I’ve worked from home since 2014. And while I can’t imagine working any other way, I’m becoming less and less enchanted by it.
This is an important sentiment to note, in a world, where 99 percent of people said they’d prefer to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers.
It’s not surprising.
Remote work does have its benefits, like flexible schedules and the ability to work from anywhere in the world. But, like with everything in life, there’s also negatives—many of which can mess with your mental health, especially if you’re not cut out for remote work. (Not everyone is.)
In this post, I’ll explore the pros and cons of working from home, and explain why I think everyone should work remotely at least once.
Escape the open office.
About 70 percent of U.S. offices are open concept today.
While there are varying degrees of open offices, basically, it’s an office space with no private offices, so team members can collaborate more and have better breakthroughs.
If you’ve ever worked in an environment like this, you’ve felt the pain of noisy co-workers, irrelevant conversations, and constant interruptions.
When working in an open office, we’re 15 percent less productive, because it’s impossible to concentrate. Humans are notoriously bad at multitasking, and small distractions can cause us to lose focus for at least 20 minutes.
For me, the noise bothered me the most. Turns out I’m not alone.
Nearly 50 percent of people with a completely open office floor plan, and nearly 60 percent of people in cubicles with low walls, are dissatisfied with their sound privacy.
Only 16 percent of people in private offices reported the same.
The above issues are issues because the constant interactions—many times irrelevant to your work—force employees to take work home to finish on their own time.
Work from anywhere.
Another benefit (and also a potential con) of remote work is that you can work from anywhere in the world, traveling to your heart’s content, like so many of you want to do.
But unless you dole out a nice chunk of money for one of those remote work programs, like Remote Year, you’ll have to spend a lot of time planning, which can be overwhelming and stressful.
Instead of traveling around the world, I relocated to Boston, and lived in a co-living space, where I met a lot of really cool people from a wide-array of backgrounds.
I highly suggest doing something similar, as opposed to becoming a digital nomad, which can be absolutely exhausting and lonely.
Enjoy a flexible schedule.
The biggest benefit of remote work is having a flexible schedule, according to Buffer’s Remote Work 2019 survey.
As a remote worker, I definitely agree. This is by far the best benefit.
We’re more cut out for flexible schedules than eight-hour workdays. In fact, according to research, humans can’t concentrate for eight hours straight. The average office worker is only productive for two hours and fifty-three minutes per day.
This is why remote workers get more done. They’re able to spread their work out overtime, working when they feel most productive, allowing them to get more done.
While we all have a different “internal clock,” most people follow an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. sleep schedule. To be more precise, the population is split between approximately 40 percent morning people, 30 percent night owls, and 30 percent falling somewhere in the middle.
So if you’re a night owl, get your work done at night. And if you’re an early bird, get that worm first thing in the morning.
Get paid to work remotely.
There are two interesting remote work programs (probably more) in the U.S.
The first is known as “Tulsa Remote,” and basically, if you move to Tulsa, Oklahoma within six months and are a remote worker, they’ll give you $10,000 cash, office space, and a free housing stipend.
There’s also Vermont’s remote worker grant program, which offers remote workers up to $10,000 to relocate there on a first come first serve basis.
When you work from home, you can save money on clothes, pricey lunches, commuting expenses, and more.
People who work from home part-time can save between $2,000 and $6,500 per year, according to Global Workplace Analytics.
And another study reviewed data from job boards and the U.S. Bureau of Labor and found that the average remote worker saved $444 on gas, and spent roughly 50 percent less on lunches.
Today, more than 40 percent of U.S. adults are lonely, and research suggests that the actual number may be much higher.
Simultaneously, the number of people who report having a close friend in their lives has been steadily declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees—and half of CEOs—report feeling lonely in their roles.
This is a massive problem because loneliness significantly contributes to increase risk for premature death.
“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity… Loneliness is also associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety. At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making.” (source)
And guess what, wannabe remote workers…
Loneliness is the second biggest struggle for work-from-home employees, right behind “unplugging,” according to Buffer’s 2019 Remote Work Survey.
