I wouldn’t trade my work-from-home lifestyle for anything (not even a date with Chris Pratt)! But, finding my stride in this relatively new career format took time, and I still get many questions about how it all “works.”

Am I my own boss? Do I feel tempted to watch TV? What do I do with all my “free time?”

If you’re new to this whole working remotely thing, you probably have similar questions for yourself. Here’s the truth: In reality, working from home is more like working at an office than you would expect. Sure, I have the option of wearing yoga pants 24/7, but I’m not exempt from professionalism, deadlines, or meetings. No matter what the people in my life may think. So, read on for the five questions I am always asked—plus the answers (for you and your nosy friends) and a few tips.

1. “Do You Take Lunch?”

The short answer? Yes! Avoid the temptation to eat at your desk and work that extra hour. It’s never a good idea to skip your midday break.

Mostly because it sets a bad precedent: Once you start skipping lunch, it will be hard to go back to taking it. Your boss and your co-workers will expect you to be available during that part of the day. Instead, let your team know you’re taking a break. Then step away from the computer—even if you’re only stepping two feet into the kitchen.

Also, as you surely know, working nonstop leads to an afternoon crash. Taking breaks not only keeps you from getting bored, but they also keep you focused. (And, I have proof of that right here.) Plus, it really is critical for good health. It’s so tempting to grab potato chips and chocolate (my favorite food groups) and continue typing away. But instead, you should split your lunch hour between a nutritious nosh and a brisk walk outside. Good for the brain, good for the bod!

2. “What Do You Do With Recouped Time?”

Cutting out my commute is possibly the best perk of working from home. (Confession: Sometimes I use the extra time to sleep in.) In all honesty though, I feel better about my day-to-day when I roll the time I’d spend stuck in traffic into something productive, like:

  • Launching New Projects: Ever want to start a blog or plant a garden? Here is your chance! Hobbies enhance your creativity. (Whose boss wouldn’t love that?)
  • Learning New Skills: You might save at least five hours a week, liberated from traffic jams or sprinting between subway connections. That’s time enough for the workshop or course that will inform your work and make you more marketable during your next job hunt.
  • Working on a Side Gig: If you’re like me, you have some nightmarish student loan debt to deal with. Supplemental income can help you dial down financial woes in half the time.

3. “When Will You Get a Real Job?”

Sigh. This is a tough one. To be fair, working from home is still a new concept. Friends and family may think your newfound freedom means you aren’t actually working. Address their misconceptions head-on, with a little grace and a lot of patience.

Start with some gentle education: Outline your company’s structure, what it does, and how you fit into the big picture. With a little context, most people will “get it.” At the same time, remember to be sympathetic. Working from home’s the best (duh), so snarky questions might reflect a little jealously. Sharing how to land a remote gig can help dial this down.

Last, but definitely not least, demonstrate your work. How? Talk about a new or exciting project you’re tackling at work. Again, context and real-life examples are difficult to argue.

4. “How Do You Network if You Don’t Leave the House?”

My cats are all the network I need—kidding!

Working from home is only isolating if you allow it to be. I have a vibrant network of online and offline contacts, but it didn’t grow overnight. Maintaining a regular networking practice is essential when you hold a virtual job. Try this:

  • Join an Industry Organization: This is great advice (if I may say so, myself), especially if you’re the only one of your kind on a remote team. This way, you can talk shop with specialists just like you.
  • Volunteer: Not all of your networking has to be industry-specific. Social consciousness
    can introduce the same, if not better, opportunities as those activities directly related to your career.
  • Connect Online: Maybe you think LinkedIn is boring. However, it can be the doorway to valuable connections. Still not sold? See if Opprtunity, AngelList, or BranchOut is more your style.

5. “Can You Help Me With This Thing Because You’re Not at an Office?”

Double sigh. I’m happy to help my friends with the occasional ride to the airport or emergency babysitting, but when I’m expected to leap into action at a moment’s notice…yeah, that’s a problem. Here’s how you can establish some very important boundaries.

Explain that you have a schedule. Then be firm about your working hours and availability, in both words and actions. Relegate personal stuff to specific times and stick to it. So along those lines, keep lunches to less than an hour—friends who aren’t working might try to temp you into that extra cocktail, a little shopping—you name it. Don’t do it. Finally, point toward the weekend: Want people to understand that you have a typical work week? Talk the talk. Offer to help during the weekend just like anyone else would.

Even flexibility has its limitations. I’m giving you the green light on sweat pants and embracing your newfound free time, but don’t forget: Building out patterns around your health, network, and the expectations of others is the ticket to ditching the office the right way.

Photo of man with laptop courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020