After Hours

The 10 worst things about working from home

There are plenty of good things about working from home -- but for every upside, there may be an equal and opposite downside.

Three years after being released from my daily commute, I find myself reflecting on some of the less appealing aspects of working from home. So I decided to stop working for a minute (see #4) and jot down a few of the negative aspects I've begun to notice.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

10: You get lazy

If you don't believe me, get a pedometer and measure the number of steps you take from the time you wake up to when you go to bed. A consultant friend of mine did that for two weeks and to her horror discovered that she averaged 156 steps a day -- nothing more than bathroom and fridge trips. In the office, you generally have farther to go to get food, coffee, and water and go to the bathroom. Plus you walk to meetings, go out for a smoke break, go visit a friend.

9: You become unwittingly uncouth

After you've spent some time working alone, you start to lose your normal social inhibitions. You no longer remember to suppress certain crude (and sometimes noisy) behaviors, and you may sometimes pick or scratch various areas not normally picked or scratched in polite company. And then on that one day a year when you're expected to attend the annual staff meeting, you let one fly during a pause between speakers.

8: Your cats wreak havoc

Cats invariably want to sit wherever your attention is directed, which for most of us means on the keyboard or in front of the monitor. Sooner or later, you'll get up to fetch a cup of coffee or do a set of squats (yeah right) and the cat will stretch... and you'll be left explaining exactly how you managed to delete that table from the database or why you sent that particular picture to the CEO.

7: Your neighbors don't get it

Neighbors: Oh, you work at home, how nice for you. In their mind that means you spend the entire day goofing off because (a) you set your own hours; (b) no one is watching you; and (c) that is exactly what they would do. This translates into frequent pop-ins. How you doing? Working. Oh that's nice, did you see what's happening in the park? No, I'm working. Right. I don't think they should do that, those trees have been there since I moved here in 1953. Um, excuse me, but would you mind leaving? I need to work. Oh "work," ha, ha, that's right. Mind if I put the TV on?

6: Your boss becomes a stranger

It's so long since you last saw your boss, you forget what he looks like. There you are, summoned back to the office for the big upgrade. You pull into the parking space nearest the front door because you're way too early, as you live in a different time zone. A car pulls in beside you and a man gets out and glowers at you. You're in my parking space. Is he serious? There are no reserved signs. You break a sweat in the already uncomfortable suit you're not used to wearing. Then he smiles. Whoa -- Steve? Hey Steve, I didn't recognize you. Wow you got fat! Which takes us to:

5: You forget the unwritten rules of polite interaction

Having had no one to talk to except the cats, dog, and occasional neighbor (who doesn't employ you so he doesn't count), you haven't talked to anyone since your last visit to the office and find you've unlearned all the normal rules. Out come the curse words, the borderline jokes, and inappropriate comments. You know -- all the stuff you're used to sharing with Rover.

4: You give in to work avoidance

On those odd days we all have, when you don't feel like working, there is no one to make you do it. So instead of taking a vacation day, or even pretending to be sick, you waste the entire day staring at the computer, getting distracted by what the cat just hacked up in the corner, staring at the computer some more, staring into space, and then spending the entire evening feeling guilty for a wasted day.

3: Sick days are a thing of a past

Because you can lie down in bed sucking down Dayquil all day and still manage to administer the network, you don't call in sick. To feel justified in calling in sick, you have to be unconscious or in hospital. And even in hospital there is generally free wireless.

2: There are no departmental lunches

Oh wait, that's a good thing.

1: You're imprisoned in your workplace

And the number one worst thing about working from home is that you never, ever leave the office. That report you were meant to write wakes you up at 2:34 AM. Normal people make a mental note to take care of it as soon as they get to the office, after a cup of coffee of course, and go back to sleep. Not you. You sigh, set a reminder on your IPhone, and try to sleep. But your computer is right there, just across the room. You didn't even bother to turn it off. Oh well, might as well write the report now. Can't sleep anyway. Next thing you know, your stomach is making odd gurgling noises and you have the beginning of a caffeine withdrawal headache. It's 1:35 in the afternoon and you have yet to leave your seat.

