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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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…
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.