In my work lifetime, I’ve had what you’d call “dream jobs” at cool companies.
I was an ad copywriter at SPY Magazine and New York Magazine, and a promo writer at the Viacom networks Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, and TV Land.
The television offices, where I worked as a freelancer or “permalancer” for fifteen years, were decorated in funky, retro-modern furniture. The hours, 10-6, were relaxed relative to “normal” corporate schedules.
The people were, as a group, my kind of people. The cafeteria had frozen yogurt. Writers’ meetings were hilarious. I had a beanbag by my desk.
But given all that, I wouldn’t go back for anything.
I love working for myself, from home, and never setting foot in an office building.
If you’re thinking about giving up office life, here’s everything you probably won’t miss — and how to manage working from home.
The air conditioning
I don’t miss keeping an “office cardigan” draped over my chair.
I don’t miss clutching a mug of coffee all day and having to refresh it periodically to warm my purple hands.
I don’t miss stepping outside into the summer heat for relief and taking a full block’s walk to thaw out.
The temperatures in offices are set by men, for men. I don’t understand the biology, since women have the unfair (or lucky, depending on your body-positivity level) extra layer of fat. But there’s no disputing that men love an arctic work climate.
Now I control my own damn air conditioner. While I still have to contend with my husband cranking up the AC the minute he steps into the apartment — cue our “It’s roasting in here”/ “It’s not hot, you’re hot, the temperature is perfect” ritual — I have full temperature control during the day. I can drink cold beverages without my teeth chattering. I can work in shorts.
Meetings about meetings
This is a function of working for myself as much as it is one of working from home: no meetings where we spend an hour talking about “next steps,” and the next steps are more meetings.
Now, if someone wants me to “hop on a group call,” or “come in for a debriefing,” they pay me for it.
Being hungry and snacking on garbage all afternoon
Something about working on someone else’s terms always made my stomach growl constantly. I used to do laps around the entire office floor, looking for leftover bagels and fruit from catered meetings or cake from office birthdays, and — in desperate times — jamming a finger up the M&M dispenser to dislodge a loose one. (It’s not that I couldn’t pay 25 cents for a legit handful, but that felt like too much of a commitment. Candy that you pay for feels extra unhealthy.)
Pretending to work when I’m not
Don’t get me wrong. I spend plenty of hours pretending to myself that I’m being productive when I’m scrolling through Instagram. But in an office, where I was paid to be physically present, I did copious amounts of pretending-to-work.
Today, if I’m not doing work, I have the freedom to be overtly “not working.” I can go for a walk. I can lie down and binge-watch old episodes of The Hills. I can kick off for the day without raising an eyebrow or hearing from that guy in PR, “Someone’s keeping banker’s hours!”
Having a boss
I’ve had bosses I loved, bosses I loathed, and one or two in between.
What I don’t miss about all of them is the uncertainty of asking, “Does this person like me and the work I did this week?” I don’t miss trying to win someone’s approval. I don’t miss trying to be thick-skinned about their disapproval. I don’t miss “drive-bys” past a boss’ office to see if she’s still on the phone, in a meeting, or talking to that person who somehow snuck in while I was waiting.
Starting work in the morning
Now that it’s up to me, I don’t put any client meetings or work conversations on my calendar until after 12pm. A night owl and devoted 8-hour sleeper, I need to wake up when I wake up. I need time and space to go for a walk, hit the farmer’s market, buy my watermelon chunks and iced coffee, come home and read the paper, journal, and — if I feel like it — do some creative work. That takes several hours.
My freewheeling schedule didn’t get the best reception at a day job. As a permalancer and, later, independent contractor, I arrived at the office later than anyone. Often, not till noon. (No one told me that was OK, but I suppose I invented that liberty for myself, because I was paid a weekly rate and not a yearly salary with benefits. There was no contract telling me what time to arrive or leave.) One boss told me my hours were “technically allowed, but bad for office morale.”
Now that the office is just me, my office morale is dandy.
Some meetings did require me to come in at the start of the day, which forced me to get on the subway with the rest of the world. Translation: Hell.
To add to that, no matter what time you come and go from an office located in Times Square, you’re going to encounter a wall of humans. It’s always rush hour in Times Square, except that no one’s rushing. They’re gawking.
Sitting in one place
I can’t stand working in one place all day. At home, I move from my desk to the dining room table to the couch. (I have my own power pose for work. I call it “Sofa Woman.”)
In an office, I had a desk with a desktop computer. That’s where I sat.
Granted, it’s been nearly 10 years since I started my own business and gave up office life. In that time, most offices have probably replaced desktops with laptops and made the environment more amenable to floating around. Second to ping pong tables, communal seating areas are a company’s number one way to signify “healthy corporate culture.”
