Working from home can be valuable for employee and employer alike. Employers should consider extending this benefit to their employees where possible, and employees should consider requesting it where reasonable. However, it’s important to keep in mind the potential pitfalls. Some people don’t work well from home, as they see their domicile as an escape from work. Know thyself, as the saying goes. Also important is the need to treat working from home the same way you would working from the office. If you take advantage of your employer’s flexibility and slack, you’ll likely find the privilege rescinded. (Or, worse, you could even get yourself canned.) So if you do get the chance to work from home, make a list of tasks as big or bigger than you would for a day in the office, and then get it all done by the end of the day. With fewer interruptions, this should be no problem. It will allevate any fears your boss might have about the concept and help open the door for others who might want to try it. Personally, I enjoy and appreciate being able to work from home every once in a while. Below, ten big reasons why. (And if you have any reasons for or against, leave ’em in the comments!)
10. Access quality coffee, snacks – Most offices brew up crap coffee like Folgers in crappy coffee makers that burn the coffee within ten minutes of brewing. (Call me a snob — it’s OK, I can take it.) Then they give you free powdered creamer and bleached sugar, with which you can almost mask the bitter, acrid taste. Yum! For sensitive liberals who can’t stomach swill, access to a good drip system or French press and a fresh bag of specialty coffee is like a little ray of black, caffeine-rich sunshine. Plus, you can access on all manner of foods you love when the ol’ rumble-stomach starts to distract you from the tasks at hand. Chips and hummus with sriracha sauce is my snack of choice.
9. Get some exercise – I work for an outdoor company that understands the importance of an active lifestyle. We have a workout area and a bouldering wall on the premises. Pretty sweet. But most people don’t have this luxury, and busting a cross-fit routine in your cubicle will probably get you strange looks or worse. At home, however, you can take ten minutes here and there to do some highly effective exercises. Push-ups, sit-ups, squats, some light weights, or even a run around the ‘hood at lunch — all of these can help make the long day in a chair a little less destructive to your physical and mental health.
8. Spend quality time with your pet(s) – It has been shown that interacting with dogs is good for your health. A recent study even found that playing with your dog helps your body release oxytocin. Plus, there’s the matter of being a good pet owner. I have a blue heeler named Bodhisattva (Bodhi for short). He is representative of his breed in that he’s smart, hyper, and a real pain in the ass. Because my fiancée and I both work desk jobs, he sits at home all day. I feel less like a bad parent when I work from home, as I can give him attention and a little play time. On winter days, I can watch him “get the zoomies” in the fresh snow out back. Priceless.
7. Spend quality time with the house/apartment – If you hate where you live, this isn’t a good reason for you. But I quite like the little bungalow we rent in Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood. I pay a fair chunk of my income in rent, so it’s nice to spend a little extra time in this space. The sun shines in the window behind my desk. My fiancée’s new painting lies half-finished on the floor. The sounds of the heater blowing and the fish tank filter trickling are preferable to the fluorescent-light buzz of the office.
6. Listen to the sounds of silence – If you have small children, this might not be a good reason for you. But for the rest of us, real quiet time is often enough to increase productivity significantly. The “open office” design of most of today’s workplaces, mine included, is conducive to information exchange with co-workers, but it’s also highly frustrating when you’re on a short deadline and concentration is required. At that point, the best thing to do is don your headphones. But for some reason this always leads to co-workers coming up and pantomiming their requests, or that universal signal for “take off your headphones”, which is even more annoying than their chatter when you’re not wearing headphones. Of course, if you want to listen to music, you can do so with impunity when you work at home, sans headphones. There’s something so nice about not having a big pair of cans strapped to your earholes when you’re jammin’ out to Skrillex or Llana Del Rey. More comfortable and easier to hear the phone ringing, the ice cream truck jingling, and yourself thinking.
5. Save the planet – My commute is thirty-five miles each way. Every single day I don’t have to make that drive is a win for my wallet and the air quality in the already obscenely polluted Salt Lake City Valley.
4. Save time – Commuters, again, win out when working from home. Thirty, forty-five, fifty minutes each way every day? It’s rough. If you drive alone, you can do what I do and dictate ideas for stories and blogs into your phone’s voice recorder like a nerd. But then you’re burning all that gas just to haul one body to the office. If you carpool, you’re pretty well resigned to doing nothing for over an hour each day. If you ride public transportation, you might get something done, or you might get someone’s coffee spilled on your laptop. A better option is to work from home and spend zero minutes commuting. Then you can use your precious hour saved to exercise, call your mother, or finish that diorama you’ve been working on.
3. Get “other stuff” done – At home, you can accomplish a variety of household tasks without interrupting your work flow too much. In the office, everyone takes periodic breaks to use the restroom, talk to co-workers, get coffee, or eat a snack. At home, with the same amount of break time, you can get all the laundry done, do the dishes, or pick up your messy living room. It doesn’t take long and it saves you from having to do it over your two precious days of weekend.
2. Increase productivity – In my workplace there are two common reasons that things don’t get done as quickly as they should. One is the constant flow of email requests. Working from home won’t change that. But the other big work killer is the drop-ins that happen throughout the day. “The modern workplace is structured completely wrong. It’s really optimized for interruptions,” says Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals. “And interruptions are the enemy of work. They are the enemy of productivity, they are the enemy of creativity, they are the enemy of everything.” (Watch a video of Fried’s very interesting talk on this topic here.) Granted, some of these drop-ins are important — hot items that need attention ASAP — but most of the time, they’re not, and the main thing they accomplish is a twenty-minute disruption that can take even longer to recover from. Assuming you don’t have screaming kids at home, you should be able to clear out a few of those attention-intensive projects that have been dragging on for days or weeks.
1. Maintain morale – According to a study by Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of Happiness at Work, “The happiest employees are 180% more energized than their less content colleagues, 155% happier with their jobs, 150% happier with life, 108% more engaged and 50% more motivated. Most staggeringly, they are 50% more productive too.” (Source: Forbes online.) Most of this probably seems redundant (happy workers are happier with their jobs? Who could’ve guessed?!), but the productivity thing is a major point. And working from home, for most of us, increases happiness with one’s job. It is a benefit, like good health care or a public transportation stipend. Employers should considering offering work-from-home days to employees who don’t need to be in the office every single day in order to do their jobs. It’s one of those things business people like to call a “win/win.”