10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years of Working From Home

Ten years ago I took a voluntary layoff from my job, packed up, and moved to a new city. It was the right choice for a lot of reasons. What I didn't expect was that I would end up working from home. Ten years ago it really wasn't all that common. 

I have worked from home for a decade now. Eight of those years I have been employed full-time but there's never been a time where I haven't been doing at least some part-time work at home. 

I've been employed by large companies and small ones. I've been self-employed. It's been wonderful but there was a learning curve. Sometimes things took me far longer than they should have to learn. 


Get out of the house.  I love my house and I love that I don't have to schlep into an office. As a work at home person without kids, I can spend an entire work week inside my house. Easily. But it's important to get out of the house, even if it's just a walk around the block. I suck at this during the winter (cold! snow! all the excuses to stay inside!) but when I do go outside I remember why it's important. 

Move your butt. When I was a single woman, living alone in a city without a car, I had no choice but to get moving. I lived in walkable neighbourhoods. I did my grocery shopping and library pick-ups by foot. I didn't really have another option. I suppose I could have take the bus but most days by the time I waited for the bus I could have been home already. 

Now I am married and live in a less walkable suburb in a single vehicle household. I need to schedule movement into my day. I do a lap around the house every hour or so. During the spring, summer, and fall I am good at getting outside for a walk or a run. Winter is harder. I really need to push myself to schedule exercise during cold weather. 

Have a backup plan for everything. What will you do if the internet goes out? The power? What if your your computer dies? You need to have your contingency plan in place.

One week after I started my first work-from-home job the internet died in our apartment. It required a technician to fix it but guess what? The technicians were on strike. I really needed my job and I was terrified I was going to get fired. I took work calls from payphones in a mall. (Long distance cell phone plans and daytime minutes were expensive back then.) I did training from friend's offices, libraries, and even at a Starbucks. It took three weeks for our internet to be repaired. Three very stressful long weeks. 

Schedule computer backups regularly and actually do them. When my work computer died and I had to send it back to the company HQ to get fixed, I was lucky I had a backup of everything. They had to completely wipe my computer in order to fix it. A year into being self-employed my Mac hard drive failed. My backup wasn't as recent as it should have been but it was only a couple of weeks old. Back stuff up! 

Know what coffee shops offer wifi. Know what friends will let you work from their house and run up their long distance bill if your connection dies. (I've done this, my friends are awesome). Does your community have a shared office space you can rent? These are all things you need to know. Have a plan. 

Have a dedicated workspace that's not your bedroom. When I first started working at home I shared an apartment with two other women. My bedroom was where I worked. It sucked. It sucked A LOT. Then I moved out on my own and it got much, much better because my bedroom was never my office again. My workspace has not always been a separate room, but I've at least been able to put my back to it and forget it. 

Make your workspace someplace you want to work. I'm not necessarily talking pretty here, though that's nice if you can do it. Things like have a proper desk and desk chair make a big difference. Make sure your desk chair is comfortable. I have worked exclusively on laptops for years and it was just in the last couple of years I finally bought myself an external monitor. It makes working on spreadsheets much, much easier on the eyes.

But sometimes the things that make your workspace someplace you don't want to work have nothing to do with work. Even with the monitor and comfortable desk chair, I didn't really love working in my home office, especially in the winter. It was cold. This winter I finally bought some insulating drapes for the big window and my husband bought me a space heater. My hands no longer get super cold while I'm trying to type and it made a huge difference. I like being in my office now. 

Get dressed. Sometimes. I know people who believe they should get up, shower, and get dressed as if they are working from an office. Good for them. I don't work like that. 

When I get up in the morning I stumble to the kitchen to pour coffee. Then I grab my computer and stumble to the couch to work the first hour or so of the work day in front the television watching the news. It's only after that I give any thought to getting dressed. And you know what? Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I spend the whole day in my pjs. I consider it one of the perks of working from home. 