Having to say ‘yes’ to every project
Working in an office, you don’t get to say “Sorry, I’m fully booked” or “You know, that project doesn’t light me up” when someone hands you an assignment.
When you work for yourself, you do. You can even choose not to respond, though that’s not very polite.
Going through the security gauntlet
I don’t miss “swiping in” with a security ID in the morning, or having to carry the card around like I’m a Hobbit and it’s my precious ring. What I miss even less: The days I forgot my card and had to line up (behind all the visitors) to have security call someone who could vouch for me.
Saying hello by the bathroom or the printer or the coffee machine or the bathroom again
An excerpt from every time I passed a coworker whose desk was unfortunately placed by both the printer and the bathroom: “Hey Andy, how’s it going?”
“Great, you? Wait, I asked that.”
I’m sure it was even worse for Andy.
Corporate restroom lighting was created to erode your self-esteem.
It wasn’t until I worked at home that I learned to say, with confidence, “I am not permanently baggy-eyed and slightly green.”
Viacom wasn’t exactly Conde Nast, but I still wanted to look cute. Cumulatively, I spent countless hours of my life throwing rejected outfits on the closet floor, rushing to find a combination that didn’t look terrible.
Now, I’m fine looking terrible. Sweats, t-shirt, and — on special occasions — a bra. That’s my “office chic.”
Expressions like “run it up the flagpole” are why I have my own business.
Dealing with OPH (other people’s habits)
At home, I might have to put up with drilling sounds from the renovations in apartment 4H. But never do I have to put up with someone’s military-strength perfume, horrifying mouth-smacking noises as they take down a Greek yogurt, or insufferable phone habits.
Who are we kidding? I totally miss office gossip. But I don’t miss worrying that it would come back to bite me. Nothing’s more terrifying than hearing a toilet flush and realizing someone else was in the bathroom besides you and your gossiping work friends. (Always look under the stall doors!)
All that said, working from home has its challenges.
It can be lonely and unstructured. You have to be your own boss. It’s way too easy to blow off the whole day.
Here are my best tips for staying productive when you don’t have to leave the house to work.
Actually get out of the house.
Working out or taking a walk before starting the day is mandatory.
Segueing right from bed to desk makes me feel like there’s no division between home life and work life. I need a trigger to signal to my brain, “I’m at work now.”
Have a “do not disturb” sign (or signifier).
If your spouse, partner, roommate, or kids are around when you’re working, you may need a visual cue that you’re at work. Otherwise, it’s open season on your attention. (“What’s for lunch?” “Look at this text thread! It’s super quick.” “Hey, can you help me tape up this box to go back to Amazon?”)
Noise-canceling headphones work nicely both to shut out other people’s talking, but also to communicate, “I’m not actually here.”
And, if you have one available, so does a shut door.
Make work friends.
People who understand the work you do, who want to geek out about business and (shhh!) gossip about people in your industry make life so much better.
Even if you don’t have them in the next cubicle, you can have them on speed dial or FaceTime. You can have Zoom or Skype dates.
Need to make some connections first? You can find work friends online through Facebook or Linkedin groups, at in-person events like meet-ups and conferences (often worth the flight and hotel), or — in some industries — in business masterminds, online courses, and group coaching programs.
Improve your writing skills.
When people aren’t face-to-face with you, your written communication becomes even more important. If you send sloppy or stiff emails to people who don’t know you in person, they won’t understand that you’re normally a fastidious or warm, fun person.
Your writing stands in for you, so make sure it represents you and what you want to say — both in tone and meaning.
Have non-work non-negotiables.
It’s easy to let work seep into all those hours you’d put aside for dinners, for your workout, for the things that are fun and important to you. When someone asks me, “Can we have a meeting at 7pm?” or “Tight turnaround — can you work on this tonight?” the answer is no. I always have either have my favorite dance class or a dinner plan at that time —– two things I’m unwilling to give up. I’ll also warn clients, “I have a hard out at 6 p.m.” That’s show-biz lingo. It works well.
Schedule breaks on your calendar.
If you’re the type who gets so lost in work that you forget to eat, use the bathroom, or even breathe, do yourself a favor and slot in official time blocks with calendar alerts. This will keep you from overscheduling your day and feeling drained.
Invest in great equipment.
A high-speed, state-of-the-art laptop or desktop computer makes work way more joyful and time-efficient. Get the best you can afford. You’ll earn more when you don’t say things like, “Sorry, my 2012 laptop is acting wonky.”
Guard your time.
When you work from home, many people will assume you’re free all day. They’ll want you to do favors (“Can you pick up the sweater I put on hold?”), or meet for coffee at 2 p.m. If that brings you pleasure and you have the time, great. Say yes. But it’s also your right to say, “I can’t, my work day is full.”
Remember: Just because you control your time doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs.