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7 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who Works from Home

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If you have any sort of non-traditional work arrangement—remote worker, freelancer, entrepreneur—you know how difficult it can be for people to really get what your working situation is like.

Whether it’s a matter of jealousy or simple ignorance of anything outside the traditional 9-5, people have a tendency to view non-traditional workers as the lucky elite—those who spend their days luxuriating around their houses, doing a little work when they feel like it but generally basking in infinite freedom.

If only it were like that!

While working from home or for yourself does have its perks, work is still work. And in some ways, non-traditional work can actually be a lot harder than your standard clock-punching office job. So before you put your foot in your mouth in front of your work-from-home friend or relative, here’s a quick rundown of things I can guarantee they will not appreciate hearing:

1. “Enjoy your day off!”

I get this one regularly because I work part-time at a standard office job and have two days a week free to pursue my freelancing. I’ve learned to bite my tongue from responding, “You mean, enjoy my second job?” because that makes it sound like freelancing is something I don’t enjoy, and I love it.

But it can be frustrating to realize my coworkers think I’m spending two days a week watching daytime TV while they continue to toil away at the office. I actually work harder when I’m at home, since the office has an ebb and flow of projects but I plug away pretty ceaselessly on my freelancing.

While I certainly enjoy my freelance work more than my day job, that doesn’t always make it fun or easy. And it can sting to think that my office mates imagine I’m just taking it easy when I’m not there.

2. “Why can’t you [meet for lunch/run this errand/bake a million cupcakes for the bake sale]? You’ve got the whole day off!”

Just because freelancers and entrepreneurs have more control over their hours, that doesn’t mean they have tons of free time to burn. It’s taken months for my husband to realize that bad things will happen if he tries to play the “But I’ve been working all day!” card when I tell him I don’t have time to do whatever errand he wants on one of my freelance days.

It’s true that it’s easier for me to book doctors’ appointments with my freelance days open, and it’s true that I get to drink my coffee while watching Live! With Kelly and Michael as my office mates are sitting down to their desks for the day. But I still have a long list of projects to get to, and I need to be as disciplined as I can with my time to get them all done, and done well.

3. “I wish I didn’t have to work for anyone!”

While we do have more say over how we prioritize and accomplish our work, the fact is that we still report to other people.

Freelancers have to stick to their clients’ deadlines. Remote workers need to get their company’s projects done as instructed. Even totally self-employed business owners still need to meet quarterly projections, make employee paydays and serve their customers’ needs.

Unless you’ve got a grant to work on your semi-autobiographical play for a year, you still have to meet other people’s expectations and deadlines. You’ve got more freedom as to how you do that, but you’re not reporting to nobody.

4. “Must be nice to [sleep in/work in your pajamas/do whatever you want]!”

If you think non-traditional workers live lives of posh and infinite freedom, you are mistaken. We are not the Real Housewives of Wherever-We-Live. We have visions of sleeping in and being able to go window shopping in the middle of the afternoon, just like you do.

Sometimes, we are able to do that. But those are special treats we allow ourselves. Because most of us got to where we are through a heck of a lot of hustle and discipline, and we need continued hustle and discipline to maintain our footing.

We wake up early and go to bed late. We work on the weekends and evenings. We spend whole days in front of the computer, realizing with a start at 5:00 p.m. that it’s time to make dinner and we haven’t yet showered or eaten lunch (or breakfast).

Yes, working in your pajamas does give you a certain feeling of power and autonomy (and getting away with something kinda cool), but it’s still work.

5. “I’d kill to be able to do what you’re doing!”

It can be difficult to take this one as what it ought to be (a compliment to how hard we’ve worked to get this lifestyle) rather than what it normally is (a statement that we’re lucky bastards who are getting away with something totally unfair).

In this day and age, there are so many ways you can go about attaining a non-traditional work situation. The Internet has removed the “gatekeepers,” and anyone can learn to market and establish themselves in whatever field they excel in.

Granted, maybe you have circumstances that make this difficult for you right now—you’re in too much debt, you have other obligations to look after first—or maybe you’re just more comfortable with the structure and security of a traditional job. But if you’d honestly be happy to do physical harm to someone to live a work-from-home lifestyle, you can find a way to do it. You will, in fact, because people with that kind of drive can’t help it.

6. “Your house must be so clean!”

If only, my friend. If only.

While we’re able to run a load of laundry while we’re working, if all we did was play housekeeper all day long, our income would dry up faster than you can say “Swiffer.”

