Working From Home Ain’t As Cool As It Seemed, Huh?

Woman with notebook and laptop on her bed

Photo: Jodie Cook

You know I used to idolise the freelance life. I wanted the remote lifestyle, my own hours, and the freedom from fluorescent-bathed cubicles.

And I would get a taste of the digital nomad lifestyle, but me being me, I would also get bored of it real quick.

Back then, I used to whine to anyone who’d listen, and seeing as to how my friends were way more responsible than me, my complaints often fell on deaf ears.

“What’s the problem?” a friend once said. “At least you get to stay home.”

“Yeah,” I’d tell them, “but I work just as hard at ho—”

“And you don’t need to spend time and money on your commute. You lucky guy, you.”

“That’s a solid point for sure, but—”

“It must be great to schedule your own time. If I were you, I’d spend my days working at cafes.”

“But work is work—”

“You’re so lucky.”

“Right.”

My whining would soon turn into actual arguments for the downsides of freelancing, but my friends would stand their ground, and they too would counter with the benefits I was enjoying.

But now the pandemic has changed how we all work, and we’re all (well, the lucky ones among us, at least) basically freelancers with a daily work commitment now.

And since most of my friends have been reiterating the exact points I’d presented from years past, I figured I’d take this moment to say I told you so.

So without further ado, let’s explore the unexpected downsides of the work-from-home life, brought to you by the pandemic.

Woman lying on bed in pyjamas

Work from home dress code. Photo: C Z Shi

Work is home

That’s what they should call it, because with the extended lockdowns imposed in certain countries—especially in Malaysia—most of us have made our homes our offices.

I was lucky. As a hairdresser during the formative years of my career, I never knew the meaning of ‘taking your work home’. That privilege was quickly dispelled the moment I made my transition to office labour. And that was worsened by living the freelance life.

Today, to deal with the demands of a full-time job at home, you basically have to convert a certain area in your home to handle your daily stressors. And how can you look at your dinner table the same way once it’s hosted two dozen Zoom metings?

In the old days (pre-pandemic, that is), my friends would gush at the freedom to work at home. “Imagine working from my couch! I’d be so much more productive.”

Be careful what you wish for, Jesslyn. I heard that you loathe your guest room now. But to be fair though, it’s much better than hating your bedroom (and some people do rent rooms instead of entire houses).

Of course, there are those who soldier on, but even the most resilient people won’t be able to handle distractions, which brings me to my next point.

Wachu doin?

“What do you mean you can’t stand interruptions?” said someone who had no idea he’d be stuck working indoors in the coming years. “That’s such a small price to pay to be able to work from home!”

Ha. Guess who’s complaining about their children barging in on their meetings or their partners telling them about that amazing episode in Bojack Horseman when they’re busy typing up a report.

My problem being around people who aren’t on the same timeline as you is that you often get derailed from your thoughts, and it’s almost impossible to work your way up to your next flow state without getting distracted once more. Even my dog has gotten in on the action.

But that’s the price you pay when you have to work in the living room because the WiFi is spotty in your bedroom.

It seems like the only solution to this is to live alone, but I digress. Let’s move on to the next point.

Dog holding a toy in its mouth

Hello it’s me again. Yes, it’s playtime again. Photo: Caspar Camille Rubin

No free lunch? How about no lunch

It was easy to set a delineation line back at the office. Once lunch time rolled around, we’d all put our work on hold and just forget about deadlines till we’re done eating. That was the understanding we all had.

But now, with the freedom afforded to us through our new work arrangements, you’re expected to handle work whenever you can, because not everybody takes their lunch at the same time.

Some companies are better than others at respecting the lunch hour, but it’s easy for people to forget that you typically have your first meal at 4 p.m. because you’re intermittent fasting, and it’s not like relaxing from 1–2 does you any good since you’re working from home anyway.

Oh you could remind your colleagues that you take your lunch break at 4 p.m., but after a while, it’s probably easier to just eat while you work instead.

You bum

There’s just something about working from home that paints you in a different light.

You’re home, so you can take out the trash right? And while you’re at it, could you water the plants? Maybe walk the dog? And you have to drop me off at the supermarket because I won’t be able to find parking. You can’t? Why? You’re not doing anything, are you?

