Time to work from home?

Happiness in work, as in life, involves aligning exactly what you need with the environment around you. The decision to work from home is no exception. Sounds simple, right?

After over 15 years of working for agencies and studios, friends convinced me to work from home, despite my fear of its inherent instability. Now, with almost a year under my belt, I have to admit that in every respect it’s been one of the most successful years I’ve had.

If you’re thinking of making the move to working from home, the first question to ask is: ‘How well do you know yourself?’ Be brutally honest when you answer. Working at home, either as a freelancer or a contract worker, might seem like the dream way to work – and it’s never been more achievable than it is now. But it definitely isn’t for everyone.

Are you a procrastinator? Do you tend to faff about? If so, you’re going to get ‘fired’. Do you need the company of other people to keep your energy up? Maybe a studio environment is a better fit. Some creatives need outside influences to stay focused – progress checks and personal interactions help them stay on task. However, that said, even if you’re sharing a space with an agreeable bunch of people, the fun part can quickly become distracting. Jokes and too much conversation can easily shift from keeping the mood light to actively preventing you from getting work out of the door on time.

Being happy in a studio space requires that both you and your peers share the same goals, which can often be hard to determine. These might be as simple as wishing to work on high-profile projects, or preferring a relaxed schedule working with a group of fun people. I’ve been in studios where I was perpetually at odds, angry and confused about why projects turned out the way they did. It wasn’t until I’d had some distance that I realised we simply had different goals in mind for what we wanted out of the projects. I was always looking to create the best possible design solution, so a studio focusing primarily on turnover or straight production work wasn’t a good fit for me.

When I worked in a studio I was a clock-watcher. Now I don’t even notice when the day is over. In addition to reclaiming several commuting hours, I’m infinitely more focused without the distractions of studio life, and often start the day early simply because I have ideas and things I can’t wait to try.

Working from home is also convenient for me because I’m slightly misanthropic; a self-starter who can’t stand office drama. I’ve found that I either care so much about a project that every revision tears my heart out, or I don’t care at all. I’ve always struggled to strike a balance between those two states. But now I don’t hear the ins and outs of every part of the project that might cause me grief, which lets me focus on getting the work done to my satisfaction. I have a single point of contact: if they’re happy, I’m happy. The signal to noise ratio is right where it needs to be for me to do my job well. Some days I flit about because an idea hasn’t gelled and I don’t get much done; others I work a straight 14 hours and my wife has to remind me that I need to eat.

On your own, sometimes you get too deep into a project and can’t see things clearly. Recently I had a project where I was really stuck, teetering between a good and great solution. I’d lost perspective and didn’t know what it needed to push it to the next level. So, I got onto iChat and sent the project over to another freelancer – a colleague from a previous studio. He was able to look at it with fresh eyes and make a couple of suggestions to point me in the right direction. I have a small network of people I can go to for advice, and that takes the place of the social aspect of a studio for me.

Some projects can’t support a home worker because they can’t be compartmentalised – they might require different skillsets. At the moment, the work-at-home life works for me because the kind of thing I do isn’t a team effort. My work either solves the problem or it doesn’t.

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