Work-life balance is an issue for us, too. It’s actually harder, because when you work where you live, there’s nothing to tangibly divide home from the office. Self-starters are ambitious and compulsively driven, so having 24/7 access to their offices only means they’re working that much more.

7. “So, what exactly do you do all day?”

Sigh.

Well, let’s see. We’re business owners, marketing reps, accounting departments, customer service associates, administrative managers… plus all that work of actually providing our products and services to our clients.

What do you do all day?

Kelly Gurnett is Assistant Editor of Brazen Life and runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook and hire her services as a blogger extraordinaire here.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002058208913 Violet Marie Pilkey

    an ex-coworker said that if she could work from home like I can (after I left and got a newer, better job) that she would watch a lot of Ellen and her house would be so clean. I laughed. I wish I could get paid to watch tv and clean my own house.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      I know, right? I think your friend is envisioning the life of a lottery winner, not someone who WORKS from home. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1350177868 Kelli King Ellenburg

    Finally, someone who understands me!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000413869297 Amy McCollister McDaniel

      I love this! Going to tag my sweet friend on this if I can.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164903378 Heather Davidson

      If someone thinks you just sit around all day, they havent taken a close enough look. I never see you take a break! You’re always doing something.. Lol

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1350177868 Kelli King Ellenburg

      Thanks, @[1164903378:2048:Heather]! You understand me, too! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1039467934 Crissy Baton Henderson

      I love it. So true and you know we all at HB understand too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      You are definitely not alone!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001699035826 Subramani Balakrishnan

    nice post Kelly. people see what they choose to see.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Very true. You can never *make* someone else understand what you do or how you do it, but you can (hopefully) try to get them to have a little more sensitivity and perspective about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1184599590 Melanie Lynn

    what a great read! and so very true! thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      You are very welcome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=758648726 Nate Bjork

    Geez. Yes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=619752047 Rachel Best

      I wondered why you weren’t able to bake those million cupcakes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681647268 Mark Egge

      This illustrates really well the fact that people STILL think that work is a place you go, not something you do.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=19100258 Kate Thornbery

      Fun fact: I have heard each of those things from people with kids about my hedonistic child-free lifestyle.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Mark Egge : Exactly! The philosophy behind ROWE–check it out if you haven’t heard of it!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Kate Thornbery: You know what? I just read through the list again with that perspective, and I have, too! To us hedonists! :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=842394557 Michelle Gower

    Ultimately, it’s understandable why people would say these things. I don’t know of too many people who love their jobs at an office so much that they would rather be there than anywhere else. It’s simply the curse of “greener grass.” Besides, we all know that the only ones that truly sit around and do nothing all day are upper management ;).

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1578158135 Steven Ray Miller

      being self-employed (and working from home), you get to CHOOSE which 70 hours a week you work. I certainly am grateful I enjoy what I do.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1128907139 Kim Hobuss Daugherty

      While I get up at 430 every single morning incl weekends and most holidays, I would absolutely not trade the ability to control who I work with, what hrs I work, when I can see my kids etc for the world. I do get a lot of people who are like “that’s not a real job.” But I get the quiet satisfaction of knowing I probably make more money than half of em and sometimes do work in my pj’s :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      I love it, Michelle! So true. And unfortunately, none of us home-workers are upper management…we’re upper management, middle management, the peon entry-level grudge, the intern gofer…you name it!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Steven Ray Miller So true. I work more (hour-wise, and effort-wise) at home than I do at my office job. Home workers are often nose-to-the-grindstone people. We just have more flexibility as to when and how we decide to keep grinding.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Kim Hobuss Daugherty It’s all about what you know–that you work hard, that you’re happy with your situations–and let anyone else’s opinion be damned. They’re just jealous because they don’t have the guts to do what you do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=522125764 Andrew Butts

    “I’d kill to be able to do what you’re doing…”
    *Hands them knife, scissors, stapler, or the next most deadly thing in reach*.
    “THEN DO IT! DOIT DOIT DOIT! BUT YOU CAN’T CAN YOU! Yeah…That’s what I thought…”
    This is what happens in my head. I wake up 3 seconds later, still weirdly staring at the person who said it, offering them a “…cool…” thus providing the necessary social cues for them both to leave, and never come back.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      I think you have vocalized what many of us have secretly also envisioned in our heads. :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=154918366309 GenerationXpert

