I have a babysitter who comes to the house three days a week, usually from 11-2 PM. This is by far my most productive work time, because—and here’s something I didn’t 100% totally completely grok with fullness a year ago—working from home with kids around is, like, really hard.

It makes a pretty big difference in my week to be able to get out now and then in order to grind out some deadlines, but there is, of course, the small matter of finding some place to go.

For a while I went to a coffee shop, but I gave that up because 1) the wireless was always slow or spotty, 2) I felt like a dick buying one coffee and taking up a chair for three hours, and 3) it was infusing me with roasted bean stench. My hair, my laptop bag, my clothes—it was worse than being in a smoky bar, I swear to god.

I’ve tried the large food court area of a local mall, where you can find one of a zillion tables and pick up the nearby library’s wireless, but this got depressing real fast. It’s, you know, a food court. It’s loud and messy and the chairs suck and it’s just kind of bleak.

So for the last several months, I’ve been going to the library. It’s perfect in most ways—it’s quiet, the wireless is great, the couches are comfy. The only problem is that it’s full of people being as silent and self-contained as possible. No one is talking or interacting with each other, except for harried mothers chasing toddlers through the kids’ section. This is a great environment for focusing on work, but for someone who is already so isolated from other adults, it’s, I don’t know, it’s like being there every week is contributing to this growing sensation that I am disconnected from everything. There I sit with my laptop, ostensibly around other people, but sealed into my own muted world.

It’s lonely.

(I’m not sure if I’m describing this well.)

Have any of you tackled the issue of working without an office? Did you find a good solution for those times when it’s better to work outside the home? Did anything help stave off the feeling that you were, ha ha, slowly morphing into freakish recluse doomed to eventually develop an obsession for urinating in jars and putting Kleenex boxes on your feet?


82 Responses to “Working from not-home”

  1. Nik-Nak on October 11th, 2011 7:51 am

    A friend’s house?
    When I think of work from home I always picture a nice park on a pretty day. But internet is not usually found in parks. And then you run the risk of running into even more children when the whole point was to get away from them. So no, I’m no help.

  2. marna - jwoap-oregongurl on October 11th, 2011 8:03 am

    I used to find a friend to go with and we’d go to the library, work together, go have coffee, or lunch and then return back to our respective homes. We did that once a week for a four hour window. So we got to talk and work at the same time.

    I also have an office at my house I can shut my door and I have had the baby sitter watch my son while I shut the door and work.

    And even though this is off topic, I was thinking as I was reading this. I begun to read you from your inception, ( I think I found you on disco the kids’ site? years ago) and your journal is the first name I look for that’s highlighted on my google reader. I have cried and sobbed along with your journal, (the turtle post, I saved that one, as it was a comfort when I as going through the same kinds of struggles) I laughed myself to the point of not being able to catch my breath (I think the posts when you curse in all caps is by far my favorite – you know, JESUS FUCKING CHRIST HOLY SHIT MOTHER FUCKER), totally love it. I have also felt protective of you and gotten angry on your behalf as well.

    I think because you say what I think, and I wish I could just blurt that stuff out in real life. I know I don’t know you from Adam but it’s been really a treat to watch you and your family grow.

    Anyhow, we all in this world critisize too much and I just wanted to say I appreciate you and enjoy my dose of Sundry Mourning.

  3. Mary on October 11th, 2011 8:22 am

    I’ve been working at home for 4 years and recently brought all my freelance clients with me to our new home in Denver… a city where I don’t know anyone except my husband, and was feeling isolated from not talking to other human beings during the work day.

    I joined a co-working space a couple months ago, and lo, the world opened up. I know it’s been mentioned a ton, but it’s all so much easier now. I like having people to go to, people that aren’t in cubicles. And I volunteer on a committee for the space so I can meet people, etc. But if you’re after solitude, it can be heads-down productive when you want it to be, for sure.

    I pay $95 for “hotdesking” 2 days a week, and I know some folks do a “trade” — become their social media person and get a discount for tweeting once a day or whatever. If you need part of a couple days, owners of these places, at least here, seem very open to working with you. And another upside: They work to help connect people with potential new clients.

