By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
For the past twelve years I’ve worked from an office in my house. The benefits of working at home are many: no commute time or expense, no dress code, no need to pack a lunch or go out to eat (another money saver), and no coworkers dropping by to chat when you need to focus. Working at home enables me to accomplish much in a shorter time. I love it – mostly.
Working at home also presents some challenges: distractions abound, no one’s present to hold you accountable, food is readily available when a craving hits, and if you want to take a nap – you can. I’ve even heard of some skipping their shower and working in their pajamas (for the record, I never have). Another issue is that it’s impossible to leave work and go home, since you’re already home.
Successfully working at home requires self-control. You need discipline to work when you’re supposed to (and to not work when you’re not supposed to), to approach each day with the same degree of professionalism you would in an office environment, and to consistently say “no” to distractions. Of course, for me, I pay a price if my focus waivers: The work must still be done, and I’m the one who must do it. I think this is called “mandatory overtime.”
When our children were younger, I set a firm rule: Between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Daddy’s working, so don’t go into his office. At times, they would stand mute just outside my door, looking pathetic. So I amended my decree: Between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., don’t let Daddy see you. That didn’t work either. “I know you’re out there; I can hear you breathing.” Eventually we arrived at a workable arrangement, but they did watch the clock. Often they’d scamper downstairs and bound into my office at exactly 5:00 p.m. Their mother, however, claimed immunity to my expectations; we never did resolve that.
After awhile I made one adjustment: I began taking an afternoon break to coincide with our kids’ homecoming from school. They’d share their day with me, often with excitement, sometimes in despair. Eight hours of highlights spewed forth in a matter of seconds. Then they’d finish and head off to do their own thing – and I’d return to work. By the time their mother came home, the school day’s headlines were long forgotten. They’d say hello but say little more. She’d ask how their day was or what had happened, and they’d just shrug.
For the first decade I worked in the basement; my office had no windows. Many a time, I’d break for lunch or dinner, surprised at how the weather had changed. Now my office resides in a vacated bedroom, complete with a view. This vista sometimes provides a distraction. Once I watched four bunnies frolicking in my backyard – and then took time to write a blog post celebrating their exuberance. Another time, while on the phone, my caller asked if she heard birds in the background. My window was open – who would have guessed? I had tuned out their happy songs, but my headset’s microphone could not.
While some can work at home, others should not. Considerations abound: the worker’s motivation and degree of self-discipline, the home office environment, the presence of family, and the technological infrastructure.
Today, I’m not in my home office. We lost power a few hours ago, and I sought an alternate location to work. (Though this happens infrequently, it’s the second time in two days.) Thanks to my laptop and a place with power, this column will be completed on time, though other jobs will languish. It looks like I’ll be working late tonight or into the weekend. These things happen when you work at home – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.