When you first started working from home, you probably thought it was the bee’s knees. No more getting stuck in traffic on the highway during your morning commute. No more coworkers and bosses interrupting you every 3 seconds to request a meeting that should’ve been an email. And if you want to work while wearing bright pink Hello Kitty pajamas, ain’t nobody gonna tell you that you can’t.
But for all of its supposed benefits, the home office is actually quite dangerous to your mind. Isolating yourself away from the world while you work 8, 10, or 12 hours a day denies you the opportunity to meet certain basic needs – and for knowledge workers, neglecting your mental health is both a quality of life issue and a failure to meet one of your work responsibilities.
(Your work is only as good as your brain, after all.)
Here are just a few of the ways that a home office can screw with your brain and put your business or career in jeopardy.
Lack of Structure Can Reduce Your Productivity
When you work in an office, you’re working in a highly structured environment – an environment where everything has a time and a place, and there’s always a task to be done. At home, though, you have no structure. While working at the office means you need to get certain tasks done at certain times of day (as nobody wants to be at the office after 5), working from home means there’s nothing and no one stopping you from simply not working – or worse, working on the wrong tasks. And if you’re the driven kind of person who loves self-employment, chances are that lack of productivity will weigh on your mind.
Social Isolation Cripples Creativity and Makes You Dumber
Humans are social creatures by nature – this is one of those universal truths that people have acknowledged since the time of Aristotle. It’s also something that has been proven in neuroscience. (Social neuroscientist Pascal Vrticka says that we are “biologically hard-wired for interacting with others.”)
And, as creativity and happiness are forms of brain function, exposure to social situations is an essential prerequisite for both. If you’re socially isolated, you’re less likely to be creative and more likely to be unhappy and stressed out. Some studies have even found that social isolation disables brain cells and leads to cognitive decline.
That’s right – locking yourself in your little home office every day is quite literally making you stupid. And when you work in a knowledge industry, your smarts and your creativity are what pay the bills.
No Division Between Work & Home Puts You at Risk of Work Addiction
Work addiction is just like any other addiction. For highly motivated people (who often tend to choose self-employment and work-at-home jobs), working long hours can often create a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem – and that positive feeling acts as an intrinsic reward that prompts people to work more.
Typically, this isn’t a problem for people who are able to take structured time off, because that enables them to control their behaviour. But for people who work from home, there’s no division between the work environment and the home environment. There are no environmental or behavioural cues that tell you to actually, you know, take a break.
In other words: When you work from home, there’s nothing to stop you from working.
University of Waikato psychology professor Michael O’Driscoll says that workaholics don’t have an “off switch” – they carry their work with them everywhere they go. And when you have a home office, it’s far too easy to go from thinking about work to actually doing work.
This is a problem because workaholism has a whole slew of negative consequences. Workaholics are twice as likely to get divorced, three times more likely to become alcoholics, and significantly more likely to die prematurely than non-workaholics.
(The Japanese even have a word for that last one – they call it karoshi, which translates as “death by overwork”.)
So what’s the answer to all of these work-from-home problems? It’s simple: Finding a work environment that is not your house. Somewhere with structure and a social element – somewhere that you can actually leave at the end of the day.
For a lot of people, that means a coffee shop. For others, it’s the library.
But here at the coLab, we believe the best alternative to working from home is a coworking space – a professional office environment where you can chat with like-minded people, get down to work when you have to, and leave at the end of the day.
There’s no point in working yourself to death. That’s why it’s essential to find a structured environment to do your work in – so you can separate your home and work lives. That’s how you create a successful career and still find ways to have a life. That’s how you “win” the work-from-home game.