“Remote work isn’t just a different way to work—it’s a different way to live. And, unlike what you might see on Instagram, working remotely doesn’t mean you jet set to exotic locations to drink piña coladas on the beach… We need to acknowledge that isolation, anxiety, and depression are significant problems when working remotely, and we must figure out ways and systems to resolve these complex issues.”
—Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist
While loneliness may be No. 2 on the majority of remote workers’ lists, it’s No. 1 on my list, right now. Here are some ways I’m trying to combat it.
Get out of the house.
I used to do all of my work at home by myself, for a really long time. It wasn’t until recently, when I started working on building better habits, that I actually started spending most of my time outside my apartment (#thankgod)!
While I don’t adhere to a strict schedule, some remote workers build themselves a routine to ensure they get out of the house for at least a few hours each day.
For me, getting out of the house involves taking walks, going to the gym, working from Starbucks, and running errands.
Yes, I have Instacart, but I still grocery shop sometimes. Turns out, there’s a lot of eligible bachelors at the grocery store, so I take full advantage of pretending like I’m shopping from time to time.
Another fun fact? I also have a perfectly fine gym in my building, but I joined the local one because, guess what, the gym is another place where eligible young bachelors hang out. So, again, I’m there.
Not only is this good for your mental health, but it’s also good for your productivity, which we’re all trying to be masters of these days.
Occasionally, I’ll get a one-way ticket to New York or Boston, and stay in a hotel for a week. (I’m not much of a world traveler myself. I just like the change of scenery.)
I’m always more productive when I do this. Research says this isn’t surprising. Multi-cultural experiences and different surroundings increase creativity and inspiration.
Make new/more friends.
It can be difficult to make friends in person, but it’s pretty easy to make friends online.
Why should you make friends online, you ask, when the entire point of this section is about overcoming loneliness?
Well, because, if you’re a remote worker, and you choose to travel, remote work can be just that much more isolating. So by engaging in relevant online communities, you extend your network across the globe, and can actually have people to hang out with while you’re traveling.
And even if you can’t meet these people in person, the relationships you build will still benefit you.
Trust me. Some of my best work friends I’ve never even met, and they’ve helped me through some rough times at work.
In the beginning, try joining a bunch of online communities, and then double-down on the ones you like the vibe of the most.
Potential communities to join:
- Online Geniuses, for marketers
- Quartz at Work Facebook Group, for entrepreneurs, professionals
- WeWork’s We Membership ($45 / month)
- Any niche Slack groups
- Product Hunt, for founders
- Dribbble, for designers
- Indie Hackers, for bootstrappers
- Facebook groups, for remote workers
- Hacker News, for developers
- Dev.to, for developers
Those are just the ones off the top of my head, but there’s definitely more out there if you Google stuff like “[industry] forums,” “[industry] online communities,” “[industry] meetups,” etc.
Also, consider attending in-person conferences. I used to attend HubSpot’s INBOUND every year, and it was a phenomenal way to meet cool, like-minded people.
Last but not least, don’t be shy. If a Quora answer or a Medium blog post blows you away, reach out to the person who answered it. Make friends. People are very receptive to praise and appreciation, as long as you don’t act like a fanboy.
It’s easy to develop bad habits.
I’ve been working from home since 2014, and let me tell you, the remote work 30 is very real. It’s the adult equivalent of the freshman 15… on steroids. No exaggeration.
My entire life, I was extremely active. I thought the gym was my job. I wouldn’t touch a carb after 6 p.m. I had willpower. I had energy.
It wasn’t until I installed this Mac app, called Timing, that I realized I was sitting for a good 10 to 12 hours a day. That’s so unhealthy, to say the least.
Unfortunately, I’m far from an anomaly.
