The Downsides to Working From Home — And What You Can Do About Them
Over the past year or so, millions of people have been introduced to the wonders of Working From Home (WFH) for the first time.
They’ve learned to put “offices” together in their dining room and the intricacies of Zoom calls that take up full days. They’ve learned to dress for comfort, if not success (and that pants sometimes really are optional.) And they’ve found the joy (and frustration) in spending more time (waaaaay more time) with their families.
Now many of the former WFH rookies are seasoned experts and want to continue the WFH life because of its upsides. But just as there are upsides to WFH, there are also downsides that no one talks about.
1. The lack of daily kitchen surprises.
If you previously worked in an office, there was probably always someone bringing in treats. Not as a specific role, mind you. Nevertheless, goodies showed up in the break room/kitchen with alarming regularity. Surprises abounded: homemade chocolate chip cookies, birthday cake, leftover Easter/Halloween/Christmas candy. These were all gifts from what I like to call the Refrigerator Fairies.
You never knew when the Fairies were going to make an appearance. But it was a good bet they would show up fairly consistently. The element of surprise delighted both your stomach and your brain.
Sadly, for the most part, Refrigerator Fairies don’t make appearances when you WFH. No matter how many times you wander into the kitchen during the workday and check out the fridge’s contents, they remain the same. No cookies magically appear behind the jar of dill pickles. And bags of assorted Hershey miniatures never materialize on the kitchen counter.
There’s no unexpected 10 a.m. treat with your coffee, no birthday cake in the middle of an otherwise typical day, or 3 p.m. celebrations of a newly won client. This is absolutely true if you are the only one at home. (If there are others at home, there is the option for surprises, but it might not the surprises you are looking for.*)
You’ve cataloged the content of your refrigerator and shelves. You know the existence of anything that might be classified as a snack. But knowing is never as fun as the unexpected.
So what’s the big deal? It’s just-food. Right?
No, it’s more than that.
Your brain loves the new and novel. That’s the reason you keep scrolling through Social Media or constantly clicking on every new email. And it’s why you wander into the kitchen when your brain needs a little dopamine boost. While the standard issue Refrigerator Fairies never show up when you work from home, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on the occasional kitchen surprise.
That’s where the Surprise Snack Circle comes into play.
Then it’s up to these newly appointed quasi Refrigerator Fairies to surprise each other with snacks at least once during an agreed-upon time frame (think one or two weeks.) Make it easy by calling on the powers of food delivery services like GrubHub or UberEats to deliver the surprises for you.
While it will never take the place of wandering into the office break room and finding that the Refrigerator Fairies had delivered surprise baked treats, your brain will still be thrilled with the element of the new and novel when your surprise snack shows up. Repeat the Surprise Snack Circle as often as needed.
2. You get stuck in your own silo.
In the office, you never knew who you were going to run into and what you might talk about. Conversations could easily range from what you had for dinner last night to what movie you’re going to watch tonight to what new exercise classes you were trying at the gym.
The point is, you were exposed to other people’s thoughts and ideas. You weren’t existing in a silo all by yourself. Your co-workers’ outside influence, opinions, and views enabled you to expand your mind and ideas in ways that you most likely wouldn’t do on your own.
Just because you aren’t in the office together doesn’t mean you can’t be exposed to new thoughts and ideas.
Try climbing out of your silo by setting up a BYOF Zoom call.
A Bring Your Own Friend call means you will meet new people and get new ideas. Set up a call with at least three friends and/or co-workers. Each of these people must ask another person to join in on the call (preferably someone unknown to others in the group.)
Set a theme for the call. Maybe it’s “what we’ve been binge-watching this last month,” or “new restaurants,” or “my favorite vacation of all time and why.” During the conversation, the discussion stays centered on the theme of the call. Everybody gets new ideas and meets new people.
These don’t have to be long calls (haven’t we Zoomed enough already?) Just long enough to get some new ideas, meet some new people, and climb out of your silo for a while.
3. You never have to go to the gas station anymore.
By now, most everyone knows that WFH means a 30-second (or less) commute to the office. While most people would say this is a good thing, the truth is, it can be just the opposite. A lack of commute on either end of your day eliminates essential guardrails on your time.
A commute defines the day.
It tells you when your work life starts and when you return to home life. It gives you time to gear up for the day and wind down from the day. It gives you time to process what needs to happen during the day and make sense of what happened during the day. Sometimes it allows you to just think.
Without a commute, you can start or stop working anytime, but for many people, those beginning and ending lines blur to the point where work never really begins or ends.
So if WFH means you’re not commuting traditionally, then it’s time to add in a substitute commute and add some guardrails to your day. Pick one (or two) that gives your day definition without having to get behind the wheel.
• Put together a ritual that tells you your workday is starting. It could be putting on headphones so you can’t be interrupted by anyone in the house or simply turning on your computer. It could be taking a moment for some deep breathing and saying “Good morning” out loud to your desk. It could be simply sitting down with a cup of coffee in a mug you only use when you are working. Make the beginning of the workday a definite moment in time.
• Put together a ritual that tells you the day is done. You could take a walk around the block (or several blocks), allowing you to get some exercise, fresh air, and a new bit of scenery. Or you could take five minutes and write down three outcomes you want to achieve the next day, then put the list on your desk, so it’s the first thing you see when you begin to work the next day.
• Pick a task that tells you your workday is done. When my husband worked from home last winter, I always knew when his workday was over because he would vacuum the living room rug. (Hey, whatever works!)
• Start your workday by changing out of “home” clothes into “work” clothes. And yes, this might just mean putting on a different t-shirt. If it works, it works. At the end of the day, reverse the process.
• If you have trouble ending your workday, pick a quitting time and at that time, give your devices to someone in your household that you trust. Their job is to hide your devices from you so you can’t just “check email for a couple of minutes” after dinner. (They need to guarantee that all devices will be returned the next day.)
• Take the time you would be commuting (the average one-way commute in the U.S. is 26 minutes) and do something to improve your brain. (Get some ideas here.) Do this twice a day and your brain will thank you.
The point is, pick something that tells you when the workday begins and ends, just like a commute would do.
The downsides to WFH aren’t terrible. Once you know what they are, it’s easy to turn them into happy upsides.
* These would be the unfortunate kitchen surprises that occur if you live with others. Like the surprise of finding that the slice of pizza you were planning on eating for lunch mysteriously disappearing or someone taking the last brownie you were saving for an afternoon snack or food that gets gobbled up at an alarming rate (think teenagers in the house.) You never know what might or might not be available. This is a whole different type of kitchen surprise which we won’t be going into here. Just know that there are no fairies of any kind making an appearance in the unfortunate kitchen surprise scenario.