Obsidian Learning has had a flexible work environment for many years, and employees have long been free to work at home as necessary or desired according to their personal circumstances. In an effort to comply with CDC and WHO recommendations regarding social distancing and, more recently, local authorities’ stay at home orders, all Obsidian Learning employees are currently working from home, and we thought it might be useful to share our experience in this domain with those of you facing this as a new reality.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing a series of blog posts based on our collective remote working experience. Our aim is twofold. First, we want to help you make the transition from a catastrophic “how do I make this work” mindset to a more thoughtful and long-term strategy that involves your workspace and daily habits. Second, we want to provide you with tips to make working from home healthier, happier, more productive, and as positive an experience for you and your family as possible. To get started, we thought we’d give you the lowdown on what we feel are the top advantages and disadvantages of working from home (or, as we like to call it, WFH).

Top Advantages

  1. No commute. This, my friends, rates very highly for many Obsidian employees. While several Obsidianites live near our office, many of us live farther away. And while the actual distances aren’t that great (let’s say maximum 30 miles), anyone who knows about Houston traffic totally gets why this item is No. 1. Savings. If you don’t have to make the commute, you also don’t have to pay for all that gas. If you’ve never previously WFH and you live a fair distance from your place of work, this can feel like a mini raise. And gas is not the only place you’ll save – think about that morning coffee run, and the cost of your occasional (or not-so-occasional) lunch out. You might not think twice about such expenses, but over the long term they can really add up.

  2. Healthy eating. Not only can it be cheaper to eat at home, it can also be much easier to make better choices when it comes to food. It’s tempting to make poor nutritional choices when you’re at the office, short on time, and hungry (hello, fast food). When WFH you have a full kitchen at your disposal, and can plan on having a variety of simple, healthy foods on hand. Here are some tips on how to get organized, along with a handy list of recipes.

  3. Less stress. For those of us juggling family and work commitments, WFH can be a game-changer. All of the incremental stresses that we experience during our normal routines can add up to high levels of anxiety. If this is your first time WFH, think of it this way: No soul-sucking commute + the power to make better nutritional choices + financial and time savings = zen.

  4. Environmental benefits. You might have seen the photos circulating of the canals in Venice which show clear water and visible fish. And due to social distancing/quarantine measures in Asia and Europe, smog and pollution have leveled off in several large population centers. With higher numbers of people WFH, we can hope to see a similar reduction in our carbon footprint here in the United States. And who knows? Perhaps these startling effects will be the catalyst for some longer-term strategic thinking about how to alter the structure of our everyday lives in ways that will positively impact the environment.

  5. Better work/life balance. It can be a struggle to accomplish certain things – personal administrative tasks, caring for a sick child – on a 9 to 5 office schedule. Calling your tax advisor or insurance broker from home ensures that such personal matters remain private, and given the opportunity, most parents prefer to personally care for a sick loved one. If you’re lucky enough to have an employer that is flexible about scheduling you can make adjustments as necessary to ensure you meet your professional obligations.

  6. Personalized workspace. This is your chance to create a workspace uniquely suited to your taste and needs. It can be difficult to construct a truly personalized workspace in an office environment; company policy might restrict the type of personal items on display, or you might not be able to position your desk just so. Think seriously about what suits your personality, and the type of environment that will encourage you to remain focused and productive.

  7. Work from anywhere. If you’ve got a bit of wanderlust, keep in mind that working remotely doesn’t always have to mean working from home. Though our immediate societal needs call for self-isolating as much as possible, I’m sure we’re all looking forward to a return to something approaching normalcy. That can mean anything from working on the side of the field during a child’s soccer practice, an afternoon at the local coffee shop, or spending a few days in a cabin in the woods (WiFi equipped, of course!).

Top Disadvantages

  1. Missing your podcast/audio book. As much as you might not have enjoyed the actual commute to the office, it might also have been your only time to get caught up on your favorite podcast, radio hour, or audio book. You’ll need to make a conscious effort to carve out time for such activities in your new WFH schedule.

  2. Snacking. While staying at home can lead to making better food choices, the flip side is that the kitchen is so close. Hitting a little snag in your work or having a bit of downtime can easily lead to a trip to the kitchen for a quick snack…and if you’re doing that two or three times a day your caloric intake might be increasing more than you realize. As with overall eating habits, this is perhaps a chance to change the way you snack. Try to plan on having healthier options on hand, and do your best to ignore the siren call of those Oreos in the pantry.

  3. Lack of a proper workspace. If you’re new to WFH, you might not have had the need or opportunity to set up dedicated workspace. Now’s the time to get busy on that, stat. Working at the dining room table is OK for a few hours, but any longer than that and you can be sure someone’s going to spill milk on your laptop. Carving out a workspace should be high on your list of priorities if you’re going to be WFH for the foreseeable future.

  4. Lack of proper ergonomics. Many corporate workplaces have ergonomic policies in place, so in addition to your ergonomic office chair, keyboard, and desk, you might also receive frequent automated reminders about proper posture, wrist placement, stretching, and computer breaks. When WFH, this is on you. If you WFH exclusively, consider investing in (at a minimum) a comfortable office chair. If WFH is a temporary or occasional situation, do your best to make sure you have a place that is comfortable, and do remember to get up, walk around, and stretch at frequent intervals. Here are a few inexpensive tips to make your home office space more ergonomic.

  5. Scheduling. If you and your partner are working from home, you’re going to need to discuss how that’s going to work, practically speaking. If you’ve both got a conference call at 2, who’s going to be looking after the kiddos? Make sure to determine who’s responsible for childcare and when, and do your best to be flexible when negotiating responsibilities. If your call isn’t crucial or mandatory, you can always ask to reschedule. Remember this video? That could so easily be you…

  6. Distractions/trouble focusing. I’m not talking about throwing on a quick load of laundry (go for it). What I’m highlighting here are the endless opportunities for distraction in the home…the children, the dog, the latest Netflix series, the garage you’ve been meaning to organize. It can be disorienting not to have the inherent constraints of an office environment in place, and both organization and self-discipline are essential. Organization is key in terms of settling your household into a productive routine, and if self-discipline is in short supply you’re going to need to shore up this quality as quickly as possible.

  7. Lack of physical activity. If your normal routine is some variation of home/office/gym, it’s going to take some effort to maintain your physical fitness. While you might not be able to get in your normal workout, these days there are numerous online resources at your disposal, and most don’t require a ton of fancy equipment. This informative article discusses several strategies for staying fit while WFH. And don’t forget, this can also be an opportunity to get your family involved. A fun family yoga session might be just what you all need to unwind after your daily work/school tasks are complete.

  8. Poor work/life balance. While for some people WFH can be a great means of reconciling work and home responsibilities, for others it can be difficult to separate the two. If you don’t establish some fairly firm boundaries, work can start seeping into your personal time, and vice versa. It’s one thing to make up an hour of time in the evening after you needed to interact with a homebound child; it’s quite another to be checking work e-mails every five minutes no matter the time of day. Some overlap is to be expected, but do your best to be mindful of the time dedicated to each.

If you’re new to working from home, it requires some adjustment. While some individuals seem to be wired for productivity no matter where they work, others rely on the structure of an office environment to stay on track. Hopefully, this list of advantages and disadvantages will help you identify some of the potential benefits as well as some of the pitfalls of WFH, and help you intentionally design your environment and habits to create the WFH experience you desire.

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