“People who work from home are at a greater risk of obesity and diabetes because there is a significant decrease in physical activity,” says psychologist Dr A.J. Marsden of America’s Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. (source)
In addition to an overwhelmingly sedentary lifestyle, remote workers also develop poor eating habits.
“The biggest predictor of discretionary food intake is availability, and food is so readily available at home. We also have less stimulation, and hence, are more likely to go looking for food when we are bored.” (source)
Prevent bad habits.
Track your life.
I’ve been tracking my life since last October, and it’s helped me rid myself of a lot of nasty habits.
Abide by the 60/3 rule.
Sitting for long periods of time can deplete you of all your mental and physical energy. To prevent this, remind yourself (or have your device remind you) to get up, and move around for at least three minutes every 60 minutes.
Going to the gym is great, but incidental, regular movement is just as important.
“You might think that as long as you’re exercising vigorously once a day, you can sit for the rest of the day and it balances it out. But studies consistently show that if you sit for six hours a day your risk of disability and disease is still doubled.” (source)
Workout while you’re working.
You have a few options here.
First and most expensive is a treadmill desk, which sounds legit (and I’ve heard nothing but great things from people who have them), but starting at around $1,499, they can be unattainable for some.
Second and less expensive (but still pricey) at ~$520 is a treadmill that goes under your desk. It’s basically a treadmill without the stem, which could potentially be dangerous, in my opinion.
Last but not least is a new product called Cubii.
Basically, it’s a mini-elliptical that goes under your desk and is as quiet as a mouse (that’s what I’ve read anyway).
Cubii comes in three versions, which range from $249 to $399.
It’s easy to become depressed.
Visit any remote job board, and you quickly notice a pattern—the overwhelming majority of remote jobs are at little-known startups—many of which are home to toxic work cultures.
According to a 2018 survey on Blind, more than half of tech workers believe their work culture is toxic.
What makes these cultures so bad?
Well, it starts with the founders, and “trickles down” to employees.
A 2016 study bolsters this point, reporting that many of the personality traits found in entrepreneurs—creativity, extroversion, open mindedness and a propensity for risk—are also traits associated with ADHD, bipolar spectrum conditions, depression and substance abuse.
When we picture these illnesses, we don’t picture high-functioning geniuses, but oftentimes, that’s exactly who’s living with them. Their illnesses give them almost superhuman strength, when they’re at the highest of highs… except when they’re in their lowest of lows.
The widow of a former Silicon Valley legend, who committed suicide, offers an inside look into the burnout culture so prevalent among startups in a chilling article on CNN.
In Silicon Valley, where your biggest asset is your brain, the stigma is magnified, according to Penelope Draganic, whose husband Zarko also struggled from depression and ended his life.
Like Salvatierra, Zarko was lauded for his all-night coding sessions, which were a byproduct of his battle with depression. He was a Silicon Valley success story: Along with other tech titans, he worked at mobile device company General Magic in the early ’90s and later founded a startup he sold for millions.
“He slept in a bed in his office, would roll off the bed and write code throughout the night,” Draganic says. “They loved his perseverance and his resilience. He was able to perform superhuman tasks because he was biochemically off-kilter, and he wasn’t even aware of it because he managed it so well.”
No wonder nearly 40 percent of tech workers admit they’re depressed.
That percentage increases for remote workers, who often experience symptoms of anxiety and depression at a higher rate than people commuting into traditional office spaces. Specifically, reporting feelings of isolation and loneliness along with higher rates of concern about job performance and stability.
Remote workers are expected to do it all—and do it all perfectly—and fast… And usually for multiple clients simultaneously, all while constantly searching for more work, just in case, because you never know when a client will terminate your contract without notice.
With this in mind, it’s really no surprise that remote workers often experience insomnia and sleep disturbances, along with increased fatigue, irritation, sadness, and feelings of disconnection. This leads to burnout, resulting in dramatic decreases in productivity, and can make workers feel like an impostor who questions their abilities.
Spot a bad work culture before you accept a job offer.
You can’t always tell if a culture is bad during the interview process, but there are telltale signs you can watch out for.
