Most mornings I get up to the same ritual.
I head to the kitchen and start some water in the kettle for tea. Sometimes I'll have a bowl of cereal or a breakfast burrito if I'm feeling hungry. I check the news on my phone, then head to the bathroom and get dressed and freshened up. Then I head to work.
My commute is about fifteen seconds.
I work from home. It's one of the perks of working in software development, all my work can be done over the web. I like to tell people that if I had an internet connection, I could do my job from a sand bar in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
And make no mistake, it's definitely a perk. I can work for any company in the world. I can eat lunch in my own kitchen. If I'm having a rough day, I can go play with my cats or check the mail. My office is my office; I could paint it bright green if I wanted to (not that I would ever do something so tacky). If there's an emergency at work, I don't have to commute 45 minutes to an office in the city.
But sometimes I feel like it's not all it's cracked up to be.
Like most software companies, I have a short daily meeting where I let the rest of my team know what I'm up to: What I'm working on, what I did yesterday, what I'm doing today, and any issues I'm having. The whole ordeal last a grand total of maybe 15 minutes. This is the most normal period of my day.
Most of us have webcams. We'll talk and actually get to see each other. If some of us show up early we'll chat idly about what's going on in our lives, or maybe about some story that's in the news.
Once the meeting is over, though, that's it. You're alone.
Sure, you could shoot someone on the team an instant message. And at any time you could set up an impromptu video chat or the like. In reality the whole team is at your fingertips (literally, since it's mostly typing to communicate), but it feels like you're by yourself. The feeling that you could stand up, go over to your boss' office and ask him or her a question is emulated by telecommunication tools, but emulation can only do the trick for so long.
Eventually, isolation starts to creep in. It starts almost positively, in that feeling of solitude. It's nice, nobody's bothering you. You can put your head down and get things done. Nobody is coming to you with annoying questions or stupid stories. The ultimate private office.
But that doesn't last forever. You reach a point where the pros of the aloneness start to peak. It's been 6 months, and nobody has come to you with their stupid stories or an annoying question. Why won't anyone come to you with a question? Do they even know you're still there?
In the end, isolation gives way to loneliness.
In loneliness, you become vulnerable to depression – cabin fever comes to mind. You start looking for reasons to get out of your office. I need to go clean, I need to run to the store.
But you can't be gone too long, because you have work to do. The source of your stress and feelings of detachment keep calling you back, because you have responsibilities and code to write damn it. The office starts feeling less like an office, and more like a cell.
What makes matters worse is that the cell is your home. Literally.
If you're lucky like I am, your home office is separate from your living space. You can walk away, close the door, forget about it. Or try to, anyway. For me, the existence of a space where you can put your work away and close the door has become a non-negotiable requirement any time I look for a new place to live.
Even if you can close the door, though, you know it's always there. It's just a few steps away. You're going to wake up in the morning just a short walk from your work post.
If you work from home, you live at work. Anyone who has worked in an office knows the feeling of getting home from a long day and being in a space where you can unwind relax.
I've never known that feeling. My home and my work are intertwined, and no matter how hard I try to separate them... I honestly don't think it can be done.
The people who don't work from home don't understand this, though – And that can honestly be the most frustrating face of all. While you know that when you're at home, you're at work, to the outsider looking in: When you're at work, you're at home. The distinction is subtle, but important.
Working from home involves just that: Working. I have a full time job. I get to go play with my cats at lunch, sure, but my job is still just a stressful as yours'. Maybe even more so.
Can you run these errands real quick? You're at home.
No, I can't. I'm at work.
Why is the kitchen dirty? Didn't you have some time to clean at lunch?
No, I didn't. Because I'm at work.
You went and sat on the couch in the living room for a little while earlier? Wow, you're such a slacker.
No, I'm thinking about how to solve a problem. Because I'm at work.
Ultimately, working from home is a trade-off. It requires a huge mental fortitude to pull off without compromising your mental health.
Do I feel like I have that fortitude? I like to think I do. Do I feel like I'm pulling it off? I honestly don't know. There are days that are easier than others. There are days where loneliness gnaws at your soul, where your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend says something without thinking about the implication and makes you feel like you're a slacker or irresponsible for not doing chores during work hours because you've been home all day after all.
I certainly don't feel like the cons outweigh the pros. Working from home is a perk, after all. But I would advise anyone to think long and hard before you accept a full-time work-from-home position if you don't have any experience with it before – because it's not all sunshine and rainbows. It certainly take its toll.
But for now, I need to go to sleep. And when I wake up in the morning, I'll be at work.