    I telecommute. I’m the marketing director for the world’s largest continuing education association. My mom tells her friends I have an “Internet” job. I’m sure they think I’m selling knock-off purses on eBay or something. Whatever.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Fantastic! I love the reaction I get when I tell people I’m a freelance blogger. 95% of my older relatives have no idea what a blog even is, so I’ve given to telling them I’m a “writer” instead. That they can understand. :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=736117585 Brian K Morris

    Fantastic article… and WAY too true! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Isn’t it, though? I wish there wasn’t a need to write something like this, but there is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=114884691918686 Blue Jeans Network

    Yes! And w/ more technology enabling the remote worker, that population will continue to grow. Let’s continue to be sensitive to our fellow remote workers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Yes! This is a trend that will only continue to grow–and hopefully, as it becomes more common, some sensitivity and understanding will develop along with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1203838589 Maria Forster

    I love when I say no to someone because I have to work, and they say, Oh you’re working now? Where do you work?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1119774593 Hildegard von Knittin

    I *love it* when my office counterparts call me and say “Hey, what are you doing?”… I always say “Well, I’m sitting here in my pajamas, eating bon bons, watching the soaps, painting my toenails… the usual…” and they all says “Whaaa?” and I say ” No! I’m working!” (Even though I am probably in my pajamas). My DBF has to remind me to NOT work, because we all get trapped in “just looking at one email” and a half hour later we’re in the middle of it. It’s hard to turn off. AND I never go anywhere! Working at home, means my off time is at home… and weeks and weeks of that gets pretty boring.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Amen to all of this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1656186097 Bonnie Pinkston

    I’ve been doing medical transcription at home for 25+ years — and I have heard these and worse. it is SO tiresome.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1371128311 Susan M. Bell

      Seriously. When I first started the pet sitting thing, I’d get some comments like this. It’s gotten better.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1656186097 Bonnie Pinkston

      i don’t get it so much with the pet sitting — but i also get tired of the people who work their 9-5 jobs M-F with weekends and holidays off and benefits thinking i don’t really do anything.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      That is an excellent point, Bonnie. Most of my weekends are working weekends, and I’d love to be able to get paid holidays off again. There are definitely tradeoffs…it’s not all candy canes and roses on this side, although personally I could never go back to the traditional grind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1677163242 Felicia Crabby

    I had so much trouble making people understand why I was feeling overwhelmed and had to give up my business. “Oh your a pet sitter how fun you just get to play with animals all day.” Nope I have to get up early take care of mine, check emails for anything urgent head out come back around 2 quick bite while I’m checking emails and phone messages. do more visits come home set up client meets while making dinner back out to do dinner for clients back home to do more office work back out for good night visits then home stay up till 12/1 am doing marketing tracking down potential leads. All while working a regular job 2 days a week. Rarely getting an actual day off.
    Yes pet sitting is fun but a pet sitting business involves more business than pet sitting. Yes I set my schedule but time off means no money.
    I am ready for someone else to be in charge again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=257062807639686 Careful Cents

    Ha! This is all so true it’s not even funny (and yet it is). You totally nailed this!

    I’m in a similar situation to yours where I work 4 days a week for my FT job and have Fridays off. My family and friends never let me hear the end of it. They think I have these 3 day weekends where I sleep in and do nothing. They can’t figure out why I’m always busy or don’t have any time. And then it always comes down to the dreaded question…”What do you do on Fridays?” Sigh…

    I also have the problem of my boss taking over my “Freelance Fridays” and making me work at the office anyway – which means my weekends are full of catching up for my business. Boundaries…I need to work on setting boundaries!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16705463 Robert Carvel

      A few of those also shouldn’t be said to unemployed people…..

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      That is an EXCELLENT point, Robert!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Same here, Carrie. I’ve told my office I’m available by phone or email if an emergency crops up or if they need to know something only I know that can’t wait till the next day. But our definitions of “emergency” are not always the same. :/

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=154935884631399 Club Thrifty

      Boundaries are tough to set. We all need to work on that sometimes – especially me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000284305238 Estelle Williams

    So true, all of it! And if I have to run an errand or do a shop, I have to almost drag myself out of the house because I am so used to not having the wasted time of a commute – but a girls gotta eat :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      I hear you! I feel like I get so much more done when I’m home because there are no commutes, distractions, etc. (Like changing out of my PJs…) :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1565842785 Donna Poehner