Do your due diligence.
Review their LinkedIn company page. What’s their recent hiring and turnover trends?
Review their social media accounts. How do they interact with the public? Is anyone tweeting negative stuff about the company?
Check out their Angel List profile to see if they’ve had jobs listed forever.
Pay attention to the job description.
Carefully read the job description—the entire job description.
It’s important. Take this job description (see screenshot below). It was a perfect match in terms of my skill set and experience. While the pay was less than I’m accustomed to, I kept reading, and the more I read, the more red flags I saw.
I obviously didn’t apply, because working seven days a week, around the clock, for $120,000 (and vague “benefits”) does not interest me at all. No thank you. Plus, I’ve worked for startups like this in the past, and it was absolutely terrible, to say the least.
Consider the interview process.
Here are a few things I’d pay attention to.
- The vibe/connection: Do you genuinely like the interviewers and feel like they genuinely like you?
- The pace: How fast or slow is the interview process? What’s their decision-making process look like? Extremes in either way are both red flags.
- The actual process: Do they expect you to do a week’s worth of work for free to prove yourself? RUN. Seriously, run!
Ask good questions.
Don’t ask basic questions just because you’re supposed to do so at the end of interviews. Really utilize that time to learn more about the company.
- How will they measure success for this role? Are they SMART goals/KPIs?
- Is this a new position? If not, why is the current person leaving?
- How do they communicate? What remote tools do they use? Are there set work hours? Try to see how much time they spend on deep work vs. Slack-ing.
- How much runway do they have? What’s their long-term vision?
- What does the work approval process look like? Who will be your boss? Learn about your boss’ past experience and skill set.
- How do people get promoted? Who was the last person to be promoted, to what, from what, and why?
Trust your intuition.
Last but not least, trust your gut. It knows when something’s up.
Everyone thinks you have the life.
The other day, I was complaining to my mom about how my puppies nag me to throw the ball all day long, and it’s hard to focus.
You work from home. Just throw them the ball.
I consistently have conversations like this with the people in my life, who think working from home means I can do everything, whenever I want. Spoiler alert: I can’t.
A lot of remote workers feel my pain.
Put an end to family members’ unrealistic expectations.
Working from home does NOT give anyone the right to treat you as if you’ve taken the day off—everyday.
Here are some ways to combat this issue.
- Make (and stick to) a schedule.
- Set clear boundaries.
- Work at Starbucks or anywhere outside of the house.
- List out the chores and equally delegate them amongst your household.
Everyone should work remotely at least once.
All things considered, I think everyone should work remotely at least once, especially early on in their careers, because it will teach you A LOT—fast. It’s like an accelerator for your career.
You’ll quickly learn how to:
- Effectively manage your time
- Juggle competing priorities
- Manage multiple projects
- Effectively communicate via text
- And so much more.
If there’s anything I missed, please don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments, or shoot me a tweet. =)
Remote work resources
Remote job boards
- We Work Remotely
- Authentic Jobs
- Angel List Jobs
- Startup Jobs
- Remote Ok
- Google Sheet of 900 Startups Hiring Remotely
- 40 Upwork Alternatives: Best Freelance Sites
- Working Nomads
Remote work communities
- Remote Stories
- Freelance subreddit
- Digital nomad subreddit
- Remote jobs subreddit
- Work online subreddit
- Remote work subreddit
- Public Slack and Facebook Groups
Digital nomad programs
Resource directories for remote workers
Articles about remote work
- The productivity pit: how Slack is ruining work
- How I failed landing a remote position
- The 8 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Applying For a Remote Job
- What I Wish I Knew Before Working Remotely Around the World
- 6 Months of Working Remotely Taught Me a Thing or Ten
- Why I Only Work Remotely
- What Most Remote Companies Don’t Tell You About Remote Work
- The Remote Work Survival Guide
- The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work
- How to Work From Home and Get Stuff Done — An In-Depth Guide
- A Decade of Remote Work