Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The reality of le travail à distance

A friend of mine recently posted a link to an article on Facebook.  The title "14 Shameful Eating Habits of People Who Work From Home" caught my attention so I clicked on the link.  Really, I was just curious to see if I, too, had developed any of these shameful eating habits now that I work from home.  It turns out I haven't.  Thankfully!

But it did get me thinking.  A lot of people have preconceived ideas of what it is like to work at home and how those who travailler à distance must proceed with their days.  I've often heard speculation that people who work at home have it easy, don't have to work as hard, can get away with doing nothing all day, get chores done around the house, work in their pajamas, etc.  But the reality is quite different.

Sure, I have been known to work in my pajamas.  Especially back in December when I was sick for three weeks.  And sure, sometimes I'm really tired and I roll out of bed at 8:59 and dash straight to my office to switch on my computer for 9:00.  And of course I love being able to work in jeans rather than business casual, with my hair in a pony tail and no makeup.  It's definitely a nice change from spending an hour each morning choosing an outfit, straightening and styling my hair and applying makeup.  However, in reality, working from home is not glamorous, it's not for everyone and it isn't the wonderful, easy, laid-back job that some people imagine.

I clearly don't fit the stereotype of the slob working from home expressed in the article.  This doesn't change the fact that I do work from home and I have some opinions about the entire experience.

What I like about working from home:
  1. The commute.  Having your office right next to your bedroom is quite convenient and a great money saver.  I definitely don't miss being pushed and shoved on the metro in Paris or fighting my way through 50 miles of rush hour traffic in Cincinnati to get to work in the morning.
  2. Not having someone watching my every move and looking over my shoulder all the time.
  3. The peace.  Working from home is much more quiet and peaceful than working in an open space surrounded by ringing phones, clicking keyboards and chatty colleagues.  It also makes it much easier to concentrate on the task at hand and get things done more efficiently.
  4. Freedom from the office politics, gossips and busybodies.
  5. Never having to listen to inappropriate conversations taking place around me while I just try to keep my calm, keep my mouth shut and disappear into my cubicle before someone realizes that I am clearly the office freak who doesn't agree with whatever overly political or overly religious subject was brought up that day.
  6. The dress code.  I love being able to wear whatever I want whenever I want and not having to adhere to a dress code.  Pajamas, sure.  Jeans and a hoodie, why not?  Flip flops and a summer dress, sounds good to me!  No more carefully coordinating outfits, black slacks, perfect accessories.  And casual Friday...what is that?  Every day is casual for me!
  7. Not having to worry if I leave a mess behind at the end of the day.  I don't need to straighten up my desk and put away and lock up all my files before "clocking out".  If I haven't finished with something I can just leave it sitting there.  No big deal.
  8. Never having to worry about forgetting my lunch or my coffee or my phone.  It's all right there.
  9. Having more choices and variety in what I eat for lunch.  I am no longer just working with a fridge and microwave.  I have my entire kitchen available for food preparation.  I can make and eat whatever I want. 
What I don't like about working from home:
  1. As much as I just pretty much complained about having coworkers above, at the same time I miss having coworkers around.  Someone to talk to, share news with, distract me for a minute or two.  Now I only speak to my coworkers when I need to for my job and it's mostly work related.  Working from home can be quite the lonely experience.
  2. Never having a reason to get dressed, worry about my appearance and put on a cute pair of heels.  As much as I love not having to dress in a conservative business casual every day, it is a shame that there is never anyone around to see the cute outfit I recently bought or my new hairstyle.
  3. Never getting out of the house.  Sometimes I feel like a prisoner trapped in these four walls!  I need to get out of the house (which because of the still unfinished renovations is quite the stressful place for me), see people, experience things happening around me.  And more than just another cat fight or the view of cars whizzing by on the rocade.
  4. Being forgotten about or kept out of the loop.  It doesn't happen too often, but it does from time to time.  I recently found out one of my coworkers on the island had quit her job...two months ago.  That certainly explains why she wasn't responding to any of my emails!
  5. Not having an IT guy on site to deal with my computer issues.  And I have a lot of them (my last post is a great example)!  If I have an issue in the morning, thanks to the time difference I have to wait until after lunch to be able to get any sort of IT assistance.  It can be quite frustrating and unfortunately my old standby of just restarting my computer doesn't fix every issue.
  6. The loneliness.  Sometimes I can go multiple days without speaking to another soul except Lionel.  While I can sometimes be shy or socially awkward, I am definitely not an introvert and I like to talk.  I find working at home, alone, to be the most difficult aspect of le travail à distance.
  7. Hearing my work phone ringing in the evening.  The sound of my work phone is just irritating now.  I hate knowing how many people I am going to have to call the next day before I even go to bed.
  8. The isolation.  Because I don't interact with anyone in the Bordeaux area I never hear about interesting events, shows or expos that are going on in the city.  I don't know what news there is from the day, if anything exciting happened.  I don't see ads on the metro or along the road.  I often feel like I don't know about anything.  I don't feel like a part of this city or this community.
  9. The feeling that if I don't respond to an email, chat or phone call from the office immediately they are going to think that I am not really working.  I know this isn't true and that they would certainly understand that sometimes I'm busy with something else or on the phone with a client.  But I can't help feeling an extra pressure to treat everything with additional urgency.
So there you go, an honest and realistic view of what it is like to work from home.  I don't spend the day getting chores done, watching TV, being a slob and relaxing.  I still have a job to do and recently my days have been overwhelmingly occupied and stressful.  While there are definitely some benefits, there are also some drawbacks.  I definitely think working from home is not for everyone, and sometimes I wonder if it is really for me.  For the moment I seem to have adapted pretty well, but I'm not sure this is something I could do forever.