People tend to forget that working in the office includes downtime as well—the covert YouTube videos you sneak in when your boss is in a meeting, when you’re on Reddit, ready to Alt+Tab the moment you see a reflection in your monitor, or when you just stare blankly at your Word Doc while actually listening to Joe Rogan’s podcast.

Try doing that at home though, and you’re instantly seen as someone with nothing to do, and thus deemed as a potential contributor to the daily chores.

Of course, you won’t have to deal with all this if you lived alone. And speaking of which…

Two naked stone statues with one bum

Heh, bum, get it? Photo: Jon Butterworth

For-never alone

We may complain about having to brave the daily commute in our normal working lives, but sometimes solitude does provide some valuable decompressing time.

I’m going to admit this is probably a ‘me’ thing, and I’m not sure how many people can relate to this, but I certainly appreciate having an hour just to stare at traffic without needing to hold a conversation. And I love not needing an excuse for it. It’s just built into my day.

But once you spend months at a time being locked down, you start to feel like you never get true alone time anymore. I wonder how parents do it.

At the end of the day, I guess I want to say that…

The grass is always greener

No matter how great things may seem on the other side, there’s always the suckage we can’t see till we get there.

I, for one, did not expect to dislike freelancing as much as the cubicle life. Maybe that’s just me. But I’m preeettyy sure that some of you have begun looking at the digital nomad lifestyle from a different perspective, especially if you’ve been harbouring dreams of working remotely.

And if we’ve learned anything, it’s that the challenges of working from home could be overcome if you live on your own.

But then again, I think we’ve also learned not to assume that the grass is greener on the other side.


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44 thoughts on “Working From Home Ain’t As Cool As It Seemed, Huh?

    • Oh yeah, having a routine always wins, because it takes a lot of the think work out of life. Also, I believe we need routines to grow. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  1. My thoughts are working from home can be great if living alone and it suits your personality. It’s just the two of us here, I’ll be deep in thought with my composition, almost satisfied and then “honey can you look at this?” Augh. What can you do? :))

  2. hahahahaha Well said! I’ve worked at home (writing) for years now, but before then had an office job (among others). I’ve heard so many arguments from associates stuck at home and today they are itching to get back to the office.

    • Lol nothing’s ever good enough, is it? I too started working from home before the pandemic, so I’m grateful I have ways of coping learned from those days, but I think it’s just in us to keep wanting more. Anyway, always great to see you here!

  3. You have a point here Stuart. When working from home and have others around they don’t always understand that you are actually working. They always assume that since you are there you are also available for them. However, the big conclusion to all you said I think is that everything has pros and cons and nothing is ever ideal. It is just that something suits a bit better to one person than it does to another one.

    • Totally agreed! That’s life in a nutshell, isn’t it? Everything has its pros and cons, and our job is to find out which aspects of life give us the most returns for the cons we have to face. Thanks so much for your amazing perspective!

  4. Yeah, working from home is better when you’re all alone. Except you can make them realize that you’re actually “at work”. Which is pretty hard.
    An office job also has its downsides.
    There’s always disadvantages and advantages right?
    All in all, work isn’t fun.

  5. For me its like this, WFH is ideal if you’re your own boss but not recommended if you’re still working for a company or you have a boss. Based on my experience, it can really be toxic and tiring, i think companies take advantage of it too given that you have every tool you need with you. My solution is learn to manage your time and separate work from personal life. If my shift ends at 5pm then I would turn off my work laptop at 5pm, I also don’t entertain any work related messages after my shift unless its important.

  6. Thanks for this post! So I started writing this comment as a rant that I disagree. And I disagree, still. But it’s just personal preferences, I suppose. Thanks for the post, though! It opened my eyes to some ways face-to-face work is better.
    Best of luck!

      • Actually I was too lazy to write a rant. I’m browsing the internet to procrastinate and have some fun, not to rant in the comments section (ahem, there were some exceptions).
        Loved the post tho! It’s always nice to be exposed to a new perspective. Thanks!

  7. great post, Stuart. similar to your final comment about the grass being greener, I guess we should be careful what we wish for. My guess is that many people will try to find a combo of working from hoe a little bit, and at the office a little bit.

    And perhaps that’s why many freelancers head to the local coffeeshop to get work done one or two days a week…

    • Yeah, if people are afforded that freedom, that’s definitely one way to go. I myself am bound to the camera for certain hours a day, so that sucks. Also, the pandemic is raging here where I live. But yeah, during my freelance writing days, I sure did love writing from Starbucks from time to time. Thanks for visiting, Jim!

