5 Things You'll Miss by Not Working In An Office

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watercoolerA lot is written about the things you don’t miss when you telecommute — the cube farm, having to wear a suit, the politics, and so on. But, believe it or not, working in an office delivers a few benefits, too, and I’m not just talking about free stationery. The good news is, once you know what you’re missing, you can find ways to enjoy those same benefits while working remotely.

1. Watercooler Chit-Chat

Though it can seem like a big waste of time, chatting around the watercooler (or coffee machine, or whatever you have in your office) gives you a chance to get to know work colleagues better, and obtain the kind of unguarded opinion and advice that can really help you to navigate the unpredictable seas of team work. Of course, office chatter can also provide a valuable, low-intensity social outlet and build a sense of solidarity among colleagues.

You can get the same benefits by taking time — and the effort — to call or message colleagues, associates, clients, or peers every day. Staying in touch with people on a social level, and making sure you maintain workplace friendships, can have a huge impact on your state of mind — and the state of your work.

2. Set Starting and Finishing Times

In an office, you’re more likely to have clearly defined start and end times, as well as expectations around when you take lunch, whether you have breaks, and so on.

Most people who haven’t done it tend to think of working from home as an opportunity to slack off, but most of the web workers I know work more hours, not fewer. They start earlier and finish later. Many of us get into the bad habit of finishing only when something — perhaps a partner or after-hours commitment — gives us reason to.

For tactics to solve this problem, take a look at Simon’s post on finishing at a reasonable hour. If you find you’re starting earlier in the morning than is ideal, consider kicking off the day with some exercise or by pursuing some other interest. Whether you’re playing guitar, going for a run, or getting the kids to school, a solid morning routine will help ensure you don’t drift to your desk before dawn.

3. A Good Reason to Get Up

In an office, most of us have plenty of good reasons to get out of our chairs: perhaps we need to scan a document, answer a phone on someone else’s desk, or check some information with a colleague on the other side of the room.

At home, most of us have everything well within reach. Coupled with fewer distractions, the home office setup can leave you hunched (or slouched) at your desk for hours, which can wreak havoc with your posture. There are plenty of ways to avoid desk-bound burnout. Set a timer to alert you to get up and stretch every 45 minutes, for example. If you drink water while you work, make sure you only take a glass, so you need to get up when you want more. Try not to eat meals or snacks at your desk, either — going to the kitchen to eat provides another opportunity to stretch your legs, uncurl those fingers, and clear your head.

4. The Ability to Corner Someone In the Kitchen

When I’m in the office, I sit near the break room, which makes it very easy to corner people I need to speak to about projects — they’re bound to make a coffee or eat lunch in there at some point. When I’m at home, of course, I’m easier to ignore: they don’t need to reply to my emails or return my voice messages. Half the time, I don’t know whether they’re in the office or not.

This kind of avoidance can end up adding days to project timeframes. So if I’m really chasing someone, I usually IM a colleague to ask whether that person’s in the office. If the person I’m after doesn’t have an assistant, I’ll call them directly and leave messages on their phones. I’ll also email them to let them know why it’s so important I speak with them, and what the implications will be if I don’t speak with them soon (for example, the project may need to be rescheduled).

I’ll also start to think of other ways I might be able to gain the information I need if this contact doesn’t deliver. If all else really does fail, I’ll speak to my manager about the problem and together we’ll work out ways to solve it.

5. The Boss

No two bosses or managers are alike. But simply having your manager passing by your desk or stopping to discuss projects with you can put you on your toes. At home, it can seem like the pressure’s off — almost like you’re untouchable when you’re not on-site.

I’ve found the best way to avoid the motivation slump that can eventuate in my home office is to set myself daily goals, breaking my day up so I know what I need to achieve. This seems pretty straightforward, but I’ve found that actually scheduling all my time between 9 and 5 really does help me to stay on track.

I also maintain close contact with the team I’m working with, so they know what I’m working on, what they can expect from me, and when. The sheer fact that someone knows what I’m doing, and is expecting it at a certain time or date, helps me to focus and stay motivated when I might otherwise hit a brick wall.

These are the elements I’ve found lacking in my work-from-home lifestyle. Do you miss anything about working in an office?

20 Comments

New Remote

Thank you for the reminder about visibility. Remote employees are nothing new for the company I work for, but it is new for our IT dept. (believe it or not). Our first remote employee will be leaving the pen in 2 months. I will be going in 4. I think IM will be a useful tool for replacing the cube fly bys, with the advantage that you can control when you respond. Ive already started using sharepoint as a sort of blog/hub for my daily activities. If someone wants to know what I’m working on, all they have to do is check the site.

