It’s not for everyone.
In 2019, I worked from home for 6 weeks.
The agency that I work for was moving from one office space to the next and there was a small wait until the latter was ready, resulting in a period where we had no base of operations (so to speak).
I knew that remote work was not a new concept, but it was the first time I had experienced working from home. Initially I was excited to give it a go: I’m quite an organised person, we have various team communication tools (email, Slack) and being a digital marketing agency it meant our roles could be handled online regardless of our location.
Looking back, I can honestly say that working from home is… interesting.
As a team, we put systems in place to try to make working from home as easy as it could be.
In general, we have 3 main tools of communication as an agency:
- Email — client communication and team-wide memos
- Slack — 1 on 1, informal communication amongst team members
- Project management system — allowing us to update each other on various client projects and tasks
These are in place all the time, and lent themselves nicely to remote work.
Any equipment we needed from the office that would make our jobs easier — such as secondary computer monitors — we were encouraged to take home with us.
We also had to deal with when clients called, so we had the call get forwarded to each of our phones in turn. If a team member couldn’t answer, the call would then forward to the next team member, and so on.
Certain team members would still need to meet with clients face to face, but this was just done at the client’s location, or at a cafe.
We also scheduled weekly team catch ups at a centralised cafe, as we suspected that these would be essential for more complex discussions that are hard to have over email.
With all that sorted, we were ready to go.
Note: my experience is based on a “normal” team workplace — freelance workers are unlikely to relate in the same way.
Week 1 — Motivation Station
It should be noted that the 6 weeks that we worked from home were across May and June. In Australia, that means cold weather leading into Winter.
The first day, I woke up motivated as hell.
I got to sleep in for an extra hour on a cold morning, and didn’t have to sit bumper to bumper in traffic on the freeway. I still made the effort to “dress up” each day (aka: not sit around in track pants) to trick my brain into thinking it was time to focus. Being able to stay inside and not get all cold and rained on was fantastic.
Over the course of the first week, my motivation started to deteriorate quite quickly. It turns out working from home is rather distracting, and at our first team meeting it was clear that some people were coping a lot better than others with the change.
It was also obvious after the first few days that different people communicate in vastly different ways. Those that were traditionally great communicators face to face weren’t as good over email or Slack. This caused an imbalance in what information got communicated to who and how, which slowed things down a lot.
This was going to be tougher than I thought.
The next 5 weeks were challenging in their own right: and it turns out they correlate quite well with the 5 Stages of Grief.
Week 2 — Denial
The first week wasn’t off to the best start but I thought that if we pushed on, the team would rally around our situation and it would all go a lot smoother.
This was denial.
It’s especially obvious now in hindsight, but working from home is not for everyone. I don’t mean that from just a personality standpoint, but also in regards to the roles that people have. Those that have jobs that involve lots of face to face contact (sales, client services) are unlikely to get any benefit out of remote work; the same goes for people that need to manage lots of different tasks from lots of different people (think project managers).
I noticed that team members who’s roles were fairly “siloed” seemed to fair the best: as communication with other departments was minimal for them at the best of times, working from home didn’t really make a difference.
Personally I was still ok with remote work throughout the second week, but definitely daunted with 4 more weeks to go.
Week 3 — Anger
Between lack of relevant information being communicated and delays in responses to internal queries and comments, working from home was starting to piss me off.
Additionally, this feeling was likely amplified by a feeling of isolation. I wouldn’t necessarily call this loneliness, just a frustration about how quick and easy the same tasks would be if we were all in the same room together each day.
Week 4 — Bargaining
Now at the halfway mark, I started bargaining with myself.
I thought I would actually enjoy 6 weeks of working from home, but so far it had been difficult, frustrating and most of all: distracting. There are so many things in your home that can distract you from your work that I started to feel extremely unproductive compared to when we were in the office.
So my bargain to myself was: “If I can just get through the next 3 weeks, I’ll be more productive when we get back. Until then… bare minimum will do.”
This sounds really lazy, but it was actually a helpful mindset. We all knew that this was a big change from our usual way of work, and there was already an expectation we wouldn’t be as productive. I was putting pressure on myself to be as efficient as before, when it was almost impossible based on the circumstances.
Week 5 — Depression
Depression is the wrong word, but I was certainly feeling down about having worked from home for a month at this point. It was shit being away from my coworkers for so long, and there was still another 2 weeks to go.
Most days at this point were cold, rainy and generally quite dreary, which seems irrelevant but really did negatively influence my mood.
I felt like I wasn’t getting anything done (even though I was) and that I was wasting time. During that week, a team member was poached by another agency for another role — this isn’t uncommon, but I remember feeling very wary of others leaving en masse (rather silly in hindsight) as most people were more than ready to get back into an office space.
However, I had realised at this point that while our weekly catch ups weren’t as useful as I would have liked, the change of scenery did improve my mood. I started to go out to local cafes a couple mornings a week to change things up.
Week 6 — Acceptance
As the last week started and with the end in sight, I was strangely starting to enjoy working remotely.
Obviously I probably would have felt differently if there was another 6 weeks to go, but I almost felt like I had gotten the hang of it by then.
A key factor was changing up my environment by leaving the house — even for just a few hours — and heading to a cafe (with free wifi of course). I found it so useful that to this day (9 months later) I still like to take my laptop to a cafe on a Saturday morning to get some writing done.
Even though I had accepted how everything was going after 6 weeks, getting back into a new office with the team felt amazing.
What Did I Learn?
Ok, so most of that probably sounded very negative and depressing but I learned some key things:
- It’s definitely not for everyone: Depending on your personality or the requirements of your role, you’ll either love it or hate it.
- It only works if everyone’s on board: I still maintain that things would have gone a lot smoother if everyone communicated more consistently.
- Team meetings are essential: Even though I found some of them to be a waste of time, others on the team needed them. Also, it was weirdly nice to bond with workmates over the shared experience.
- 6 weeks is way too long: A month and a half is definitely pushing it for what a whole team can handle by working remotely.
- You need to change things up: Getting out of the house and changing your environment does absolute wonders for you. It’s a game changer.
- You save money: Ok so there are definitely some perks from working remotely. You do save money on petrol and public transport for one, not to mention not having to buy snacks and lunch when you forget yours at home (or are too lazy to prepare something in advance).
Would I Do It Again? Yes!
I would… but only for a period of 4 weeks AT MOST.
Knowing now that changing up my environment regularly was extremely useful, I could work from home for a month.
I’m not 100% sure, but I believe this experience has also shaped how we’ve since recruited people: high communication and organisation skills seems to now be a dealbreaker for new hires. This has also allowed our agency to evolve into a more structured and streamlined team, so perhaps this is also why I would be open to trying this again.
If you’re trying to figure out if working from home is a viable option for you, then hopefully you’re able to take something away from my experience.
If you do try it, I hope it works out smoother for you than it did for me.