Many people aspire to give up their daily commutes and work from a home office. For some time, I’d been feeling a tug in the opposite direction, to move out of my home office into an actual one.

I’m the perfect person for a home office. My legal work is such that I am not visited by clients. And in my consulting work, my main client is 2,000 miles away.

I’d worked from a home office on and off since 1993 and steadily since 2003. For most of those years, I loved it. I can’t tell you how many snowy, rainy or frigid mornings I thanked my lucky stars that my commute did not require me to even step outside. Grab a cup of coffee, shuffle into my home office, and I was at work.

But therein lied the rub. When you work from a home office, you are never not at work. Try as you might to draw artificial boundaries, your desk constantly beckons you to sit down and do a bit more.

Some people fear that they could not be productive working from home. They fret that they would be tempted to turn on the TV or fiddle around in the kitchen. That was never a problem for me. If anything, my problem was stepping away from my work.

When you have no commute, you have no space between off-work and on-work. No drive or train ride. No walk to the office. No need to dash out at noon to the local deli.

One friend of mine who worked from home forced herself to go through a pretend commute every morning. Instead of stepping from her bed to her desk, she left her house and walked a slightly circuitous route through her town and back to her house. That was her way of transitioning.

Reestablishing A Boundary

After a dozen years in a home office, I began to feel that the line between work time and personal time had completely faded away. I started to think about getting an outside office as a way of reestablishing that boundary.

Finding one was not easy. I looked at several spaces. They were too big or too expensive or even, in some cases, too claustrophobic. I did not want to spend a lot – after all, I hadn’t been spending anything on rent for 12 years. And I didn’t need much space – somewhere to put my desk, a credenza and some shelves.

One day, responding to yet another ad on Craigslist, I found it. I felt like Goldilocks finding just the right bed. It was affordable and the right size. It was in a suite of other professional offices. All I had to provide was my own Internet access. And the landlord didn’t even want a lease – so if it didn’t work out, I wasn’t committed.

The office is in Gloucester, the seaport city adjacent to my small town of Rockport. It is just a short drive from my home and I can even take a train, where it’s one stop away. It’s a block from the gym I go to. It’s on an eclectic main street with restaurants and shops. It feels like going to work but without the pain of a major commute. And, of course, I can always stay home if the weather is bad.

These days, no one enjoys any true separation between work time and personal time. We are always connected. We are always on. But so far, I like having a separate and detached work space. As much as I felt productive working from home, I feel now like my time in the office is go time. I am here to work for a finite period and I go full steam. And at the end of that time, I feel a bit freer to be off the clock.

  • Spot on, Bob. I’ve been working from home since 2008 and the issues you detail are exacerbated in a NYC apt. Like your friend, I started getting up earlier a couple of years ago to walk for a mile or two and grab a cup of coffee on my way back to the “office.” Repeat routine for lunch and dinner, sans coffee. It’s made a HUGE difference and has become such a habit that it doesn’t feel right if I don’t go out for the scheduled walks. That said, though I have other places I occasionally work from, like you, I’m considering giving up my home office for an actual one, but it ain’t cheap in the city.

    • Bob Ambrogi

      I was fortunate to find an affordable and pleasant space. Not so easy to do in NYC.

      • Patrick Stiehm

        My solution to this “problem”, if that is what you
        want to call it, it to circulate from day to day between the convenient spaces available
        at the business center at my club, one of the two law libraries I can reach
        with quick public transportation and my local Starbucks. It has all the benefits
        everyone has mentioned, without the expense of renting an outside office.

  • Im feeling a little envious Bob. Good going.

  • HughLogue

    It took me a while to get used to working from home, but now I have, I love it. My kids are young and my wife is at home with them. I can pop out of my office and see them every now and again, whereas I used to go to work before they woke up, got home after they went to bed and only saw them at the weekends. But once they’re older and my wife goes back to work, I think I’ll want to do the same as you Bob and rent a desk somewhere rather than sitting in an empty house.

  • nikilblack

    Really interesting read. I struggle with similar issues since I work with a West Coast team from here in Upstate New York. I used to spend a lot of afternoons at Starbucks, which helped a lot, but their wifi went downhill just as there was an increase in afternoon meetings with the West Coast team, so I’ve been homebound more often than not. Your suggestions re: a morning “commute” and Tim’s tips below are really helpful. I may have to implement some of them.