Working from home vs. working in an office
In my 13+ year career, I’ve worked in an office setting, from home, a mix of a both (and spent a fair amount of time in coffee shops). Here are the pros and cons of each.
When I started my first job after graduating college, I worked in an office in Salt Lake City. It was at Goldman Sachs and it was a very open office space: low cube walls, desk areas very close together and all glass windows and conference rooms. I loved it. I never worked from home unless it was after 7pm or on a weekend.
At my next job, at BB&T in North Carolina, it was the complete opposite. The cube areas for each person were huge, but they had tall dark wood and fabric paneled walls and the only natural light came from tinted windows when I went into my manager’s office. I felt isolated and like I was withering away in the dimness and no one would really notice if I never left my desk (or never arrived for that matter). Then, blessedly after 2 years, I got moved to a corner cube next to a window. Basically a promotion.
I eventually switched divisions at that company and moved into a different building across town. It was back to the Goldman Sachs-esque set-up with small, low cubes, windows and the ability to see and hear everyone. I loved it once again. And again, working from home was not an option unless I wasn’t feeling well and I worked from home rather than using a sick day.
Side note that’s a bit ironic – I’m an introvert. And yet, I thrived on the open area workspace.
My next job was at Wells Fargo and the set-up there was kind of a mix of the last two offices, but they also allowed us to work from home one day a week. Eventually that increased to a couple days a week and after moving cities, I ended up working from home almost exclusively.
Then, after six years at Wells Fargo, I left the Corporate world to work for myself. I worked from home for six months and then, after losing my dog, I got an office at a coworking space. I don’t go in every day and I’m never there from 8-5, but I do still like having it. Sort of. (More on that at the bottom of the post.)
So, now that you know where I came from and the range of experiences (i.e. always large offices with lots of people and never in a very small business), let’s dive into the pros and cons of working at an office vs. working from home. I also shared the pros and cons of working at a coffee shop, since I know a lot of people use that option.
Whether you find yourself working remotely because your job allows flexible work hours and/or locations or because you’re forced to with all this Coronavirus stuff, I hope this helps you figure out where you may struggle and some ways to overcome it. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine when you work full-time at home!
Working in an office vs working from home
A Buffer study with over 2400 people showed that 99% of respondents said they’d like to work remotely for at least part of their time for the rest of their career. That’s a BIG, noticeable statistics that employers can’t ignore. And the reasons why people like working remotely the most are flexible schedules and flexible locations. Of course, not every remote job will have a flexible schedule, (i.e. I still had to work essentially 8:30-6 when I was a remote employee) but I at least had more flexibility during my day to get other things done. (This helped a lot when I was working 80 hours a week and training for the Boston Marathon. Read about that here.)
You may be able to work remotely rather than use sick days or maybe your company offers working from home as a limited privilege. But I think most people would agree that it would be ideal to work from home sometimes and in an office at other times. And many people are lucky to have this option, like me. But for many remote workers, they don’t even have an office to go into; it’s not an option. And most companies won’t cover the cost of a coworking membership. And, of course, if you’re self-employed like me, you have to pay for that yourself!
Others will be forced to work from home whether it’s due to companies cutting costs and reducing office space, or because they have to quarantine with the coronavirus, which is looking more and more likely for many areas.
The type of work that you do will impact your experience as a remote employee but lets dive into some pros and cons of an office vs working from home. Working at an office vs. working from home. I lump working at a coworking space into the office category since my experience at a coworking space has been very similar to when I worked at a traditional office.
Benefits of working in an office
More productive meetings and more social interaction
In a traditional working environment, you see other people face to face, which can make your meetings much more efficient. You also just talk to people socially and that leads to…
Natural breaks in your day
You’ll go get coffee, lunch, walk to someone else’s cube, chit chat getting water, etc. It helps break up your day and prevents you from working nonstop.
With most offices, you’ll have easy access to a printer, notebooks, a water cooler, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Of course, available resources and amenities vary depending on your office, but these are pretty common in most large offices or coworking spaces in a larger city.
More natural work/life separation
It definitely helps create boundaries to physically leave work when you leave the office (even though most of us still check email at night and sometimes pull out our computers to work after dinner).
Disadvantages of working in an office
Coworkers stopping by, hearing others at their desk, being interrupted when you’re in a groove. There are lots of things to distract you in an office setting – some welcome, some not!
Less time efficient
If you have a commute, regardless of how long, you still have to factor in time to drive to and from the office, park, etc.
Benefits of working from home
When you work at home, you likely lose nearly all the pros of working in the office, but there are a lot of things you gain. Depending on your work, the pros may vary but here are some things I found. Essentially the break times that I had at the office filled with personal things I could knock out or enjoy.
I can fold laundry or wash dishes during conference calls — at least during ones that I was just listening to. This doesn’t work if I am leading the call obviously!
Productive and enjoyable breaks
While I have to be intentional about taking breaks, they’re certainly more productive and/or more enjoyable than when I am at the office. I can throw dinner in the crockpot or go for a mid-day run. I used to walk my dog 2-3x a day before she passed. Or, I can even take a nap. (Technically, I could have taken a nap at Goldman since they had nap rooms but uh, that never happened. That was more for people who worked like 16-20 hour days.)
