Combatting the Hidden Costs of Working at Home
Working from home is usually advertised as flexible, convenient, and a perfect alternative for most working professionals. However, when the honeymoon is over and you’re faced with working from home on a regular or long-term basis, you start to see the flaws relatively quickly.
Before you started, you may have been promised less time working and more time to do what you like and hang out with the people you love. Now that you’re in the midst of it, have you found that the opposite is true? Working from home is more difficult than it’s advertised to be. It can be highly beneficial, but it’s not something we can jump into immediately and expect to thrive.
There are many hidden costs to working at home, especially if you have a family who may or may not be at the home with you during working hours. If you’re new to working at home or you’re struggling to make it a good experience, here’s our advice for recognizing and reversing the hidden costs of working from home.
Have you found that since you started working at home you’re not sleeping as well? Often, when you change up your routine and spend more of your time working at the house during odd hours of the day, your sleep can suffer. Routine disruption messes with your circadian rhythm. This is the mental balance in your brain that helps you to wake up, sleep, and have energy at the right times.
When you have to get up each morning and leave for work at a certain time, it’s easy to get into a rhythm that makes sense. You know you when you need to sleep to wake up in time for a shower, breakfast, and the commute to the office. Once the commute is eliminated and your working hours become more flexible with no particular morning ritual required, your balance can get all messed up.
Sleep suffers when your regular daily routine changes dramatically. You might find yourself working later in the day, thinking more at night, staying up late to get some “me time” after work, or waking up at different hours than you would normally. All of these activities can throw you off balance and cause your sleep quality to decrease, resulting in you feeling less energetic even after a full night’s sleep.
Combatting Sleep Loss:
If you find yourself sleeping poorly, try to offset that by forcing yourself back into a normal daily routine. It takes time to get used to it and requires some amount of self-discipline. But, the benefits are worth it for you. Regulating your daily routine is also valuable if you have children of any age at home with you during the day, because they’ll be able to sleep better too and enjoy a more balanced mood with predictable energy levels.
Try to start by maintaining a consistent wake up time. No matter how late you stay up, aim to wake up at the same time every morning, 7 days a week. You’ll quickly be to train yourself to sleep at a regular time as well, because you’ll most likely begin to feel tired at a more predictable time to compensate for the amount of sleep your body needs.
There are also a few more things you can do to help your body get into a better rhythm, including:
- Getting exposed to bright light in the day, especially in the morning hours.
- Dimming lights later at night, about an hour before bedtime. This includes your device screens.
- Setting a schedule that makes sense for your body and productivity preferences (and your family needs). Night owls can stay up later and wake up later, as long as it’s consistent.
- Creating a wake-up and bedtime routine, even if it’s short and sweet. Follow it every day, as often as possible. Your body will start to understand this routine as a cue to wake up or calm down.
- Scheduling time to interact with another person in the morning, if you live or work alone. This could be family time over breakfast or a quick call to say hi to a friend or co-worker before starting your work.
- Sleeping in a dark, calm environment.
Work has always been a source of stress, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that doing it from home can still make you feel stressed. The truth is that for many people, working from home can be even more stressful than work at the office because of the lack of clear boundaries between home and work, as well as the loss of daily movement and human interactions.
Stress isn’t inevitable. While you might find yourself somewhere between deep breaths and a mental breakdown, there are ways to cope with it.
Self-discipline is a big factor in combatting stress from working at home. When you’re at your own home, it’s tempting to spend less time working and more time doing what you would normally do at home, whether that’s binging Netflix, participating in a hobby, hanging out with your family, or just starting out the window. None of these things are bad in moderation, but they’re productivity killers that can eat up the time you should have spent on work, leaving you with a full to-do list at night.
Try to plan out your workday in a way that makes sense to you. To-do lists are great for some people while structured working times, productivity apps, or accountability buddies work for others.
If you have a family at home with you during working hours, especially young children, try to incorporate them and time spent caring for them in your workday plan. While your 3-year old may not follow your schedule, you can try to plan enough buffer time into your workday to get stuff done even if you end up distracted during some parts of the workday.
Taking a walk to get some fresh air can also help with both productivity loss and stress. Miriam Herst, a Beauty Editor for All Things Hair, relies heavily on this tip, stating:
“It’s easy to get caught up in work and forget to get outside and take a break from staring at the computer all day. I’ve been using my lunch break to walk to the park to get some fresh air. I come back to my at-home work station refreshed and reenergized. It’s easily my best tip for staying productive while working from home!”
Isolation & Loneliness
Even the most introverted people can still suffer from the feelings of isolation that you get while working from home. If you live alone it’s especially isolating. For extroverted people, losing the everyday work interactions is a nightmare situation. When you feel cut off from the world and lonely, it can lead to depression and poor mental health.
Combatting Isolation and Loneliness:
It takes effort to fight loneliness from home, but if you set yourself up for success you can do it. One of the best ways to combat isolation is to schedule time every day for human interactions. This can look different for everyone. It might mean a walk in the park every morning, a 15-minute time slot to call someone for a chat, or sending emails and instant messages throughout the day.
The important thing to remember is that you have to reach out to others on a regular basis. It’s sometimes hard to do that when you’re already feeling excessively lonely or isolated, but it’s the only way to ensure you’re getting the social connection you need to stay in a more positive frame of mind. Work on maintaining connection with your co-workers, friends, family, or significant other for a healthier daily experience.