Most days I do get dressed, even if it doesn't happen until noon. Sometimes I wear real clothes. Sometimes I wear workout clothes, figuring if I put them on I'm more likely to actually take a break to exercise. (This does not work as often as you think it would, but I am more likely to exercise than if I put on jeans.) 

Be protective of your down time. Once upon a time, in another internet lifetime, I knew someone who was obsessed with the idea of working from home. She thought it had to be the best thing ever and was totally jealous that I got to do it. She only saw the positives and none of the negatives. 

It is pretty awesome but if you are not careful it can throw your work/life balance really far out of whack. At my first work from home job people thought it was completely acceptable to call me at all times of the day, right up to 11pm. Once it starts it is really hard to break out of it. My breaking point was the 7am call I received the first day of a much needed vacation. I had worked 36 straight hours before logging off in order to make it happen. I let the call go to voicemail and didn't check it until after my vacation. What did my colleague want? Just to check in and make sure I had sent them everything they needed, something they would have discovered if they had bothered to read their email before picking up the phone. (I left that job shortly thereafter.)  

I didn't stumble into a good work/life balance immediately. It took a long time, a new job, and a great group of coworkers for me to find it. I am still protective of my downtime and I try to be equally protective of my coworker's downtime. (Something they occasionally make hard by checking in when they are supposed to be on vacation. You know who you are.) 

Invest in things that make your life easier. Look, I like free software as much as the next person. Google Drive? Use it all the time. I also happen to love spreadsheets but despite that it took me years to break down and buy a copy Microsoft Office of Mac so I could have Excel. I missed it but told myself I didn't need it because I had other options. You know what? I love Excel. It was worth every penny. 

The same thing has applied to Photoshop Elements. And upgrading to the paid options on PicMonkey. And buying the WordSwag app for my phone. The space heater in my office? I'm kicking myself for not buying it years ago.

You know what else makes my life easier working from home? My crockpot. I can take a break after my first hour or so of work, throw dinner in it, and then head back up to work for the rest of the day knowing dinner is mostly done. 

None of these things cost all that much and I use them all the time. They make my life easier. They make my work less stressful. 

There will always be people who think you don't work. This is a hard one for me. I've encountered a lot of people who seem to think people who work at home watch television and goof off on Facebook all day.

I'm not going to pretend that I don't watch television part of the day. As I said above I spend at least the first hour of my work day working in front the television watching the news. My job requires me to know what's going on in the world and watching the news is part of how I do that. 

If I'm doing very manual work that doesn't require a lot of thought-processing, such as data entry or file management, I might pull up something on Netflix to "watch" on my iPad. I'm not really watching, I'm listening and it's just enough of a narrative to keep my brain occupied so the time goes by faster. When I worked in an office I used podcasts and audiobooks for that function. 

And yep, I am on Facebook a lot during the day. And Twitter. And Instagram. And news sites. And I read blogs. They are all part of my job. That is often really hard for people who work in more conventional offices to understand. 

People who think you can't work at home without goofing off can mess with my brain. I know my coworkers know I work and that I'm good at my job. But there are days when the jerkface voices invade my head and cause me to doubt, even though my coworkers all work from home too. If I'm deep in pulling data for a report and don't notice an IM or an email, do my coworkers think I'm goofing off? No, they don't. They know I work. I hate that after ten years I still sometimes ask myself if they really know. 

Enjoy it. I've been working from home far longer than I ever thought I would. I was surprised when I hit the five year mark and I'm amazed that it's hitting ten years. I doubt that I'll end up working from home for the rest of my working life (though I honestly wouldn't mind it). 

I enjoy having a full-stocked kitchen (assuming I've gone grocery shopping). I enjoy having a private bathroom. I enjoy how in the summer I can work from my deck for part of the day. I enjoy having my cat in my office, even if she does try to climb on the desk while I'm working. 

I know it might not last, so I'm going to keep enjoying it for as long as I can.