I still got ready most days as if I was going into an office since I felt it made me more productive and made me feel better about myself, but it was nice that I didn’t have to. There were definitely days I stayed in leggings or logged onto my computer with still sweaty-hair from a long run when I was training for the Boston Marathon!
Unless you’re very lucky, you’ll have to pay for your own internet and supplies. But, of course, you likely would have internet regardless.
Disadvantages of working from home
For some, going into an office sets the tone for the day. You are there to work and it’s easier to focus because that’s what you’re there for. So when you start working from home, you can easily become derailed and not focus enough. Or, you can have too much access to your work and end up logging too many hours. It can quickly become a tricky balance.
Just like the office, there are home life distractions which can make it hard to stay on task. Maybe it’s other people if your spouse works from home, if you have a roommate or you have kids. Or, maybe it’s not people but things that are more appealing than work, like walking your dog, folding laundry, watching the news, reading a book, etc. Basically whatever you enjoy doing in your free time at home becomes much more accessible when working from home and it takes discipline to work when you’re working from home.
No physical separation from work
When I worked from home with Wells Fargo, I often found myself logging on very early to work (e.g. 6am) and then just leaving my computer on in the evening, which meant I ended up working off and on all night, while dinner was cooking, after dinner, right before bed, etc. This is part of the reason I like having an office at a coworking space – it’s easier to leave work at work vs. walking by my home office all night. Work life balance can be easier when you work from home. But, it can also be much worse if you’re not thoughtful about it.
No social interaction.
After I left Corporate America to work for myself, I could easily go the entire day without talking to ANYONE. I got out of the habit of making plans with others for lunch. Even running errands started to feel like a chore. Basically, I became too reclusive because leaving the house just felt like a lot of work. And even when I was still working at Wells Fargo, my only social interaction would be on phone calls or on instant messenger, which is very different from human, in-person interactions.
Because I was working from home, I felt like I had to prove just how productive I was, and wanted to appear like a harder worker than those who were in the office since I know some work-from-home employees got bad reputations for being slackers. I was very anxious about letting my instant message status read “inactive” or “away.” I was very conscious about what time I logged on and off, much more so than I would have been if I showed up to the office and left the office. All of that led to me working a LOT and never taking breaks! I still struggle with this working for myself, like I have to prove to myself that I deserve to be self-employed and that I’m not lazy!
Why I prefer to work at home
While I did end up getting a coworking space, I’m realizing that I actually prefer to primarily work from home. I initially got an office in a coworking space to get out of my house after losing my dog and to have more social interaction. But, after a few months there, I realize that for the type of work I do, it logistically makes more sense to be at home more often. And, with my personality, I just like to be at home and to have the flexibility to more easily shift tasks depending on what the day throws at me. Somedays I work a pretty normal schedule. Other days I’m doing personal stuff throughout the day at home. And I like to have that option rather than forcing myself into the office or running home throughout the day.
I also really like my home office, which is in a sunroom. I LOVE the natural light and being able to look outside. Going on mid-day walks happens more often when I work from home. And when I go into the office, I don’t have a window and I typically just go in and shut the door so I can focus!
I still go into my coworking office 3-4 days a week, but I’m never there for 8 hours. And I may eventually get rid of it, but for now, I like having the option to use it since it makes me feel a little more human to get out of the house! But, it is expensive and I have to factor that into my business expenses.
But, before you go all-in with working from home, think about what works best for your personality, your home life and the type of work you do. I don’t really struggle with productivity at home. If anything, it’s the opposite, where I have to force myself to take breaks!
Tips for working from home
Have a designated home office
This may be difficult if there isn’t naturally a spot in your home for this. In my last apartment, it was a large open loft. But, I rarely worked from the couch, and instead worked at my desk (favoring a desk over a dining room table!) to create a workspace. When I sat there, it was work mode. And I didn’t use that area much when I wasn’t working!
Mimic your office environment for productivity
I am more productive at my co-working space because my desk chair is more comfortable and I purchased two computer monitors. If I go back to working exclusively at home, I’ll definitely move those monitors into my home office and get a real desk chair so I don’t sit too low at my desk, which leads to wrist and shoulder issues. (I currently just borrow a chair from my dining room!) I always listen to music in my office so I do that at home as well.
If I don’t take breaks while working from home, I’m often fried and irritable by the end of the day. Of course, that can happen on any given workday, but my mood and productivity both declined steadily throughout the day if I didn’t take intentional breaks. Since you won’t have coworkers to help initiate these, you need to be intentional about them yourself! Taking breaks also helps me prevent snacking… having easy access to the pantry is honestly a big challenge for me. Case in point: I ate about half a bag of Starburst jelly beans today.
Try a coffee shop once in a while
Before I got a coworking space, I did find coffee shops to be incredibly productive. I was very focused while I was there since there was literally nothing else for me to do, unless I want to chat up the person next to me. But, I couldn’t always guarantee I’d have a spot to sit with a plug. And I couldn’t guarantee that the world’s loudest, most annoying barista wouldn’t get hired and ruin my ability to focus. (That actually happened at my old go-to coffee shop – such a shame).
What’s your experience of working from home vs. working in an office? Do you have a preference?
My office must-haves