We’re hearing a lot right now about work-from-home arrangements. I’ve been working from a home office since long before COVID-19, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. It is easy to imagine that a work-at-home job would be the perfect combination of professional life and personal life. No commute. No traffic reports. No frantic morning ironing. Sweats and a t-shirt will work just fine. Flexibility to invest more time in parenting.
Much like a new romance, pent-up hopes and dreams are projected on this blank canvas of possibilities. It is exciting! It is brand-new and so different from everything you hated in your prior relationship [or office]. But, before long, the infatuation will fade. New love will necessarily develop into commitment. There will be fewer candlelight dinners and love letters. Those annoying habits are a little more obvious. So, before deciding to say, “I do” to a work-at home marriage made in heaven, please consider these three important factors.
Flexibility does not mean less work.
For most work-at-home positions, flexibility is a huge benefit! Do not confuse that flexibility with a need to work less. In my experience, flexibility is both a blessing and curse. I enjoy the ability to leave my home office to attend a 2nd grade Fall Party or to pick my kids up from school. That’s the fun side of flexibility. Flexibility also means I get back on my computer and answer emails at 9 p.m. after the kids are in bed. Flexibility looks like arriving at a doctor’s appointment 30 minutes early and sitting in the parking lot taking one more conference call.
If you are not careful, flexibility can begin to feel like you are never really present as a parent and you are always working. There is an art to making this work for your family. Sometimes it is messy. There’s a great place in that tension. There are moments when the juggling act is beautiful. Flexibility is worth it, but flexibility still means work.
Do you have a child care plan?
While there are an increasing number of telecommuters without children, for many of us, the primary reason a work-at-home position is appealing is because it allows our professional life to be interwoven with our life as parents. I take special pride that I had both of my daughters home with me for their first year of life while working from home. I am also so grateful that neither of my children were ever in full-time daycare. These facts are a true blessing of my work-at-home experience. However, make no mistake, you need a child care plan!
A child care plan has come in many flavors for our family. The baby phase was the most difficult. New moms are often told to sleep when their babies are sleeping. Work-at-home moms need to work while the baby is sleeping. And breast feed on conference calls. And have the baby swing nearby in her office! When we had a school-age child and a toddler, we used a Mother’s Day Out program in the mornings at a near-by church. Our toddler napped in the afternoon while I worked. In those days, I typically took a break after school most days, and then finished up after bedtime. In the summer months, we have often found a high school or college student to come to our home. I have asked them to supervise play or take the girls on an excursion to the zoo or somewhere fun a few days a week. Plan your vacation time around spring break and Christmas break. With both of my children now in school, child care is much less of an issue than it was with preschoolers. Summers can be challenging even with older kids. Make a plan that includes camps, a nanny who can take the kids out or entertain them at home, lunch at the park, play dates with friends and a basic daily schedule for your home. Don’t ignore child care plans.
Take an honest personal assessment of who you are.
Working from home is not a good fit for everyone. Just like building that great long-lasting romance, expectations must be managed to avoid disillusionment and discouragement. Do you have the self-discipline to make this work?
Are you able to tell yourself that you need to get up early or spend another hour working in the evening to deliver the results that are needed?
The good news about working from home is that no one is looking over your shoulder. No one is stopping by your cube to catch you playing Solitaire or knocking on your door (unless it is the occasional hungry kid). The bad news about working from home is that no one is looking over your shoulder or stopping by your office. Without self-discipline this means that you may not get “caught” in your failures or lack of discipline until it is too late. Be honest. It is important. I never want someone to say, “She does a good job for someone who works from home.” I want someone to say, “Wow! She is terrific, and I never knew she wasn’t in a ‘real’ office.”
A wide range of personality sets can benefit from a work-at-home arrangement; however, for those extroverts who gain energy from those around them, you will need to be intentional about connections with professional colleagues. The water cooler at home is a lonely place. You need to know if you require more interaction to stay energized, and then build those opportunities into your schedule. This could be a weekly lunch with a mentor or fellow work-at-home warrior. This could be attending regular meetings of a networking group or other professional organizations. This could be connecting over the phone more than over email.
Working from home can be a wonderful opportunity for personal growth as you learn to counsel and advise yourself. Are you willing to be your own best advocate and your own worst boss when you need a stern talking to? Know who you are, and be honest about whether working from home is a good fit for you.