What else?

Have you run into any of these issues when working from home? What else would you add to the list?

74 comments
beachbum957
beachbum957

I have been working from home for over 5 years and the list is very accurate. For me work avoidance is a significant issue, usually followed by long hours, but #1 is still my #1. When you are at home, you are still at work. I combat that by trying to get out of the house on a regular basis, even if it is just to take a walk. Sometimes it works.........

trusake
trusake

Sorry, but working from home is a motherf****g dream! Everything I EVER wanted. Your article is COMPLETELY wrong.

jtbuck
jtbuck

AH HA! BUSTED! you said "in hospital" instead of "in the hospital" that means you're BRITISH.

howard48906
howard48906

I had to laugh! I have done that and experienced most of the problems. Don't forgrt the neighbors will think you are the local baby-sitter.

net.minder
net.minder

If your IT boss is the "business" kind, not the "technology" kind, he or she can easily forget what is needed about what you do. This gets even worse if you happen to be the only DBA, or the only Web App programmer. Working from home can isolate you fairly quickly from what's up at work. (It's very similar to being the only evening-shift guy.) People forget to tell you about important changes at work. So when there's a budget crackdown or the black-ink turns red, you'll find yourself trying to defend the importance of your job! And trust me, if you're doing that, it's too late already. So make your presence felt in the office regularly, even if there's no desk available to sit at. See your team members face-to-face, bring up current work issues in real conversations. If you do it often enough, you'll stay relevant.

OldGuru
OldGuru

If you live alone and move to a new apartment building [i]after[i] you started working from home then neighbors, not realizing you're working at home, may look at you like some weirdo who rarely leaves his apartment and chances are some of them may even start nasty rumors about you.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

You can work from "home" elsewhere than at home, you know? Like in that artsy cafe where they serve "refills are free" coffee... Or wherever else, it alleviates quite a lot of those drawbacks, in fact, some of them reverse... many dress more sharply for a nice location than for the office, and many even pick their noses less. And all you need is a GSM modem plan.

Rodo1
Rodo1

Letting one go in the annual staff meeting! I used to work with a guy in a manufacturing setting who was quite proud of his gas passing prowess. Anywhere, anytime was his motto.

highlander718
highlander718

I think working from home 1 or 2 days a week would be a good balance. It also depends on what exact job you are doing, talking about IT, if you need to go and physicaly touch a computer/laptop/printer, replace a phone ... hardly doable from home. There is the human interaction with your colleagues, meetings face to face. If you are in a management position there is no way you can stay 100% at home, how do you supervise and how are you supervised ? Here we have the trust factor that sometimes it's not a problem but sometime it is. I honestly do not think that there is one person that works from home as hard as in the office.

highlander718
highlander718

now.. what is healthier, walking to take a smoke or rather sitting in your chair (but not smoking) :-)

Intovate
Intovate

It was infered but not explicitly stated that lack of social interaction throughout can be difficult. You know when this is a concern as you start enjoying going to the supermarket, where there are lots of people.

gferrada
gferrada

Eleven: my wife is here...

sconyers
sconyers

In my company we can work from home one day a week, and in some special cases 2 or 3 days a week. Thus you get the benefits of fewer distractions and no commute for some of the time, and yet still retain your polite habits and are still visible to your boss. I love how it works out, and it saves me 52 hours a year in commuting.

heikki.rauhala
heikki.rauhala

It?s easy to extend working hours. A separate room for the office, even if it is a small one. Leave the room at 5 pm and lock the door with a key, which my be left in the door or hooked up beside. Don?t open the door until 8 am next day. try to remember to print flight tickets, etc during office time so there isn?t any extra bisits in the office room, except picking up your cellphone, laptop and briefcase before leaving for an businesstrip. Be efficient at the office and have a good quality of the leasure time.