Lower Long-Term Productivity
It may feel good working from home the first week, but some people notice a significant drop in motivation and productivity over time. This could happen quickly or it could be more gradual, but it’s something that happens for many people.
Maybe you miss the environment at the office, you’re not as connected to the job anymore, or you find it difficult to stay motivated at home. Whatever the case in your specific situation, the end result is the same: lower productivity.
Combatting Lower Productivity:
Daily workplace routines can be a cure for productivity loss. While at home it’s tempting to stay in home clothes and work in more relaxed areas. Over time, these little compromises can wear away at your will to work.
Set up a specific place for your work. Make sure it’s a decent chair and a desk or table. Avoid working on the couch or the bed as much as possible. It’s helpful if you can set up a space where you work consistently rather than rotating to different seats around the house. In addition to setting up your workspace, you need to prepare yourself for work every day as well.
It can feel like a waste of time to get dressed up in your professional clothes, do your makeup and hair, and generally prepare as if you were going to the office. Your version of work dressing might change if you work at home long enough, but the act of getting dressed in something other than comfy home clothes and going to your dedicated work space helps you get in the right frame of mind to get things done. Change out of your work clothes when you’re finished and leave the “office”.
As a bonus, these steps can help your children to differentiate when you’re working and when you’re not. They’ll learn more quickly than when you’re in the office it’s work time and when you’re chilling in the living room work is over.
A truly hidden cost of working at home that might not have crossed your mind yet is the risk of hacking and data theft. If you’re working from your home on your own wireless network, you’re likely to be more exposed to threat than you would be on a secure work connection. Your workplace may have security protocols in place to avoid data theft and cybercrime that you’re lacking at home.
An Australian study found that the more people who are working at home, the higher the number of cybercrimes reported, especially related to company data breaches. It’s especially prevalent during the Coronavirus pandemic when more people who would normally be at the office are working from home, but it’s a cost that can come at any time.
Combatting Data Theft:
Make sure that you’re set up for basic security to protect your own data and the company data you’re using for your work. If you’re connecting to a company network, make sure your own internet connection is secured by a good VPN. Basic Wi-Fi security isn’t always enough to keep out hackers.
Read up on how to use the internet more securely, even if you haven’t had any problems before or you think you’re safe enough as it is. To this day, one of the biggest threats to security is people clicking on links in emails. Take some time to refresh your knowledge of how hackers work today so you’re prepared to keep yourself and your company safer online.
If you can, ask the person responsible for cybersecurity at your company to give you some tips.
Being at the office with your superiors and your co-workers throughout the week gives you more insight into what’s happening at the company, how your career is progressing, and the shifting priorities of your management or team. When you’re working from home, there’s a lot more uncertainty around your job security, the direction of the company, co-worker relations, and other important aspects of your career.
Combatting Career Uncertainty:
The simplest way to relieve the mess of career uncertainty is to be proactive. Contact your bosses and co-workers regularly. If possible, stop by the office every once in a while to make sure you’re seen around the place. Proactivity is essential in conversations about career development as someone working from home.
Make sure you’re asserting yourself into the conversation. Keep in regular communication with workmates and your bosses. Don’t let them forget about you. This also rings true with clients, if you work for yourself.
Missing Office Amenities
Offices are better equipped than most employee’s homes. The company provides internet and utilities as a minimum and often coffee, snacks, or lunch as well. When you’re working from home, the cost of maintaining your office space will just get lumped into your home bills. If you start working from home, you may get an unpleasant surprise when your bills come in at the end of the month.
Combatting Missing Amenities:
First and foremost, if you’re an employed person who normally works at the office, you should ask your company to provide some support for your home office. This needs to be a reasonable accommodation, such as payment of high speed internet costs. Don’t ask your company to pay for your entire power bill or water costs, unless these are costs directly related to your work.
For coffee, snacks, and other things you might normally expect at the office, you need to budget ahead of time and stock up at home. It may end up being far more costly if you continue reaching for what’s in your fridge or cupboard without shopping strategically to prepare for your extra hours at home.
Since you’ll be working from home, you may need more equipment at the house. This means that the value of the items in your home may increase, which is a matter you would need to discuss with your insurance provider.
Combatting Insurance Costs:
Check with your insurance provider to see if any extra coverage is needed to protect your valuables at home. If your existing rental or home insurance doesn’t cover it, you may need to consider expanding your policy.
Higher Equipment Costs & Depreciation
If you use your own equipment to do your work, it will inevitably wear out quicker. Plus, there may be some equipment you need that isn’t already at your home office, such as a printer, basic office supplies, a phone, or any other equipment you need (electronic or otherwise). This equipment itself can be expensive to purchase when it’s necessary, but you’re also likely to wear out your own equipment more quickly if you use your personal items for work.
Combatting Higher Equipment Costs:
This is another issue that may warrant discussion with your employer. If you need specific equipment to do your job, speak to your employer about either providing that equipment for you or reimbursing you for your home equipment usage.
Working from home can be a wonderful experience, but it can also turn out to be more costly than you might imagine. Be mindful of what the true costs may be before you jump into a full-time work from home situation.