The Pros and Cons of Working at Home

I sit down to work at my second floor drawing table in the morning and look out the window at traffic backed up on Wissahickon Avenue.  I marvel as I gaze at the cars through the blooming dogwood — how did I get so lucky?

I have worked at home for almost 30 years, and highly recommend it.  Telecommuting has added to the self-employed, so more people are exercising this wonderful option.  If you can figure out how to make a living at home, it has many advantages.

Low overhead

One major benefit of working at home is that your overhead is lower so you don't need to earn as much to come out with the same net income.  Think of all the time and money spent getting to work: commuting by mass transit or car is stressful and costly.  No gas, no parking, no rushing to make a train.  Your 30-second commute can save you many, many hours. For some, this alone provides a whole extra day each week.  This reduces stress, and of course reduces your bills as well.

Your wardrobe can be very simple, which translates into less time shopping for and maintaining your dress-for-success clothing. (Most work-at-homes actually do not wear their pajamas all day though, contrary to popular belief.) If you work solo, you don't need to do the manicure/make-up/accessory thing; for men it means no ties — ever!  You don't need to go out for lunch or buy snacks, another savings. If you have children, you can save on childcare.  And it's no problem to make personal calls!

Increased flexibility

Working at home allows immense flexibility.  You can take breaks during the day and accomplish tasks more quickly because stores, banks, and health clubs are very quiet during the midday hours.  You can go to the doctor, to your child's performance, to visit a hospitalized friend, or anything else you like without asking permission.  You have complete control over what your workspace is like and how you structure your time.  No office politics, bureaucracy, or meetings disrupt your work flow.  You are the boss.

Beware of distractions

Working at home is not without its challenges, of course.  You need self-discipline to structure your time so that you get your work done. For me, a sufficient motivator is the fact that if I don't get my work done, I will not earn any money.

Being at home offers distractions of its own.  Doing housework, supervising people doing work in your house, and talking on the phone are occupational hazards.  If you are partnered and trying to keep housework 50/50, you will have to defend against the obvious argument that it makes more sense for you to do pretty much everything.  If you are the anchor parent, working home is ideal since you can schedule around your children's appointments, play dates, lessons and even illnesses.  However, this can be full-time work by itself, so you will need to create boundaries.

Houseguests are a challenge, since they are lounging around in your work space without seeing it as such. Without an office to travel to, a brief case, or title, some people don't really believe you have anything important to do.

Craving human contact

For me the biggest problem of working at home has been isolation.  Paul and Sarah Edwards have written a great deal about working at home, and they advise to be on guard about neighbors dropping by for coffee.  In over a quarter century, this has never happened to me, not even once!  The closest I've come is neighbors locked out, coming to pick up their key.

All that office intrigue, water-cooler chitchat, and camaraderie is hard to replace synthetically.  Activities that create connection include lunch dates, seminars or continuing education in your field, getting out of the house for some fresh air, exercise, or errands, or daytime volunteer work.  Personally I check my email about 20 times a day.  I don't necessarily recommend this.

Creating the ideal office

If you choose to work at home, take time to create an office you want to spend your day in.  I always had a bed in my office, since it doubled as a guest room.  After many years, it finally dawned on me I didn't really like looking at a bed every day.  I gave myself permission to get rid of it and replaced it with an easy chair, plants, and art that I do enjoy looking at, improving the aesthetics of my workspace enormously.

When you work for yourself, no one will see to it that you are taken care of — you have to take care of yourself.  It is crucial to have a space that you can close off.  One of the downsides of working at home is that you can become a workaholic, answering the phone or checking the fax during family meals or in the evenings when you hopefully have something else to do besides working.  Just as you need to guard against family responsibilities encroaching on your work time, you need to guard against your work encroaching on family and personal time.

The simplicity dividend derived from working at home?  More freedom and more time.  Sounds simple to me!

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Pierre Cutler
Pierre Cutler
12 years ago

Betsy, the best thing about working at home – you are free to do exactly what you wish to do. Freedom of choice means you are in control. What a wonderful concept! I rather control than be controlled.

Pierre

Pete @ biblemoneymatters.com
Pete @ biblemoneymatters.com
12 years ago

Good article.. just out of curiousity – what kind of work do you do at home?

Cornelius
Cornelius
12 years ago

I agree, good article!
Distractions and the isolation are the two problems I see as negatives for working alone at home. I spend most of my day at home before going to my part-time job and the job is a welcome relief sometimes.