richarctr
richarctr

I think that if all it takes for you to become lazy or lose track of your ability to socialize is working from home then you were already lacking a desire to stay fit and any social graces in the first place! I work from home often and all summer when my son is out of school because my wife has to be in her office. I run 9 miles a week and bike in between, I go up and down stairs doing chores and taking breaks, and I never had much in the way of subtle social skills anyway but I can interact with my peers and the team members I direct. I actually miss the interactions in the office and enjoy being around other people - that could be part of the difference!

bdbauer
bdbauer

Don't people have friends at work? Lunch with work buddies? I like working at home some, but I miss the social interaction after a couple of days.

danaCreative
danaCreative

Hygiene habits tip-toe on the unacceptable: You wake up, hit the bathroom, brush your teeth and plop in front of the computer. The day flies by, you fix an unhealthy dinner, watch tv or surf the web, check in on work items one last time and go to bed. You wake up the next morning and do it all over again. Then it hits you; you don't exactly remember the last time you showered.

dawgit
dawgit

My favorite is #7 though. AAAAARrrrrrrgh.

ra.kish
ra.kish

C'mon! Your boss becoming a stranger is a bad thing? Maybe if your increases are based on his knowledge of you; but most big companies now have implemented salary increases that have nothing to do with individual performance but rather what the marketplace is doing. The less I see of my boss, the better!

Dave O
Dave O

Equipment and supplies taking up space in my garage. A laptop always taking up space in the corner of the living room. Big packages taking up space in the mailbox. A work vehicle taking up space in the driveway, plus having to shovel it out in winter. Sometimes working around the clock while neighbors wonder if I am working at all. Would I give it up in return for the daily commute? No way in hell!

codybwheeler
codybwheeler

It definitely takes more discipline to work from home. This list is a good "what not to do" guide. If managed correctly, I often get A LOT more done from home that I do at the office.

mtg42
mtg42

You forget how to dress. Gym shorts when it's hot, sweat pants when it's not. Shower & shave? Maybe. Wear shoes & socks, not slippers? Please don't make me. We won't even mention belts & ties.

leemond
leemond

What on earth has being British got to do with anything? Is it more or less relevant to how anyone works from home or the issues they have to deal with? Or is it because you are one of those parochial Americans who think of Brits as a lower life form? Just wondering...

jtbuck
jtbuck

I'm not sure of the significance of that, but still, ur busted

de.doughboy
de.doughboy

I agree with you here. The QA teams that I have managed always seem to get the Axe first when the red ink flys. It's best not to be a loner when working from home or in the office.

santeewelding
santeewelding

That you are on to something, re, operation of mind. Doesn't matter the subject, does it? You can go anywhere.

YinYangMind
YinYangMind

it's not about working 'Harder' it's working 'Smarter' that makes working from home the best option.

Gh0stMaker
Gh0stMaker

Both will effect health in the future

pmolina
pmolina

It will start to talk to you. Tempt you. Tease you...

Cathy2304
Cathy2304

I agree - although the one day at home is used working for my Husbands business, I still set a routine. By 9am, I have to be showered and dressed for the office (jeans acceptable - dress down day - with basic housework already done - dishwasher, washing machine and tumble drier) - break for lunch 12/12.30 - empty dishwasher/washer/dryer and refill/start as necessary - 1pm back to work until 4.30. No distractions allowed at work - ipod on shuffle and loudspeaker for low background noise. Even have a thermos of coffee with me in the separate office so I dont have to go to the kitchen and a downstairs cloakroom so no long visits to bathroom - Works really well so long as you have self discipline

de.doughboy
de.doughboy

I would put social networking at the top of list. I always heard about changes in the work place from my work buddies..i.e de grapevine. People are less likely to chat with you and tell what they have heard on a BBS because they are documenting themselves. That can surely kill a career.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I couldn't believe this one. Don't you have friends outside of work? Don't you go to lunch with others besides co-workers? There's LOTS of people to have lunch with, and it's a LOT easier if you can flex the lunch time, or invite them over for a casual lunch at home. and with the plethora of social networking (you can use a second computer) even virtualwatercooler is just about obsolete.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

