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The unsaid truth about working from home

I'm sure you've often heard those tips about working from home. And if you failed to apply any of that obvious advice, here are the real underlying challenges. 

Alex Dovhyi
Alex Dovhyi
6 min read
The unsaid truth about working from home

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The unsaid truth about working from home

I'm sure you've often heard those tips about working from home. And if you failed to apply any of that obvious advice, here are the real underlying challenges.

Working from home is not a new concept today. Over the past few years, the WFH force increased from 5% to 60%. Yet, many people struggle to adapt to the new ways of working.

At this very moment, you might be here:

You've been following all the apparent tips on how to work from home:

  1. Set up a dedicated office space
  2. Stick to the schedule
  3. Use a to-do list, time-block your day
  4. Dress for success
  5. Maintain clear boundaries between work and family time
  6. Don't get distracted by social media, Netflix, news, etc.
  7. Stay healthy — eat, sleep, exercise

Don't get me wrong — all of these are excellent advice. Yet, you feel distracted, unproductive, stressed, and unhappy.

And the reason lies below the obvious discussions. It's based on the underlying principles that make working from home work. Shall we address the elephant in the room?

First and foremost, you need to understand that working from home is an entirely different mindset than working in the office. It's mentally and emotionally draining and requires unique mental models than those that worked in the old world.

I've been working from home for 9 years. Here's what it really takes to make it successful.

You don't need to emulate the office

When you start working from home, you first try to emulate the office environment. But the best way to work from home isn't the same way you work in the office.

In fact, it's better. However, if you try to replicate how you used to work (make it just like an office but in a different location), you will undermine the unique benefits of remote work.

You can leverage those strengths instead. If you agree that meetings suck, now you can make a decision not to jump on Zoom every time you would have chatted around the water cooler.

At the end of the day, working from home is all about efficiency. Treat it as a better way of working, not a roadblock to previous ways of working.

It's been interesting to see how some of my previous clients and companies transitioned. The ones who already had a process to maximize the value of remote workers thrived as if nothing happened. Others who tried to emulate the office wondered why it was so difficult.

If you want to fully embrace the work from home, make writing a primary communication tool and put asynchronous communication over meetings with video calls.

WFH doesn't work for everyone

Not everyone is suited to work from home or remotely. It requires extreme self-discipline, confidence, support from family, and mature autonomous working skills.

Imagine a junior designer who needs constant support, training, mentoring, and feedback. He's unlikely to make a valuable remote employee.

If you or someone you work with snuggles when working from home — that's okay. It's not ideal for everyone. Put your strengths to work and make the most of it. But don't hesitate to ask for help when you need it.

Keep an eye for the mental rollercoaster

When you're not going to the office, you're probably not spending your time on commute, meetings, socializing, and communicating. This means you're probably spending more time on focused work than you used to.

But focus can be draining. Remember how much time of all 8 hours in the office was used for uninterrupted, focused work? If you take out your lunch break, coffee breaks, snack breaks, social breaks, stand-ups, meetings, and anything else that took you away from actually working, it'll probably be 3-5 hours a day if you are lucky.

Now, when working from home, you might be working (like, really working) for 6, 7, or even 8 hours per day.

When talking about working from home, we think it should be more restful, but in reality, it's a recipe for burnout if you don't set the right balance. You have to work harder to maintain your mental health.

You need to think about ways to shift from work to rest. Take that hour-long lunch break. Go for a 15-min walk when switching tasks. Take 5 minutes to drink some water and stretch every other hour. Close your eyes or stare in the window for a minute. Or peek in the fridge for a snack. This will allow you to prepare to transition into the new task.

Remember to give yourself some time for purposeful, intentional distraction. Your brain will thank you.

You can't do it alone

Working from home is always a team effort. And no, you don't have to involve your workmates.

Your family is your team when you work from home. They are compromising your chances of success if they do not support you. Working from home is a lifestyle choice your family needs to buy into.

Besides respecting your working hours and giving you privacy for phone calls, it's also a commitment not to expect you to do all the chores or help around the house at any time just because you're at home.

When you work from home, your work and life are fundamentally intertwined, no matter how much you think you can split them up.

Your work will be right there in your life when your commute is 10 seconds from the kitchen to the bedroom. Your kids, dog, or wife will interrupt you from work when going for a walk. They might pull you off for a second — and you'll be happy to do so because you have the luxury of being there when needed.

I won't tell you how to find the perfect balance because what works for me might not work for you. The greatest power of working from home is that it allows you to shape your work that fits your life instead of building your life around someone else's decision about your job.

But I'm convinced that work from home won't be sustainable without your family behind you.

Forget about the work vs. family stress

Working from home and being a full-time parent isn't realistic. Yes, we've all read the stories about a single mom with two toddlers on her laptop building a multi-million dollar empire while raising two perfect kids.

But that's not my reality. And probably not yours. You must pick your priories and pause the work if it means keeping your family healthy and sane.

I have the luxury of focusing on work while my wife focuses on the family. If you can't afford that — split your day when you can achieve that focus for at least one hour and let your workmates know that you're not available at this time.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that you can be a great parent and focus on work simultaneously.

Never look back (conclusion)

Working from home is beautiful when you find the right balance of work and life, focus and rest, family and privacy, structure and freedom, communication and independence.

You may find it difficult to return once you've experienced its benefits. And you might not even have to.

If you ask me what the single good thing about working from home is, I would say that flexible work options, an autonomous work environment, and distributed workforce leads to more productive and, most of all, happier team members.

Alex Dovhyi Twitter

Product designer giving unsolicited advice on design, freelancing, career and personal growth.