Oh and the interesting thing about all of the “what I won’t miss” comments in this thread is that all of those things will continue to exist and affect you (back stabbing, brown nosing) only you won’t be there to defend yourself. Those problems only go away when you’re self employed and that is different than just working remotely

Something else to consider…. Working remotly is a career limiting move. When you are out of sight, you can maintain your visibility, but be prepared to be treated as a known quantity, not an up and comer. I only agreed to a remote lifestyle when I decided that I didn’t have any upward mobility in the company I work for. I’m fine with this for while the economy sucks, but when things improve I think my employer and I will be reevsluating out relationship.

MightyJoe36

Here’s why I don’t miss these things:

1. Watercooler Chit-Chat.

Before I started working from home, my cube was right next to the watercooler/coffee pot/microwave.

I don’t miss the inane chit-chat about American Idol, gossip about co-workers, or the awful, migrane-inducing odors wafting from the microwave.

I also don’t miss having to listen to the annoying ringtones coming from cell phones invariably left in cubes that only seem to go off when that person is away (ever heard of vibrate mode?).

2. Set Starting and Finishing Times.

As another poster said, Self-discipline.

I have my office in a separate room in my house, used only for that purpose. I get up at the same time I used to when I worked at the office, shower and dress as if I were going to work, then head to my office. Unless I’m working against a deadline, I quit working at about the same time I used to at the office.

3. A Good Reason to Get Up.

One of the advantages to WFH is the ability to take a break when needed to knock out a few household chores (run the dishwasher, do a load of laundry, etc.).

4. The Ability to Corner Someone In the Kitchen.

Never had the need. If emails went unanswered, I went to their cube. If I absolutely need a face-to-face, I will go into the office and seek that person out.

The upside is, nobody can corner me in the kitchen, or ambush me in my cube. They have to send me an email (or an IM) and I have time to think instead of having to react. (This goes especially for my boss).

5. The Boss.

Since it was her idea for me to work remotely, I don’t worry about being “out-of-sight out-of-mind.” On the occasions that I do go into the office, I make it a point to stop by her office for an informal chat.

Rachel

I don’t miss any of the things listed above, but I do miss the fact that my bosses would readily pay for new software, subscriptions, and conferences.

Ken

#1 and #3 seem like only issues if you have no life whatsoever outside of your home office.

Summer Huggins

Things like Yammer, IM and Twitter make the 900 miles between me and my company’s office seem like nothing. Sure, I miss going to lunch with colleagues on a regular basis. But these tools at least keep me in the know about what they’re eating when I’m not there.

Peter Sisson

One of the key things I think you also miss working at home is the ability to instantly collaborate and solve problems with co-workers. I like to grab people and start white-boarding ideas, and I think you can accomplish alot in that environment. But these days communications technologies can provide a pretty close substitute. We have people in Moscow, Buenos Aires, California and New Jersey, and we use our own software (Toktumi) for instant free conferences and other forms of collaboration. We are adding desktop sharing which will help to further improve collaboration. I still believe its not a perfect substitute for a conference room and a white board, but you can come pretty close.

Teresa Cuervo

Although there are things here that are very important, I also have 5 things that I WONT miss working in a office.

1. Gossip- those that want to see what you are up too, so they can run and tell the boss.
2. An overtalkative timewaster coworker that does not allow you to do your work.
3. Backstabbing- When the going gets tough.. you know how that goes.
4. Kissass-Brownnosing to the boss- and the boss loving it too!
5.Arrogance- which most often translates to ineptitude and then taking credit for something that YOU have accomplished or resolved.

So there you have my list.

Gayathri

I really miss the brainstorming session and arguments on real techy alternatives. I also miss my lunch buddies who has taught me more life and been good friends otherwise too.

well observed and nicely written post. Many of the people who telecommute can easily connect to these mentioned.

JJ

1. Watercooler Chit-Chat

I miss this a little bit, I love discussing technology, religion and politics! However, I hate small talk, and now I’m free of being constantly bugged by people not in my department.

2. Set Starting and Finishing Times

Self-Discipline yo. Besides, these defined times get in the way of my “flow”.

3. A Good Reason to Get Up

I have an amazing dog, he is reason enough to get up and go outside.

4. The Ability to Corner Someone In the Kitchen

Don’t miss this. It’s much more satisfying to embarrass them with the proof of unanswered emails. Besides, I hate being the one cornered.

5. The Boss

Good Riddance.

wlw

I miss the housekeeping most of all. The temptation to get up and clean something at home is very distracting. I also miss the ability to go buy lunch easily near the office building. At home I have to make lunch everyday!

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