At least you can get rained on, on your way to the office. :D

SwissJon
SwissJon

IT'S SOOOOO BORING!!! Having spent 5 years working at home, I eventually got a real job in the office because I was unbelievably bored! I have a cat, a dog, a son and a wife who works part time, and that was the entirety of my existance for 5 years.. The TV was on all day for company, but you begin to notice how many times they repeat something, even through the course of the same day. I've seen every episode of Stargate, Star Trek, Simpsons, CSI, NCIS and a bunch of other programs, at least twice. I found myself bouncing off the walls searching for a reason to leave the house. So now I have an office job, I get up at 6am instead of 9.30, and see hundreds of people each day and actively look forward to being at home. Sure, being in an office has its drawbacks, and we'd all occasionally like a sneaky lay in, but working from home is worse than being unemployed, because at least if you're unemployed you can leave the house when you like... It was much more akin to being in prison. Been there, seen that, done that.. I won't do it again! I like my office job thanks very much.

jtroop
jtroop

Ooooo! A 25 cent word. You probably are of a lower life form because you live on an island, just like the the Iguanas of Easter Island. Didn't Darwin come up with some theory that way, about animals living on an island?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

It's true. Hingeless, I am independent of subject matter, I just go. :)

TheComputerator
TheComputerator

All the people I'd have lunch with would be at their office jobs.

janet.ruddell
janet.ruddell

What kind of work from home job did you have??

mike
mike

Uh.... You state that you "eventually got a REAL job"????? So your home-office job was pretend?

Cathy2304
Cathy2304

No he hasnt got me trained, I chose to do this so I get a "weekend" off - the more I can do on the Friday, the less I need to do over the weekend. The idea is that just because i am working at home - i am still working and therefore should work to office hours - the housework in the lunch break is my way of improving my me-time

beck.joycem
beck.joycem

Husband and I run a home-and-small-business PC support company from a workshop in the back garden and my study in the house. We have managed not to get on each others nerves much despite being both at home almost 24/7 - we are usually in different rooms. Yesterday evening I was finishing off a disinfection and general update and service on a laptop. I had taken time out during the day to do some gardening (one of my major plus points - I can take advantage of rare good weather, see to the washing in a few seconds then get back to work, get to the bank when I need to, shop when the supermarkets are quiet etc.). But 'finishing off' the laptop, expected to take less than an hour, was one of those nightmares: mysterious error messages started popping up, I couldn't restore to my Acronis image - netsh winsock reset didn't work - you know the sort of thing, a Demon had taken over. But I'm at home, so I went on grappling with the thing until 3:30 a.m. There's a major downside to working at home - I could, so I did. The client came to collect the laptop at 9:00 this morning - pleased with our usual service standards. He travels 60 miles to bring his computers to us, rather than find someone close. Swings and roundabouts - I'll take things a little easier today.

SwissJon
SwissJon

One where I'm pushed to challenge my limits, one where I'm not bored the majority of the time and one where I was actually doing something. I live in Switzerland, my previous job was managing servers in the UK, and the UK based company I worked for opened at 9am.. Hence I started at 10am, factor in 10 mins for a shower, 5 mins to boil the kettle and 15mins to mosy about and I got up at 9.30.. Until I got a dog when I started getting up at 8.30 so I could walk him for an hour before I started. I had automated so many things in the past 5 years that managing 70 servers single handed was a breeze.. The biggest challenge was handing over to someone when I finally left.. I'd grown so automated over the years, I didn't actually think about much that I was doing.. I won't ever work from home again on a regular basis.. I like being around other people too much, there's no social life at home.. You even run out of things to say to your wife because every day is pretty much like the previous one.

bobp
bobp

Maybe he got up at 9:30 because he worked until 1:00 am.

tbmay
tbmay

....it probably is. But if you're that concerned with the perception of people who aren't even paying you, I'd say you're not ready to be self-employed anyway. There's no shortage of people with no shortage of opinions. That doesn't mean they know what's best for you.