    If that’s not your thing, I second finding a friend to meet up and work with somewhere. I feel like less of an asshole if two of us were at a table buying beverages instead of 1.

    Let us know what you end up trying. I suppose no solution is perfect, but it still beats the hell out of commuting to a cube farm.

  4. MRW on October 11th, 2011 8:34 am

    I don’t work from home, but the comments about going to a college library got me thinking that maybe finding a grad school library might work too. In my college library there was a lot of chatting and socializing which might not be so good for getting work done. In grad school the library was more serious – people still chatted, but not nearly as much.

    I know the grass is always greener, but reading this makes me yearn to work from home because I have a coworker who will not stop talking at me for 9 hours a day. It’s hard to get anything done she talks so damned much about herself, office politics, regular politics, you name it, she talks about it. I feel myself on the verge of committing homicide nearly every week. Could really use some quiet.

  5. Olivia on October 11th, 2011 9:11 am

    No experience here, but would a Barnes & Nobles or other book store work? Good wifi, quiet but not too quiet?

  6. Sarah on October 11th, 2011 9:36 am

    I’ve been trying to balance the same thing for the past two years. What worked the best was sending the kid(s) out of the house and then making myself sit down to work (and not do laundry or the dishes). I also found I liked the local coffee shops – not Sbux – better in the evenings rather than the daytime. Maybe more tea and less coffee smell? And since I live in Pullman, most people are studying at coffee shops all hours of the day so it’s not unusual to get one drink and take up a table for hours. Maybe go to a university area coffee shop? The balance is hard, I always wonder how it all gets done.

  7. laziza on October 11th, 2011 10:09 am

    I was also going to suggest the coworking/office sharing/renting a desk route.

  8. Sarah on October 11th, 2011 12:03 pm

    Does JB work in an office where they could make a little space for you? It seems like that might be a nice way to get an office and might not come with the cost of some of the other options (assuming he is in an office and that he is the boss there!).

  9. Snarky Mommy on October 11th, 2011 12:59 pm

    OMG, the Starbucks Stank. I hate it. I have a sitter come three days a week for three horus as well, so I can go write. If I stay home, I am not as focused as if I actually have to get dressed and go out and do it. I have found Panera is a great place — you can eat lunch and their wireless is good. But it’s sometimes hard to get a table near an outlet because people treat it as their personal office space. So, doesn’t solve the issue of feeling like a dick for sitting their for hours, but at least you don’t smell.

  10. Jen on October 11th, 2011 1:13 pm

    I’ve never really ventured out of the house to work, instead I ship the kids out of the house (I need more than just a couple of hours a day, two or three full days blocked off for Work Time works best for me) But I do get what you’re saying- it can be SO isolating to be at home all day, just typing. I’ll go 7 hours without uttering a WORD out loud. Kinda freaky. So I play music and sing so I at least feel human, ha.

    Is there a place you can hide in your own house while the sitter is there? I’ve found it tough personally to be here at home working while someone else (husband) deals with the kids. I always end up sucked into whatever drama is going on. But that might help with the depressing aspect of the mall food court or the library. But then again… you’re hiding in your own house so… heh. Not really an easy answer to this one.

  11. Jon on October 11th, 2011 4:58 pm

    I’ve been there. When our kids were smaller it was hard to work from home with them around. Now they’re pretty self-sufficient and leave me alone. I still like to get out of the house sometimes though. I used to have an Atlanta Bread Company (Panera-like sandwich shop) near me with Wifi and not such an overwhelming stench of burning coffee. It was my favorite place to work for an hour or three.

    Now I rotate between the library with the homeless guys and/or Merlin Mann, the greek place with baclava-sticky tables, the SUPER LOUD ESPN-FILLED SPORTS BAR, the Barnes and Noble that’s pretty packed, or the continuously-mopped McDonalds. None are great, but I get the most done at McDonalds.

    If you can find a free/cheap coworking space, that could work but it’s probably full of starry-eyed kids with startup dreams.

