something as mundane as making the bed) gives you a huge psychological boost and prepares you to face the rest of the day.

4. It’s still about the work, and it’s not for everyone.

I really just lucked on to this job. I was looking for work in editing or writing, and it was only a bonus that I got this opportunity to work from home too. People ask me how they can also work from home, but they don’t realize that it’s still about what you want to do. If you want to work in something like training or IT consulting, I don’t think working from home is the key. Not everyone will like the isolation, either. At my work, we have regular calls with our teammates, but it takes a lot of self-discipline to finish your tasks with no one looking over your shoulder. It’s all about the work that you want to do and what you need to help you do it.

5. I am lucky.

When I took this job, I foolishly thought  that I wouldn’t have to deal with any setbacks or stressful situations anymore. But there are still days that drive me crazy and make me want to curl up into a ball. And I’ve since realized that it’s really stupid to expect all the annoying little things that make work “work” and not play just go away. There will always be misunderstandings and disagreements.

But even on my worst days, I am so thankful that I have this opportunity. Even when sometimes my bank account worries me, I still feel lucky. I have huge chunks of time on my hands now (which incidentally allows me to pursue my hobbies like this blog). On stormy days, I used to worry how I would get to work, if I will get stranded in traffic or flood, or if my boss would think that I was such a wuss if I decided to just stay home and stay safe, and not risk life and limb to spend 16 glorious hours working my ass off. Now, rain or shine, I just get up and get to work with no worries. (Side note: in one year I’ve never taken a sick day! You go, me!)

I’m crazy about my baby dog too, and now I don’t have to leave him at all. He stays with me the whole day while I work. He just sleeps there at my feet, and all I have to do is turn my chair and I get free cuddle time anytime!

Life is the farthest thing from perfect, and there are so many other crappy things I have to deal with everyday. But every time I stop to think about it, for probably the first time in my whole life, I actually like my job!