Completing a report while sprawled out on your bed provides a level of comfort a cubicle with a stiff chair never could.
As a more buttoned-down, flexible work environment, working from home can seem like an exciting proposition for an employee offered the opportunity to telecommute every day or the aspiring entrepreneur thinking of running a business from his or her living room.
But blurring the lines between work and home can pose a number of challenges. Outside distractions such as children or laundry could stifle your focus. Or, days with a less structured schedule could turn into marathon shifts due to the constant presence of your work.
"A lot of people think, 'Oh this is going to be great,'" says Stewart Friedman, director of the Work/Life Integration Project at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and author of the upcoming book "Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family." As Friedman points out, one of the hardest aspects is "creating boundaries at home that really keep you focused."
Here are some drawbacks of working from home for the corporate employee and the entrepreneur.
Missing out on in-person collaboration. As a solo act at home, you won't have to deal with the drama of office politics. It's true that some co-workers are a pain, but others may lift your spirits and be great to partner with on key projects. Without the luxury of regular contact, Friedman says, you won't have "the spontaneous exchange of ideas and information and enthusiasms."
You'll be the invisible man or woman. If you work from home five days a week, you'll be a purely virtual presence, which makes it "hard to gain a sense of who you are as a person," Friedman says.
Without seeing you regularly, your boss and colleagues will have a challenging time filling in the blanks about critical attributes such as whether you're a good listener or trustworthy person, Friedman says. And without answers to some of those soft skills questions, your boss may not feel comfortable promoting you.
Your addiction to work could worsen. Workaholics won't have a physical or mental barrier between work and home life. "[If] you're super conscious about responding to every single demand that comes at you from your work environment and/or you are so fully engaged or immersed in what you believe in your heart to be incredibly meaningful work, then you're not going to stop," Friedman says. "That is not sustainable in the long run."
Attracting new customers through foot traffic will be limited. Your company's online presence may help you pay the bills, but not having a brick-and-mortar store or even a small office away from home may cost you business. Along with her husband, Sunday Steinkirchner started the New York-based book company B & B Rare Books from their studio apartment a decade ago. While the couple works from home, the majority of their labor is done at an office they rented in March. "Working in a residential neighborhood, we were missing out on a lot of traffic that we're kind of getting now having an office," Steinkirchner says.
The legitimacy of your business may come into question. Customers may feel uncomfortable about the idea of entering your living room to purchase or pick up an item. Steinkirchner notes that some customers were hesitant to do business with their home-based company. "They felt that we were either less trustworthy or less accessible," she says.
Loved ones may not think you're really working. Because you're at home all day, family members and close friends may think you're readily available for a phone call or visit and could distract you from your obligations. "Especially when we first started, we were constantly getting [accused] by family, 'Oh, you guys don't work. You're just home all day,'" Steinkirchner says.
Your product may overwhelm your living space. Steinkirchner and her husband began their business in a small apartment, surrounded by stacks of books. But even after moving to a one-bedroom apartment five years later, the couple still felt the intrusion of their merchandise upon their personal living space. "The office area was our living room, so we didn't have our living room," she says.
Try a test drive. Before turning your residence into central work quarters, experiment with the idea for a month and see how the experience goes, Friedman suggests. During that stretch, evaluate your personal performance and the effect on those around you, he adds. "Check in with people who depend on you, whether it's your boss or kid," he says. "See if it's working for them and what ideas they have that would make things better for them."