    I like the idea of connecting with other local freelancers on Twitter or something and doing some spontaneous co-working / socialization. Getting together with someone for lunch 1-2 times a week can be expensive but it goes a long way.

  12. Amber on October 11th, 2011 6:30 pm

    I had so much trouble working by myself – lonely, isolated, fairly certain inspecting my ears with my finger in public was acceptable behavior, etc. – that I moved from San Francisco to LA to fix it.

    Not that I’m saying MOVE. YOU MUST MOVE. I’m just affirming that, yeah – it’s a thing. My solution was to find someone else who was in a similar situation (and with a similar temperament, work ethic, etc.) and work with her as often as humanly possible.


    Anyway, if you can find someone in a similar situation and have work dates as often as possible, it should help enormously.

  13. bj on October 11th, 2011 6:59 pm

    I totally understand what you feel (and, yes, like another commenter above, that you said exactly what I feel). There’s a set of moms at a private school who rent a house near the school — to have just this kind of shared work space.

    I see this in the Seattle area:


    There must be something like that closer to you?

    and this:


    I know there are places like that that offer shared studio space, and I really have to search for one. Thanks for the validation and the incentive.

  14. Amy on October 11th, 2011 7:12 pm

    Yep, I was going to suggest coworking too. Sounds like a good mix of stability and flexibility, though I have no personal experience with it. Seems more likely you’d find it in your area then mine (rural Mississippi), though. Can’t wait to hear the zany exploits sure to come from this journey.

  15. kathleen on October 11th, 2011 7:23 pm

    I work from home part time and am in grad school part time. I end up working 5-6 hours alone most days. It’s taken me a year or so to figure it out, but I now work from home 1-2 days a week, and then go to the same three businesses on assigned days of the week. (X coffee shop on Tuesdays, Y library on Wednesdays, etc). I’ve found that I’ve gotten to know some people just because we are always there at the same time, and it keeps me from getting to lonely in my house (I’m single, so it’s just me there). After I graduate in May I’ll be full time from home, and I’m not sure if my schedule will change or not in terms of home vs. out working. Let us know if you find anything that helps/works!

  16. Meagan on October 11th, 2011 8:55 pm

    I wrote a novel in coffee shops (plus the occasional Borders). Maybe you just need to find one that’s less smelly. :-)

  17. Kathleen on October 11th, 2011 9:25 pm

    My local library is oddly nonquiet. It used to have a coffee shop, which is sadly gone but now houses the used book sale area and lots of chatty people who make for good people watching. Libraries in our area vary widely – some are great work places, some are just too cone-of-silence. Shop around, perhaps?

  18. Kate on October 12th, 2011 5:48 am

    Do you have a nearby community college? You could go to their library – they are a bit noisier. Or a Panera Bread? That is a good spot for some noise and good internet…

  19. Cheri on October 12th, 2011 1:29 pm
  20. Kirsty on October 12th, 2011 2:19 pm

    I’ve worked from home for (God help me) 15 years and still don’t have an actual “office” – just a corner of our sitting room. It IS hard, especially when the girls aren’t in school (all day Wednesdays, weekends, holidays) and when their dad can’t take them (often, even though he’s unemployed. Drives me batshit).
    As a single mother, the lack of adult contact is, to be honest, killing me. I’ve never felt so utterly lonely in my entire life. I’m just aching for someone adult (and male) to put their arms around me, hold me tight, pour me a glass of wine and share a joke with me (not necessarily all at the same time, of course)…
    To combat the working from home thing, I’ve always done a little teaching – part-time, more or less. This makes for a lot of working hours and even more crabbiness, but I have debts galore so there’s no choice.
    And, though teaching is absolutely not my vocation, it DOES bring me into contact with adults (I teach mainly postgraduate students so yes, they’re waaaaay younger than I am, but they ARE (technically) adults).
    Despite all my complaining, I wouldn’t (professionally) have it any other way – I love the freedom of working from home (on school days, anyway, which mean that I’m “free” from 8.30 am to 4.45 pm).
    From a personal point of view, I’m terrified of spending the next 40 years alone but can’t see how it can possibly be otherwise given that I have no social life…

  21. Karen on October 13th, 2011 9:26 am

    Have read some not all of the comments, and co-working or desk renting sounds like an awesome solution, and so much more noble and honest than my old method…. I would say goodbye to the kids and grandma upstairs, walk out front door, and sneak back in the basement for 2 hours of quiet writing and good internet. The guilt was always secondary to the level of accomplishment!
    Now they’re all in school and life has settled down…..
    hang in there!