  8. Such an interesting topic! Grass is greener on the other side is as true as it gets. The digital nomad life that seemed interesting at some point now seems hard. 😅 All the points you mentioned about WFH hold good for online studies too. Great post!

    • Basically anything that allows you full autonomy does require some scheduling on your end, or else it wouldn’t work at all. Glad you connected this with online studies. I never would’ve made the connection.

  9. It’s definitely been an eye opener working from home and shined a light on what freelancers have already been experiencing. I have been lucky in the fact that I live alone but still find myself prone to being distracted and then overworking in the evenings through guilt of not being as productive throughout the day. I guess it’s all about finding balance and trying to stick to working hours.

    • Omg I totally get what you mean about overworking in the evenings due to guilt. Yeah, we have to find our balance for sure, but that’s not always a black and white thing. Anyway, thanks so much for your amazing perspective!

  10. Working from home isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Although there are obvious upsides, downsides still exist and rear their ugly head. Living with my grandparent, he had some difficulty at first coming to the realization that my desk area was my office. But since then, he’s become more understanding when I tell him “I’m working now” and actually let’s me go uninterrupted, with the occasional question of “Have you eaten yet?” thrown here and there.

    Wonderful read as always!

    • Oh yeah. I certainly love not having to brave the traffic jams and being able to schedule a workout in the middle of my day, but those little ‘watchu doing’ moments can definitely take me out of my important work. And I feel guilty whenever I tell them not to bother me.

      Thanks so much for your wonderful insights. I appreciate it!

      p.s. I can’t seem to access your website through your profile, as the link seems to be down. Just letting you know in case you weren’t aware.

  11. I don’t work from home but this confirms my suspicions about what it would be like. I don’t think I’d pace myself very well and I’d be going ADD all over the house. And my parents would be butting in constantly. And I’d be checking the fridge forty times to see if the thing I wanted magically appeared yet. On the plus side, I wouldn’t have to see my boss 😁. Life is a series of tradeoffs.

    • Lol yeah, tradeoffs tradeoffs. While I do appreciate being able to sneak in a workout session throughout the day, there are drawbacks to this life as well.

      But nothing is ever perfect, and our goal is to find the imperfections that we can best deal with. Thanks so much for stopping by, Hetty!

  12. Thank you for this! I hate working from home. 1 day at home is great for the flexibility to do a load of laundry or something, or if the weather is awful, but I hated working from home this pandemic. I am going to the office tomorrow and I am thrilled!

  13. I find all your points completely valid. I still would pick them all over the disadvantage of working in an office. Our office is a giant room of cubicles with 100 people crammed together. Besides, at home, I get to wear comfortable pants.

  14. I spend my commute praying or nearly ripping my steering wheel off. Without a way to destress or have alone time I’d probably have my own Tyler Durden. But with more smoothies and less soap…

  15. I think someone said you just gotta have the disposition for working from home. I understand all the downside but for me personally, it’s still better than going somewhere. Great post though, goes to show that work is work and everyone has to work on finding their own balance, no matter where their workspace might be.

  16. All good points. Been working from home for 16 years and quite enjoy it, but I agree with all your points. It takes a special kind of discipline from everyone in the family to be able to make it work. I had the misfortune to enter Covid lockdown between homes–family lived in a shed for 12 weeks and none of us could go to work or school. Try 3 different Zoom meetings around one table in an unheated shed during winter on a dodgy internet connection. LOL! Was so thrilled to go back to normal working from home!

    • Whoa, that sounds rough (the shed part). Glad you’ve worked through it, and are now back to normal working from home!

      To be fair though, there are some benefits I enjoy that I don’t list here. Maybe I should write a post about the best parts about WFH, lol. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  17. You know, I do find that commute time can be a valuable slice of downtime. Not when I’m tense about making it on time, but when I know I’ve got a good buffer, it can be really nice to just enjoy the journey. My favorite was actually when I rode the bus, since I could read or even doze on the way. Not such a good idea when driving…😅

    • I’m glad you don’t read when you drive, lol. It’s such an underestimated refuge, right? I didn’t know that the commute could be relaxing too, even through traffic jams. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

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