  1. I've been working at home now for almost 8 years. It was really difficult for me in the countryside for the reasons you mentioned - being out of the loop, the isolation, loneliness, feeling like you could go days without talking to anyone but your partner. Another downside for me is the long hours - my customers can call me as earlier as 4am, and my company works until midnight French time, so there can be some pretty long days in there.

    But overall, after all of this time, I think I would have a hard time going back to working in a 9-5 office. I enjoy it for two weeks at a time when I am back at the HQ, but I am always happy to get back to chez moi. I like working in my PJs or yoga clothes, I like the flexibility of being able to run errands whenever I feel like it and being able to work out at lunch without having to worry about getting back to the office asap. Living in Paris also took away the isolation feeling. And I'm also a lot more productive because there are less distractions.

    You're right though in saying that it's not for everyone - working from home means you need to be very disciplined about actually working, because there are plenty of people out there who *would* spend their days watching TV or surfing the internet!

    1. I think I would have a difficult time going back to a 9-5 after 8 years of working from home as well. I can definitely see the pros and cons of each and I definitely think it depends on the person. Some people may work better from home while others need the structure and routine of going into the office every day. I'm still not sure which one I prefer.

  2. My work from home experience was very different. I did it both some for a regular job and have done freelance work. I mostly surfed the web and took naps :) Then felt guilty and had to rush and work extra hours to make up the work I didn't do earlier. I learned I need a manager/supervisor/adult to keep on my, organize my work, and make sure I get things done on time. Also being very extroverted not being with people really gets on my nerves quickly.

    1. I am not overly extroverted, but I'm not an introvert by any means and so never having real, face to face contact with other people is definitely the biggest challenge for me. I don't struggle with motivation, organization, time management or due dates. The loneliness is my biggest issue.

  3. I work at home as well, on a freelance basis- about 4 hours/day. What I sometimes have a hard time with is stopping when time is up. I have to remind myself that it is a part time thing and not full time so there is no reason to work full time!

    I agree it is for people that are disciplined, motivated and I also think people that can handle being alone. Even though I see people, it can be lonely. Also- just because you are at home, it does not mean I have time to clean the house etc. I can be 100% home maker and 100% work at home employee, the math does not add up!

    1. Lol...I have no problem with stopping when time is up! From time to time I go over a little bit...10-30 mins on busy days when I have to finish wrapping things up, send out a last email or when the phone rings at the last minute, and it irritates me more than anything. When 6pm rolls around I am ready to call it a day, turn off my phone and computer and just relax!

      I also agree with you on the doing chores issue. People seem to think that because I work form home I can get all the cleaning done during the day. It doesn't work that way! When I'm working I'm working. I have things to get done, I have to be available for the customers and for my coworkers in the US. Sure, I can throw a load of laundry in during my lunch break but I can't spend the day cooking and cleaning!

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