When Working from Home Isn’t Working for You

Jennifer Bacchi, SHRM (CP), CCRC, Vice President, Human Capital Management,
Benchmark Research

Before COVID-19 surged into our lives at a pace that can only be described as rapid fire, the thought of working from home seemed like a fairy tale for many employees. A short commute from the bed to the couch in my pajamas…where do I sign up?

If you were already working from home before this horrific pandemic hit, the kids were in school or summer camp, your spouse was working, cafés were open to grab your afternoon latte, and you had strategically carved out time and space for yourself to be productive in your home office environment. Over the years, you had learned how separate home from work, and you fully understood that sacrifices had to be made in order to achieve a work-life balance from your two-story bungalow.

Don’t get me wrong—those of us who were already working from home struggled at different times, as well. We went through a phase of isolation and disengagement after leaving our office and our colleagues, and had to find our footing in the new workspace. If you had young children at home like I did when I started, you spent many teleconferences locked in the pantry with your foot on the door, feeling guilty as you listened to a crying toddler on the other side, and silently thanking the technology wizards for creating the mute button.

However, even for seasoned work-from-home professionals like me, today is a different story. Our lives have been upended, our schedules have been altered by furloughed family members, and kids with unlimited energy are bouncing into our Zoom meetings screaming about lunch.

Reality Comes Crashing in…

Many employees are finding out that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the home front, and their idealistic fairy tale of churning out gourmet meals in their sparkling clean house while actively running a productive conference call is crumbling.

Working from home is not for everyone, and being thrust into this new world in the blink of an eye—with little time to consider the pros and cons—can take its toll on you. Suddenly you have gained a whole new appreciation for working in the office. You feel isolated and miss talking to your colleagues about their latest adventures. You even miss your daily commute and the chance to enjoy your latest audio book or favorite tunes, and you wish you could teleport yourself back to your cubicle.

From the employer’s side however, they may recognize the benefits of remote employees, and how it can increase their bottom lines. If they could save money on office space and overhead—while still having productive employees—why not?

Going back to the way things were may take some convincing. Here are some things to share with management if working from home is not for you. Meanwhile, if you’re an employer, listen up and get some advice from others who have remote employees—there is more to consider than you might think.

Being Part of a Team is Harder from Home

It can be done, but it takes time. I’ve worked form home for the past 13 years, and in that time I have formed many positive, productive working relationships. However, you have to be the type of person who is willing to talk, to break the ice, and to fill the uncomfortable silences on conference calls. You also need to be a little “chitty-chatty,” as one of my peers calls it, meaning checking in with your team members about what they did over the weekend, how their kids are, or what they had for dinner last night. Teamwork isn’t only about the project; it’s about forming relationships with people and understanding how we work together. This is much harder to do remotely and can cause workplace disconnect.

Productivity Can Suffer

Time management is key when you work from home. Understanding how to prioritize tasks is crucial, and organization is a key element to success. If at this moment you have 2,000 e-mails in your inbox, your entire desktop is taken up by individual files, and you get distracted by every car that drives by your house, then working from home is probably not for you. Your boss should be aware of your greater strengths and lesser strengths, and should be able to understand that some employees are just more productive in an office environment.

There are Risks from Overworking

Everyone, regardless of where they work, has that occasional deadline and finds themselves working at nine o’clock at night or on a Sunday. Still, some people hyper focus on work, and they find it difficult to break away from projects, big or small. These employees need to be in an office environment that requires them to physically leave at some point. Working from home, they may find themselves glued to their office chair for several hours straight, only to look up and realize it’s way past quitting time and they haven’t eaten all day. This can lead to job burn-out, because working from home does not support the work-life balance they need.

I Promise I’m Trying to Help

I’m not trying to turn you or your employer off from working remotely. I’m just doing my part to make you aware there are things that need to be considered. If at the end of the day the decision has been made, and you are working from home, my advice is to set some expectations for yourself and others:

  • Take a shower and get dressed before you sit down at your computer.
  • Sit at a desk or a table—somewhere that doesn’t make you feel like you want to take a nap.
  • If at all possible, carve out a space that is just yours.
  • Organize your inbox and make a to-do list.
  • Set boundaries with your family and put a big sign on your door that says, “AT WORK—Do not disturb unless there is a fire or bloodshed.”

Further, don’t forget to schedule some bonding time with your co-workers. Schedule a remote lunch meeting and talk about how you’re handling the transition. Share ideas and be a shoulder to lean on for one another.

Finally, don’t forget to daydream about how someday the kids will be back in school and your partner will be back at work, and all will be right with the world.

Contributed by Jennifer Bacchi, SHRM (CP), CCRC, Vice President, Human Capital Management, Benchmark Research