    When I mention to friends that I’m flexible because I work from home, they think it means I can totally rearrange my work schedule (though they probably don’t even realize that I have one!), or take a whole day off in the middle of the week. What I really mean is MAYBE I can meet you for lunch Friday.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      I so hear you on this one. Would someone ask you to drop everything and meet for coffee if you were at the office? It’s the same when you’re working from home–yes, I have more control over my schedule, so I can fit in things like errands and lunches when work flow permits it, but that doesn’t mean I’m totally fluid. I still have a schedule. And, that schedule can still get too busy if I get a rush project. Work is still work, wherever you do it from.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=546946100 Amy Bellows

    These things also definitely apply to stay-at-home parents! I was one of those for 9 years, and I heard every single one of them…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1214265718 Azalea Raks

      even more special when they come from your spouse

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=546946100 Amy Bellows

      He made that mistake ONCE. ONCE. :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=546946100 Amy Bellows

      My favorite was ‘hey, since you’re home, can you watch my kids [for free]?’

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Love. My husband still slips up sometimes and gives me the guilt trip for not being able to meet him for lunch whenever he wants me to. He is learning, though. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000880741541 Anne-Marie Edwards Anderson

    LOL. What a great and true article! I’m in total agreement with “Careful Cents”. I’m a former college professor and have been working from home for the past 12 years. I’ve had every one of those comments said to me at one time or another.

    I also have three small children and people often comment how lucky I am to be able to stay home with my kids. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that when you work from home, you tend to work more than at the office. I actually have a nanny come in to help me with my kids because its impossible to make conference calls etc with a 3,4 and 7 year old in the office with me.

    On another note, when I mention to people that I work from home and have a home based business, I often get that “look” that says……Oh No! she’s going to try to recruit me into some mlm scheme.

    I always have to explain to people that I own several websites for a living but they are not any type of multi level marketing. Unfortuantely, mlms have given working from home a bad name.

    I have done many types of work in the past such as data entry, virtual assisting, mystery shopping, writing etc. and really love every aspect of working from home. My most successful website is the Legitimate Online Job Directory at http://www.EJobsOnline.biz. This is a work at home telecommuting blog and database of fee free, scam free, mlm free jobs and companies hiring home based workers. If you are looking for a work from home jobs, check it out.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      I don’t have children, but I can understand the overwhelm entirely. I used to think when I started working from home, I’d be able to get all sorts of extra errands, cleaning, and even (yeah right) “relaxing” done with my new, more flexible schedule.

      But you know what? Turns out I’m a workaholic when it comes to work I actually enjoy–and work that now depends on my hustling to keep income coming in! I sometimes envy 9 to 5’ers, if nothing else than for the fact that they can turn off their work brains and leave work at work once they go home.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1365237096 Susanna Escalante

    So right!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1095289604 Travis Garner

      Number 5 annoys me the most, and is probably the most common one I hear.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1154902231 Neal Livingston

    I used to do a telecommute day once or twice a month during bad weather. All it meant was I started at 04:00 instead of 07:00 and usually worked well beyond the time I would have had to at the office. I now work from my home office the majority of the time being on my own. Trust me you start working, breakfast and lunch is an afterthought and your social interaction is severely limited to colleagues and there is no water cooler to have a conversation by. The home workers of today have to put in weekend time for the luxury of a daytime doctors appointment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=730332159 Gina Hurlbert Pogol

    Too true! Although I no longer freelance, I do work from home for my employer. And yes, you pay for that mid-day tennis lesson with midnight crunch time. But when people tell me, “you are sooooo lucky” I can only respond, “Yes, I am.” I love my company and I love my job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=123400058 Raven Robinson

    This article just made my day. The ones I get often are, “You just play on the computer all day” or “Weren’t you in that same spot when I left?” Yes, I’m in the same spot. To some its my bedroom, to me it’s my office. The place I go to make money. As a freelancer and owner of a business that is completely separate from my freelancing, as long as I have an internet connection, I’m either working or trying to find something else to work on. Period.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001129415064 Esther Sutton

    I won’t be able to do it because I will end up working endlessly. It’s nice to say time to quit and physically leave work and not take it home. I did some consulting at home and did not know when to quit. Exhausting. Kept going til complete.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1684552152 Davaughn White

    Looking for serious Affiliate Marketers for CashMyStudio – A Revenue Sharing website that allows you to earn money online. Signing up for this affiliate program is free. Affiliate will earn $1.25 per referral each time their affiliates purchase premium membership. Visit http://www.cashmystudio.com to sign up, then login to get your Affiliate Link.

  • http://josephratliff.com/ JosephRatliff

    From #2:
    “Just because freelancers and entrepreneurs have more control
    over their hours, that doesn’t mean they have tons of free time to burn.”

    Or… that we WANT to burn that free time in the first place :)

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