“Work from home” went from an option to an order for a large portion of the workforce recently. Others lost their jobs because they cannot be moved to a home based workspace, making “work form home” jobs seem like a much more stable option.
Working from home used to sound like a dream for some, like one step up from getting paid to sit around all day and do nothing.
Many who were ordered to work from home are now learning that the reality is very different. Those considering work from home work in the future may want to keep these differences in mind.
“Work from home” is not the same thing as “independent worker” or “freelance.”
All independent artists and other independent/freelance workers work from home, but all “from home” work is not independent or freelance. Getting a job with a company that allows you to telecommute makes you an employee of that company. They will take taxes out of your paycheck. You will be expected to report to a supervisor. You will still interact with colleagues through online meetings and email threads. You may or may not have set hours.
You are expected to do the same work, or an online approximation of that work, that you would do if you went in to work.
Many “work from home” job board ads feature photos of people in lawn chairs by the beach cradling laptops. The implication is that you do not truly have to do much in order to complete the work. Just play around on that laptop, enjoy the ocean view, and watch the money roll in. This could not be further from the truth.
Companies who employ at home workers expect them to perform as if they were located on company property. When I teach online classes, I hold office hours, grade papers, give lectures, and participate in classroom discussion with students, just as I would do if I were teaching in a physical classroom.
Working from home can be a great time saver.
Once the quarantine is over, the commute will still remain eliminated if you can truly work from your home. Some “work from home” employees wind up working out of coffeehouses or co-working spaces when they can, due to noise in their house or building, but if your home truly can double as a work space, you eliminate time spent traveling to and from work. You can do chores at home on your work breaks instead of rushing home and wasting your lunch hour to tend to that load of laundry or sink full of dishes.
Telecommuting can be done in your pajamas most of the time, although I do not recommend it.
The pictures of people lounging in beach wear and lounge wear on the work from home job boards got one thing right. Unless you need to communicate via web cam, you truly can wear anything you please to work. I find it difficult to concentrate when I’m not dressed for work, so I put on the same clothes I would wear if I were working offline, whether I will be on web cam or not. But if you can get your job done in a pair of stained sweat pants and the tee shirt you bought four vacations ago, you never have to get dressed for work again.
Friends, family, and others may not take your work seriously, or even remember that you have a job.
Friends will assume it’s okay to drop by as soon as the quarantine is over, because “you’re home.” Even during quarantine, they may think it’s okay to video call you or text you and insist you watch a movie “alone together” with them, or ask if you can walk them through using UberEats. Kids or roommates will ask you to do things for them when they see you sitting at your computer, as it appears to be the same as when you sit there and play Candy Crush or watch some YouTuber’s latest stunt or haul video.
Sometimes, people will even forget you have a job, or will behave as though what you do is not really work. After quarantine, you will constantly be reminding somebody that you can’t go to the museum with them on Wednesday afternoon, because that’s a work day, or that you need to get home from a lunch out within an hour and a half, because you have to log back in to work.
Telecommuting can be isolating and lonely.
When you work from home, you spend your entire work day completely alone, every day. . This can mess with your head, even when you think it won’t.
Even before the quarantine, I have gone up to seven straight days without seeing anything but my apartment and having no contact with anyone offline except my fiance. And the time span is only that short because I attend church every Sunday. Even if you thrive on working alone, seeing the same walls of the same rooms for extended periods of time can make you start to feel like you’re packed away in a box.
Treatment can be harsher when you’re a remote employee. Your job may not be as stable.
Large corporations are not exactly famous for their love of humanity in the first place, but at least when you’re in their building right in front of them every day, some of the higher ups may actually begin to care about you. Even the ones who could not possibly care less what impact their actions have on the lives of others will do what they can to avoid causing a scene that might impact company image. When you work from home, they rarely if ever have to look at you. This makes it much easier to do things like cut pay, cut hours, or eliminate your position on a whim.
I once worked as a teaching assistant for Ashford University online. My job lasted all of four months. One day, I logged into work and checked my email to find a form letter explaining that the online writing center would be closing down in two months and they were “sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.” And that was it. We were not offered so much as the opportunity to apply for other positions.
The opportunity to work from home is something I and many others are grateful for at this time, but it is not without its challenges.