Perhaps it’s the fact that I started off the day with some freshly baked blueberry lemon scones that I whipped up at 7 am or that I’m now sitting with my laptop and a fresh bowl of homemade frozen yogurt that I’m inspired to write this particular post. But either way, it’s becoming clearer to me weekly that working from home is the way to go. Naturally, as a psychologist in private practice this is not exactly a fully viable option as I’m certainly not planning on inviting clients to my home any time soon (or like ever). However, as a professional wearing numerous hats outside of my clinical practice, there are plenty of opportunities for setting up shop at home.
The truth is that as freeways in major cities become increasingly clogged up (Portland has finally succumbed), and technological advances are speeding ahead, the landscape of work has changed significantly over the decades. Add the fact that now more families need a dual income to survive and that daycare costs are skyrocketing, many women in particular are finding a balance between running after toddlers and logging in a few hours of work without leaving their front door.
While many are quick to say that working from home is filled with distractions, competing demands, a dinner that is quickly burning on the stove while baby is crying in the other room, the fate is not so grim. In particular for millennials who tow the line between digital immigrant and native, technology is second nature. Using Skype for a conference call is nothing out of the ordinary. Given a lifetime of multitasking, manning the homestead is requires no great stretch of the imagination. In fact, perhaps even more so for reformed Apple-product toting hipsters setting up shop with their fancy lattes in hand.
The truth is that the benefits of working from home can far outweigh the cons when you take into account some of the following factors:
1. Elimination of commute.
While this may seem like an obvious one, the truth is that it’s not just about time spent behind the wheel. In most large cities, traffic is aggressive and traffic is angry. Merging is a full-contact sport, tired cranky drivers flood freeways and let you in on every one of their frustrations through their swerving, erratic lane changes and basically nearly killing you on a daily basis. Or maybe that’s just Portland’s I-5. Either way, I, for one, arrive at the office feeling victorious just for making it in one piece and then immediately feel wiped out. The same thing happens when I’m returning home. The mental and emotional fatigue of this daily grind can be exhausting. By simply not leaving the house if you don’t have to, this chronic stressor is eliminated.
2. Healthier food and exercise options abound.
It’s amazing how much better one eats when decisions aren’t rash, made out of starvation and there is no office snack drawer filled with processed and sugary treats. When you spend a morning hard at work, you don’t really even need to abide by the staple meal times. You eat when you’re hungry, not out of boredom and can tune into actual hunger cues. I can’t tell you how many times when working from home I’ve been typing away like a fiend only to realize it’s 3pm and I haven’t had lunch. Even when the fridge isn’t full, I can usually hard-boil some fresh eggs, make a cup of tea and fresh toast and still feel satisfied (or maybe it’s just because I described breakfast, my favorite meal of the day).
Further, staying home can often mean you also get the best of exercise. Whether it’s hitting the gym during a lull, or simply making a run for the outdoors during those fleeting moments of sunshine at 2pm, being home all day will eventually make you stir crazy. And with all that energy you saved from not battling traffic, you’ll be even more invigorated for a powerwalk, run, or some weights. Many of my clients do exercise videos from home through following favorite YouTubers. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
3. Inactivity fatigue is decreased.
It was only recently that I finished reading Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge’s Younger Next Year For Women: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy—Until You're 80 and Beyond (because I need to be reading about my 80s right now, apparently). They made a fascinating point about individuals avoiding exercise after a long day of work due to fatigue. They argued convincingly that while we have the experience of physical fatigue, it is biologically not possible if we have been sitting all day long. What we are actually experiencing is psychological or mental fatigue and mistaking it for physical tiredness. In actuality, the body is craving movement!
How does this relate to working from home? I don’t know about you, but I move around quite a bit when working from home. I do some laundry, scrub a sink, send emails for a few hours, get up, look in the fridge, close the fridge door, sit and read, you get the idea. It’s riveting. The point is that when we are home we don’t have the strict confines of a cubicle or the nosy glances of colleagues who are wondering why we keep getting up. Fidgety-ness is actually quite normal when we’re expected to be in one position for a long period of time without breaks.
4. Mood is enhanced due to less rigid structure and environment.
Overall, it’s easy to see that given the right circumstances, mood can actually be greatly improved through staying home. Granted, this can also mean you are getting a little bit of help. Maybe you hire someone to help with cleaning the house while you are locked up in your home office. Or you have a babysitter play with the little ones while you take a conference call. If you are able to set appropriate boundaries at home that actually allow you to get some work done, you can also reap the benefits of a much more relaxed environment. Hair can be unwashed, and pajama pants can be left on all day long. This is no reason to get sloppy or go frumpy-chic. However, when you are typically heading into the office for work, letting yourself indulge on off days is completely ok. Light a candle, pull a blanket over you, make a hot cup of tea and pull your laptop in your lap, or your file folders or whatever it may be. The truth is working from home can be a lot more comfortable than any work environment would ever really allow.
Not to mention….nap-possibilities. We’ve all been there. We barely slept the night before and tossed and turned incessantly only to be panicking as the clock strikes closer to our wake time. We get anxious over the lost sleep and even more anxious at being functional, looking professional and so forth. Enter the beauty of hitting the snooze button (just once) or a midday nap. Studies consistently show how much sleep deprivation impacts productivity. By ensuring better sleep, we are also better workers. And sleeping during the work day is just one more benefit of working from home.
5. More gets done.
The overall impact of a better mood, more exercise, less stress is obvious—more quality work gets done. You are more relaxed, thinking clearly, well-fed and able to focus on the task at hand. Many times we are “working” but simply spinning our wheels. Nothing we are producing is actually of any quality. Or we suddenly get pulled into our bosses’ office and end up rattled all day. At home we may not be protected from nasty emails but truthfully even if we did end up tearful, no one would be the wiser for it.
And it’s not just about all the work that gets done professionally. When we talk to our therapy clients about time management, we discuss the critical nature of breaks and eventually switching tasks so we don’t burn out. So you shouldn’t be surprised if on days spent working from home you find yourself with dinner on the table, freshly washed clothes and your inbox empty.
Moral of the story: at your next evaluation meeting with your boss, bring up flex schedules and working from home. Or if you’re on the job market, don’t be afraid of wanting the flexibility of only going into the office a few days a week. Yes, boomers may call us lazy or wanting special privileges. But the days of stay at home spouses is also quickly diminishing and list of household and work items piles up by the day. I’d love to avoid the cliché, but it’s true—it’s about working smarter, not harder.