Telecommuting: A Tough Life

Broken ComputerAbout 90 to 95 percent of the income I’ve earned over the last four years has been earned through the computer that I’m currently using to type this post. At the current moment I keep an office in an empty room downstairs, but I used to be tucked away in my own bedroom for a few years.

This is freedom, right? No office tethers and the comforts of my home life close at hand. Being a freelance writer, I felt that working for myself from home would bring the advantage of flexibility. While this is true, there are plenty of downsides to working from home that can overshadow the benefits.

Working from home through the Internet is a growing trend. In June 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released a report stating that 24% of all fully employed Americans worked at least some hours each week at home. Studies on the impact of telecommuting, or telework, shows that it can improve employee retention, reduce employee absences and increase productivity. However, it’s far from a life of privilege. The U.S. BLS also reports that studies show that teleworking contributes to an overall increase of work hours, and many others have found that it can compound stress from relationships with others.

How many more hours do telecommuters work? About 5 to 7 extra hours per week, according to the state and local government trade publication Government Technology. Over the course of a year, this small amount can add up to an extra month of work compared to in-house employees.


I’ve felt this pretty acutely in my time as a freelance writer. Technology’s great because it helps us stay connected. But frequent burnout becomes a problem when you never leave what is essentially your office. Working from my bedroom seemed like an obvious plus at first. It became a lot more lonely as time went on, however.

In my work, I consider myself a business owner of sorts (the IRS sure considers me one). Freelance writing has always been a career where you work remotely, but technology allows engineers or even teachers to work from geographically isolated areas. What’s great about it is that I get to pursue my dream – I come from a small town where there’s not a lot of work. But when you make the decision to work from home, you need to be aware that this will change your daily life in many unexpected ways.

CBS MoneyWatch has published a list of ways work-at-home professionals can make their lives easier for themselves. Many are crucial, like setting work boundaries with friends and family members. You could take an impromptu break from noon to 2 P.M., but that may mean that you’re working until midnight that night. Often times, many people need to be reminded that you’re working, which is difficult when they need a hand or want to play XBox. Also, you may be tempted to think that working from home will give you more opportunities to care for your children. But some telecommuters get a babysitter or day care anyways because the demands of children can take too much time away from work while at home.

I’d add an extra one to this list: Get out. Seriously. Leave your house, if only for a walk. I lived for a month with a very close friend of mine in a different state; it sounded like it would be a great vacation. After three weeks of seeing nobody but him day after day, I began to get a little stir crazy. When you don’t leave the house for work, what do you leave the house for? Working some fresh air into my schedule has done wonders for myself.

Telecommuting is a way of work that we’re still adjusting to in America. If you don’t have an office or a place of work to travel to every day, many people are confused by what it is you actually do. When anyone asks me if I have a job anymore, I tell them I have eight. A slight exaggeration, but when you try to juggle so many business concerns at once, it’s definitely more than full-time when you’re handling anything more than two clients at once.

Texas FlagSome areas are welcoming the spread of telecommuters, especially as a means to reduce pollution. The city council of Austin, TX, for example, is developing an initiative to persuade private businesses to create more telecommuting positions to reduce traffic. The initiative will be in place by February 8, 2013, with the goal of inducing 10% of the city’s workforce to work one to two days per week at home.

Do you work from home? How are you enjoying it? How long have you worked from home? If you don’t, would you? Interested to hear your responses.

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6 Responses to Telecommuting: A Tough Life

  1. minisculegiants says:

    I love telecommuting. It does have a unique set of challenges, though.

    I completely agree with your advice to get out of the house once in a while. It allows you to go back to work with a fresh perspective. Makes a huge difference in how productive you can be!

    Best wishes!

  2. Pingback: Four social strategies to ease telecommuting stress | gwenbristol

  3. Love this post. There are several down and good sides to it. As a telecommuting small business owner, freelancer writer/publicist I’ve definitely used the “Take a Walk” technique. It also helps to change work spaces. When I’m working from home for long periods of time, I might work one day at the desk, then the dining room table, the kitchen bar and my bed. It seems to add to the productivity a bit.

    • That’s another great idea! I’ve done that before too. It definitely sounds like a bad idea to plant yourself in front of the TV, but if I’m really fighting some writer’s block, I’ll move the computer into the family room and throw on a soccer game. I’ve found that on certain days it helps keep morale high without affecting productivity.

      • Yes definitely. And what are your thoughts on listening to music while you’re writing? I always wonder if others do that as much as I do…

      • Music is often played during the workday. The past few days, with all the bustle around the house, I haven’t needed any white noise, but most days I’ll throw iTunes on shuffle. I’d stream Pandora, but my poor aging computer struggles enough as it is. If completing some fairly simple work, I’ll often catch myself singing along with the volume up. I would probably try the patience of co-workers in an office setting.

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