Working from home has some major advantages. You don’t have to commute farther than your home office, kitchen, or living room, and you probably have a pretty loose dress code.
But for all the benefits of telecommuting, there are plenty of downsides. Below, three Motley Fool contributors each share a hidden risk of working from home that you should consider before you make the move. These aren’t attempts to scare you off — all three of these writers are quite happy with their working situations — but you can’t go in blind.
Avoiding distractions is surprisingly difficult
Jason Hall: Between the usual water cooler gossip, long staff meetings, and a litany of other things that you end up doing at the office, it might feel like you only get an hour’s worth of work done in the eight ours you’re on the clock. This leads a lot of people to mistakenly assume that they would face fewer distractions at home. It’s a mistake I made when I transitioned from an office job to writing for The Motley Fool.
I found that distractions at home can consume huge blocks of time before you realize it. You may try knocking out a few “quick” chores like laundry or dishes, only to look up and realize two hours have gone by. Or you might turn on Netflix while you eat lunch, end up binge-watching a half-season of The Walking Dead, and only realize you blew through the entire afternoon because it’s dark outside.
The lesson I’ve learned is that it’s important to set boundaries between “home” things and “work” things. For some people, this means doing some work and then taking care of home things during scheduled time before returning to work (I potted a hydrangea between writing two articles today, for instance). But for other folks, it might mean keeping the two things as separate as possible.
The big takeaway: Don’t assume that your home will be a distraction-free environment. The key is to develop habits and to schedule your time so that you can get your work done while still enjoying the benefits and freedom that working from home can offer.
It can be bad for your health
Selena Maranjian: The thought of working from home can hold great appeal, but it can be a double-edged sword. Take your health, for example. Working at home instead of in an office can be conducive to a healthy lifestyle: You may not catch the flu or other ailments from co-workers. You can make yourself healthy lunches at home instead of going out to local eateries with colleagues. You may have less stress, too, in a home environment.
But working from home can be bad for your health, too. For one thing, it allows you to be far more sedentary than you were before. When you’re working at the office, even if you were an avid non-exerciser, you probably still had to walk from your car (or public transportation) to your workplace. You probably still had to walk around the office, too — to your boss’s office, to a colleague’s desk, to another department, and so on.
It’s easy to rack up thousands of steps doing that, and those steps can be important to your health. Many experts recommend walking at least 10,000 steps per day to prevent certain health issues such as high blood pressure — and to keep some weight off, too. Indeed, sitting for 12.5 hours or more per day (without walking around for at least a minute every half hour) has been linked to higher risks for all kinds of diseases.
Other health-related problems you may face when working from home include neck strain from sitting in the same position too long and low spirits from not having enough human interaction during the day. You might also feel some stress from being out of the loop at the office — or, if you’re now working for yourself, from not having a steady paycheck to count on.
Daniel B. Kline: It sounds silly, but sometimes the hidden pitfall of working from home is that you’re in your house. I tend to mix up my day by working in various chain and local coffee shops for about half of my day. Sometimes, however, we may have a delivery scheduled or a home repair needed, and I can’t ask my wife to take the day off from her normal job because I don’t like being in the house for long periods.
Working from home and having a flexible schedule also means I’m on the hook when my son has a random day off from school. The same is true for illness, relatives needing to be picked up at the airport, and lots of other mundane things that come up.
I try to draw a defined line. If it’s parenting-related, then it’s worth shaking up my routine. If it’s something that would inconvenience my wife more than it would inconvenience me, then that’s a yes, too.
When it comes to other situations, I tend to say no. I’ll pick you up at the airport after my work day. I’ll take you to an emergency medical appointment, but not a routine one.
This type of thinking is not always popular. It’s easy for other people to mistake your flexibility for the ability to drop work at a moment’s notice. When that happens, you may need to have some tough conversations, and the person on the other end may not fully understand.