  22. Jen W. on October 13th, 2011 1:00 pm

    I’m still working in my pajamas and haven’t brushed my teeth at 4 pm so I’m not sure I can give advice at this point…

  23. Frannie on October 13th, 2011 10:20 pm

    There’s a place called Stardust Coffee and Video in Orlando. Maybe there are places like it in your area. It has food, but doesn’t smell of coffee; it’s usually quiet during the day (turns into a bar at night), and even has a good selection of video and art. People have no problem being there for a while. Most of the clientele are friendly and want to socialize.
    What places/people inspire you? I have a hard time being more gregarious, but places like that have a special quality in that I am able to talk and/or work.
    I also agree that meeting with fellow freelancers or rent-a-desks seem like a cool idea as well.

  24. Farrell on October 14th, 2011 10:30 am

    I don’t know how anyone expects to get work done with young kids at home. I’ve been working from home 2 days/week for 7 years and there is NO WAY IN HELL I could get anything done while my daughter was home, esp. in the younger years. Now on my days from home, I can pick her up from school and still keep working while she has a snack, watches tv, does her homework, and then we’re both done and ready to play (she’s in first grade)

    Do you have a home office set up? Can you set one up, if not?

    I work in an office 3 days/week but nobody is that social.

  25. Gina in MN on October 17th, 2011 1:03 pm

    Ha: I’m writing this from a library right now, where I am also working from “not home”! I agree, very isolating.Although at our libraries there are likely to plenty of homeless people who would be happy to chat, I’m sure… that somehow doesn’t make me feel better. I don’t have any real answers (haven’t read the other comments yet), but I’m hoping to find some regular (even monthly) gathering to schedule in. Maybe a knitting group, book group, networking or even toastmasters group, fergodsakes. I don’t think I really need a LOT of social connection, but working without real in-person colleages is harder than I expected when I gleefully left my rather comfy office a year back or so. The grass is always greener, and I don’t think i would have believed anyone working from coffeeshops etc if they would have told me how hard it was before I quit. We just have to live it to know, and adapt as best we can. Good luck!!!

  26. ned on October 18th, 2011 9:57 am

    I work as a clinical trials auditor, which requires me to travel to clinics and hospitals 60-80% of the time to review research data. But when I’m not traveling, I work from home, which, for me, ranges in satisfaction from waterboarding to 9th circle of hell.

    If I’m not answering a hundred emails (ALL marked urgent by their respective authors BTW), I’m writing reports on my trips. All of which leaves me completely isolated from the world. So, when I really need to focus and get work done, I go to Starbucks, or Barnes & Noble, or the Library. I’m lucky because my company Blackberry allows me to tether my laptop when free WiFi isn’t available, so literally ANYPLACE is acceptable. But since I live in God’s Waiting Room (South Florida), it’s usually too hot 9 months out of the year for me to work outside.

    Bitch much?! Yes I do. It’s the essence of me.


  27. Kirsten on October 21st, 2011 2:11 pm

    I soooo need to go read everyone’s responses because seriously I struggle with the SAME crap. This is WAY harder then I thought it would be and I’ve been doing it for 3.5 years.

  28. Amy on October 24th, 2011 4:40 am

    This is me as well. I can go to my company’s main office and work in “hotel” space, but my problem now is that I’m surrounded by new faces every time and it’s an hour commute each way on a good day, so it rarely makes sense to do that commute just to see strangers. My kids are in school most of the day, but I find it hard to focus sometimes with all the other home crap distracting me. I only wish my house was spotless to show that my distractions accomplished something.


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