Leesa Barnes
Leesa Barnes
12 years ago

March will mark 2 years that I’ve been self-employed, however, I’ve been working from home since 2002. My past employer had a work at home policy and I was able to develop good habits while I was a salaried employee. Now that I’m self employed and working from home, I’ve had enough practice on someone else’s dime to know how to stay focused and eliminate distractions. The other benefit is that I save alot of money. I don’t need to be up with the latest fashions since it’s just me in my office. If I do go to networking events… Read more »

MGA
MGA
12 years ago

Regarding your home office. According to my tax accountant, it is tax deductible, but there are some caveats. One of them is that the room needs to be of an office, and only an office. It cannot double as a guest room, a home gym, etc.

Erich Jackson
Erich Jackson
12 years ago

I am interested in working from home. Are there any companies that you can recommend to work for, that don’t require me to pay some money up front?

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

Erich, I don’t have real recommendations…but don’t pay people up front for work. Almost never. Some people might require use to use certain software (though don’t buy it from them) to work for them, but otherwise it shouldn’t involve spending money.

One reason I like having my two part-time jobs outside the house as well is the whole companionship thing. I get lots of people contact at the library and some at the hospital.

I also talk to my husband too much (he works from home too, since he’s a prof).

But I really enjoy working from home. 🙂

Betsy Teutsch
Betsy Teutsch
12 years ago

Good point about the tax status of a home office. It absolutely has to be a dedicated space.
Thanks for asking about my work. I am an artist/designer and I sell my work to art galleries and online. (And a lot of my stores sell my work online, as well.) You can see a piece of my work in the corner of the photo inset in the post – it’s my actual studio. Now back to the drawing board – literally!

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

My husband has been working from home for just over a year – it’s something we dreamed of for many years and still find it hard to believe that it actually happened! He says now that it would be very hard for him to go to an office every day (outside the house) after experiencing the flexibility and cost savings of a home office. The hardest part has been distractions (we homeschool three children age eight and under) and the temptation to work all the time (checking work email in the evening can be a BAD idea!). We’ve been spending… Read more »

RacerX
RacerX
12 years ago

It would be interesting to see a walkthrough of a person that worked at the office and then home the next year and compare the years. Look at productivity, inter-office relations etc..

Jack Payne
Jack Payne
12 years ago

I can only rubber stamp most of what Betsy has said. I’ve worked at home some 10 years out of my total 45-year working career. Of course, that’s easy for me, as a writer. Now, I concentrate on my Blog, writing about con men.

Girls Just Wanna Have Funds
Girls Just Wanna Have Funds
12 years ago

This is my ultimate goal, to work from home as I hate the commute and having to deal with office politricks.

vh
vh
12 years ago

Having worked at home for some years, I can add one more possible challenge: convincing others that you ARE working. Especially if you have kids in school. For most people, work is a place, not an activity. If they see you are at home, it’s extremely difficult–for some folks, actually impossible–for them to accept that you’re working. I guess they think you spend the days eating bon-bons in front of the soap operas. At any rate, you’ll find that neighbors, PTA members, classroom moms, soccer team coaches, and church volunteers will call and expect you to participate in this, that,… Read more »

sixtoe
sixtoe
12 years ago

I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the high cost of self-insuring for you and your family when you’re self-employed. I’ve heard friends complain that the costs can be outrageous. Any thoughts?

WTL
WTL
12 years ago

I’ve been self-employed as a web deb and video editor since 1999, and I have to say, it has its challenges and its benefits. My wife has been self-employed as a bridal fashion designer / dance instructor for even longer. It is wonderful – really – but some days, if one of us falls into a rut, they drag the other in too. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, look out! Pluses include having lunch and dinner together every day, going to see movies at 10:00 AM, and more “us time”. I don’t think I would ever willingly… Read more »

Nez
Nez
12 years ago

I find the biggest challenge working from home is also dealing with the kids (when they don’t have school and) when they are home. I really tell myself I will NOT get much work done during the afternoons, when the kids are all fidget-y and sometimes very reluctant to complete their homework (in a timely manner!). For human interaction, I am glad I have a business partner who works from his home/studio — we have regular meetings, and we also meet clients in the studio, which helps a lot. So, yes, I love working from home. However, I love being… Read more »

Betsy Teutsch
Betsy Teutsch
12 years ago

Ditto on the people thinking you don’t work because your office is at home. When my in-laws would visit, once or twice a year, I would take off a lot of time to spend with them and could only sneak into my office to work for a few hours. One day another family member met them for lunch, DURING THE WORK DAY! They were so impressed. Of course the fact that I took time off from work and tended to them 5 or 6 hours a day, including lunches out, was invisible. Still pisses me off!! Re: insurance. You definitely… Read more »

mr hubbard
mr hubbard
12 years ago

When I started working at home 1999, I got rid of my TV. I knew that it would be tempting to turn on the tube when I was having some down time. It really helped to get me off on a good start. I bought a new TV with my first Bonus check, but by then my good work habits were set. When I was single and working at home, I went out every night. Movie, bar, friends house, etc. By the time 5pm rolled around I would be going stir crazy. Now I feel that flexibility is better. I… Read more »

