10 years in: this is what I know about working from home
This fall marks 10 years since I started my first freelance job, where I was paid to interview people, research things, and write stories from my POS PC computer (I had a clunker desktop!). Since then, I’ve worked remotely (not in a traditional office) in one way or another for the past 10 years.
Nostalgia aside, it really helps to look back 10 years to understand how you ended up where you are now. I started my first freelance writing job with zero professional writing experience. Reading the old stuff is embarrassing, but I was such a keener that I studied all the editor’s corrections on my stories and worked hard to improve. There’s nothing as good as learning on the job (and the internet!).
I was hooked from month one. Nothing is quite as satisfying as being curled up with your own thoughts, facts, and anecdotes, wrangling it all into a coherent story and then sitting back in wonder after it’s all come together. I still feel like this when I do a final edit, like “holy shit, where did that come from?”
In the past 10 years I have worked remotely in all kinds of different ways: freelance journalism, freelance corporate writing, relished work-from-home days in my non-profit and corporate communications jobs, running a small copywriting and digital marketing business from home, and a full-time remote gig. These days I spend 7-8 hours a day (sometimes way more) on my laptop with a cat on my lap, green tea in my hand, and either complete beautiful quiet…or with my favourite playlist of the day, volume-up (or down, I get to choose the volume!). Working this way has changed how I feel about work and *fingers crossed* I hope I’ll never have to go back to cubicle life.
Working remotely isn’t for everyone, but if you find the thought of going to the same office with the same people every day, dealing with the same crappy heating-and-cooling system, bad coffee, and worse commute has you looking at what it would be like to work from home, here is what I know:
1. YOU HAVE TO ENJOY BEING ALONE
If you’re going to get actual work done, you’ll have to spend a lot of time alone if you work remotely. Sure, there are co-working spaces you can join and coffee shops you can go to, but even then you’ll be alone working on your project. Your team, if you have one, will not be an office away.
There’s a huge upside to this. You’re more productive and you’ll probably turn in better work. Chinese Travel company Ctrip did an experiment where they let half their workforce work from home for nine months. Not only did the remote workers report better overall job satisfaction, they quit less and produced more!
The biggest complaint I have about working in a busy, shared office space is that it’s hard to get good work done because of the constant stream of distractions, from curious/bored coworkers stopping in to say hi to meetings that always seem way longer than they need to be. Every distraction requires a recovery period before you can get right back into the thing you were working on, and by then you’ve lost your train of thought. Now, I can sit and work on a project for two-to-three hours at a time distraction-free (unless the mailman stops by to drop off a package).
If you thrive in busy, social workplaces then working from home might be tough. You have to enjoy being alone, at least for a few hours at a time.
2. YOU HAVE TO BECOME A MASTER OF YOUR OWN SCHEDULE
One of the perks of working remotely is that you get to work flexible hours. Some companies require office hours—time you commit to being available—but otherwise your schedule is up to you. Be careful though. It’s easy to say, I’m going to run an errand and come back two hours instead of twenty minutes later. Then, to make up lost time and meet your deadlines, you have stay up until 1 a.m. working.
One of the things people ask me most often is how I manage my day. Here’s what my typical day looks like:
- 6am: wake-up, coffee, reading
- 7am: start work, see what the top priorities for the day are and get those done as soon as possible.
- 8:30-9am: morning break. Sometimes I go for a run, do an errand. Sometimes I’ll just make a smoothie and clean my kitchen.
- 9am-noon: prime project time. 9am-noon is when I’m most productive so I use this time to do writing and research or creative work.
- noon: lunch time! one of the best things about working from home is you can make fresh meals every day. No more sad salads!
- 1-4pm: finish up projects, answer all my emails, do admin-type work. In the afternoon I also take mini 5-10 minute breaks to wake myself up with a good stretch, some quick cardio or a living room dance party.
- 4pm-on: my work day is done. I’ll usually head out for a bike ride or a walk, run an errand or have a bath. Something that helps me transition out of work mode.
Your day still needs structure, but allow for breaks, especially if you’re sitting at a desk. And get lots of exercise and water!
I often work on my own stuff in the evenings, but my workday doesn’t look a whole lot different than a typical day at the office. Sometimes I’ll take extra time for a lunch meeting with friends and on every other Friday, I meet with someone at a local coffee shop for a brainstorming session. Some weeks, I work a couple long days so I can take most of my Friday off. I start early so I can finish early. The flexibility to shift hours around to accommodate other things in your life is what I love. In turn, it makes me a much happier, healthier worker.
3. YOU HAVE TO GET GOOD AT SETTING BOUNDARIES
Discipline is key to working from home. When I starting working from home full-time, friends would often call me up during the day to do something. I became the person who, in their mind, was always available. And I loved being available at first, but quickly noticed how easy it was to get nothing done all day because I was busy not working. And that was my fault for not setting boundaries in the first place.
Now, I turn off my phone’s ringer and notifications during the work day, I say no to invitations that would impede on my productive time, and I set a time limit on daytime meetups that I do go to.
These are the three main things I’ve learned in the past 10 years of remote working, but I’ll be sharing a lot more, including how I found remote/freelance work and how to transition to life outside of a regular 9-5, in a new guide coming out late this fall! I’m digging into years of diary entries, researching remote work trends and opportunities and more to help you figure out if remote work is right for you and to share some real stories about what it’s like.