You Don’t Want to Work From Home

Cole Turner
May 20, 2018 · 5 min read

For more than ten years I worked exclusively from home. Our twitter feeds tells us to lust after it — movies and television tell us it’s the next best thing to retirement. We romanticize it as the answer to our corporate aversion and idealize it as the ultimate perk.

Do you ever put on pants?

Well at least you get to make your own hours…

I wish I could do that…

Now I work in an office. There’s plenty of the same distractions and some days I think about staying home. But I don’t because I would miss out on the best part about going to work: the people.

Working from home is isolating. You miss out on the magnitude of ideas that occur everyday in lunch conversations, coffee breaks, and brownbags. The balance between work and life blurs until you can’t see the difference. Here’s some of the experiences I had over the years and why I’d suggest to re-consider abandoning the monotony of the office.

Photo by Dillon Shook

A good view is everything. Good lighting is paramount to being productive. My first apartment here had one window facing the old apartment next door. It was dark and sometimes the plumbing would whistle — both which were productivity killers. Eventually I moved to an apartment with better lighting. Within a few weeks I was already happier and more productive. It’s also good to get outside every so often and just wander aimlessly.

It was here that I learned that working from home has its limitations. Some days it can be claustrophobic and other days isolating. Consider first spending two weeks at home everyday before you decide to make that your everyday.

I was fourteen when I landed my first gig. Most of my work consisted of slicing Photoshop designs into HTML and CSS. On the side I would sell designs and plugins in online marketplaces.

It was hard to concentrate for many reasons. My parents didn’t understand what I was up to with all the time I spent online. My mom barely knew how to turn on a computer while my dad thought I should prioritize schoolwork.

You might hardly call this work. It was challenging, exciting, and I loved every minute of it. It was here I fell in love with programming and problem solving. Some days it was an addiction — I would rush home to boot up the computer and maybe you’d find me there until the A.M. I had no idea that what I was doing would one day be called “software engineering.”

It was here where I learned that working from home requires overwhelming passion and sacrifice. When some days you want to get away you have a home to escape to; unless you work there.

At eighteen my work became a livelihood. My first startup, Tinychat.com, was funded and I stowed away my freelancer hat. I moved out of my parent’s house and into a small studio apartment. For the next five years I worked full time while attending university full time — leaving just a couple hours in the day to unwind.

Working from home makes it difficult to maintain a solid work/life balance. If your office is five feet away from where you sleep it makes it tough to clock off and think about something else. Even more so when you’re juggling academics and the demands of a growing startup with 2M+ monthly actives.

If you’re considering working from home — create a physical boundary between your work and your home life. Don’t forget to take a nice sunny walk or work remotely from a coffee shop now and then. On days where it becomes too much — remind yourself it’s okay to put yourself first.

Six months before I graduated university I decided to give up the luxuries of the bachelor life and move in with my grandmother, at the time eighty years old. She needed an extra hand around the house and I saved up money to pay off expenses and loans. It’s difficult moving from a free-spirited lifestyle to negotiating whether or not you can keep a dog at home.

Once again I found myself arbitrating the value of my work against the misconceptions of an older era. It was hard to convince my grandmother that the eight to twelve hours a day I spent on the computer was worth something. We never saw eye to eye in spite of her habit of being glued to one of three televisions for the same time I spent making a livelihood.

It’s here where I learned that to work from home you have to not only sell the idea to yourself — but to the whole household. Your family, wives and kids and etc, they must understand that the compartmentalization is not one way. When you work from home you bring your family to the office.

And finally…

Now I work in an office and despite its challenges I love it. Somedays it’s difficult to focus and the circus of distractions can be overwhelming but that’s nothing a step outside can’t solve. There are mazes of problems to navigate and in a corporate setting it can sometimes feel like a drag. But it’s here where I’ve met some amazing and talented folks that make me think twice about packing up and going home. I’ve learned things I’d never be exposed to from the comforts of my couch.

Working from home is what you make of it and for some it’s not all that it’s cut out to be. We take for granted what there is to gain from an office and the growth we get from sitting next to each other. I’ve grown more in the past few years than I had working a decade on my own. I’d argue there’s no amount of social networking, conferences, or even open source that can replace meeting face to face and solving problems in person. I question folks who say they recommend working remotely or that remote-first is the right way to do things because of how much work it takes to build that network. If you have the chops for it, that’s great — but consider the harm when prescribing what could be isolation. And for those taking this to heart: my message is not that remote doesn’t work or that it’s awful.

It’s not all or nothing. On Fridays I work from a coffee shop so I can feel a little guilty and escape the corporate routine. There are moments where I wake up in a state where I want nothing more than to crawl under the covers and waste the day away. But then I’d miss my team — those moments in between pull requests where we laugh and joke around. I’d lose that same maze of perspectives that comes with being part of a larger organization.

A developer’s most trusty tool isn’t the hands, the brains, or the code. It’s the people. It’s who you know and what you can learn from them. Seek them out and absorb every little detail. Working from home works for some folks — but if you ask me it’s overrated. It’s called company for a reason.

Cole Turner

Written by

Senior Software Engineer @NetflixUIE, opinions are my own.