Angie
Angie
12 years ago

Good article–though I’d seriously argue with the statement that you can save on childcare costs if you work from home. This implies that you can work while your kids are around. I’d argue that depends a lot on what exactly your job is. Kids require a huge amount of attention. If you’ve got the kind of job where you need large (multi-hour) uninterrupted blocks of time for focused concentration, it is not possible to work and be in charge of children at the same time. Don’t even get me started on trying to have a professional phone conversation. There may… Read more »

Ian
Ian
12 years ago

I recently saw a telecommuter’s shed at CedarSheds.com. It’s a small building for your backyard so telecommuters can get out of the house.

I love the idea. You could run power, use your cell phone and have an easier time not being distracted by all there is to do in your house.

Cheers, Ian

Betsy Teutsch
Betsy Teutsch
12 years ago

Re Angie: and daycare. My kids went to daycare. But on a sick day, when they were semi-sick, or a day they were off (all those breaks and holidays) I managed to work at least part-time without expending money for childcare. It was a hassle, and involved trading off with other parents et al. After schools when they were in grade school, I didn’t need after-school care. They watched a little TV, hung out, had snacks, and it didn’t require my full attention. Work-at-home parenting isn’t necessarily high quality parenting. I’m not saying you don’t still have lots of childcare… Read more »

Angie
Angie
12 years ago

Betsy, I agree that your schedule can be more flexible. But I would amend your last statement to say, “You’re not missing a day in the *office*”.

If you’ve ever had school break or a string of sick days coincidentally precede a deadline….yeah, you’re missing a day of work.

Flexibility is really important when you’ve got kids, no doubt about it, and working from home is the best way to get it. But this is the other edge to that sword about, “Oh, you’re not in an office, you can chaperone the trip to the pumpkin patch.”

Rebecca G.
Rebecca G.
12 years ago

I think Betsy is presenting a fantasy version of working at home! My husband has worked at home for 10 years, and it is very difficult. He works 24/7, and never can find time to do anything around the house besides work. I think working at home is much different for a woman than a man. Also, it is much different if you are a tele-commuter than if you are self-employed. Separating work time from non-work time is a big issue. I would welcome comments from couples where the husband works at home and the wife works at an office.… Read more »

merd
merd
12 years ago

pro: My coffee is good. (don’t tell me how good my coffee is, I buy my own coffee… I know how good it is. – thanks, Tarantino) con: My coffee is not free. pro: No environmental distractions from coworker conversations and goofoffs con: Can’t yell at co-workers over the wall if I need them now pro: An office at home is more relaxing con: My office at home can be too relaxing pro: Can walk the kids to school and get them afterwards – spending time with them is invaluable con: If you’re on a conference call when you need… Read more »

Nadine
Nadine
12 years ago

This is the most accurate description I’ve ever read on the subject. I’ve been self-employed for close to 30 years now, and it’s become so ‘normal’ that I tend to overlook some of the advantages, like saving the commute, although the second half of my work equation means I sometimes have to work elsewhere, but not very often! I find it really annoying that people in paid employment, even close friends, tend not to take my work seriously, and I do have problems with older relatives dropping in ‘for coffee’ exactly when I’m finishing an urgent job. More seriously, the… Read more »

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

For me personally its staying disciplined and getting the job done; while its fun to goof off every now and then you still have to get the job done. I think one of the other drawbacks to working at home is staying motivated. There are times when you don’t even realize it but those around you help you get though the little tough spots and keep you motivated.

Rishi
Rishi
12 years ago

When office rents in my part of the world tripled in 2 years, I made the decision of working from home. I designated one room in the apartment for my office, moved my office furniture there and started working with zero overhead!! It is the best decision I took as my wife also works with me (we are Interior Design Consultants) and we have small kids to look after. There was some initial problem with kids dropping into the “office” when we were meeting our clients but now everything seems to be perfect.

Andy L.
Andy L.
12 years ago

I’ve been unemployed for the last month (by choice), and taken the time to work on some side projects, building a few websites. However, I don’t think this can be stressed enough, you need a ‘work space’. My computer is set in the living room, because it is used for casual use 99% of the time, till now. I’ve failed miserably at getting work done. Leaving the house with a borrowed laptop helped a lot, but without an ‘office’ I’ve had a hard time (the guest room/office is for my g/f, who has used it regularly). So, to reiterate, make… Read more »

ChristianPF
ChristianPF
12 years ago

I agree with the distraction part that you mentioned, as I am making the transition to home-based work, I am starting to realize the challenge of fighting distraction. It is a real productivity killer!!

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