I’m having this dream again: I wake up, slide out of bed, slip on my furry-on-the-inside slippers and stumble out into the kitchen to start a pot of good, strong coffee. While the coffee’s brewing, I fire up the computer, download my email and make my to-do list for the day. I get the kids up and off to school, and wander into work a little while later, still clad in my Victoria’s Secret jammies and my slippers… Oh, wait a second. I’m not sleeping, and this isn’t a dream.
I’m a stay-at-home, work-at-home mom. Much as I hate to admit it, there are those days when I don’t get “dressed” until sometime before I have to pick kids up from school. How do I manage this? Well, I’m self-employed, for starters. But even before I became self-employed, I had a job that allowed me to telecommute. It’s great now, but in the beginning, it was something closer to that Oh-No-I’m-At-Work-In-My-Underwear Nightmare.
Most of us who work outside the home have the luxury of going to a workplace that’s equipped with all we need to do our jobs. Whether you work at McDonalds or in a hospital, at a law firm or the library, generally all the “things” you need are close at hand.
This is not necessarily so when you telecommute or work at home full time. Imagine essentially having to clone your workplace and stick it somewhere inside your home. Talk about nightmares!
When I began telecommuting, all I really needed was my computer and a telephone. Or at least that’s what I thought. I soon discovered that I also needed a fax machine, a file cabinet, a scanner, an answering machine, a color printer and a whole bunch of pretty pricey software. Oh, and did I mention a quiet place to work?
Transitioning from my away-from-home office to an at-home office was, to say the least, more than I bargained for. And my employer was, except for the software I needed, not forthcoming with funds to make any of it happen. Over time, I managed to acquire all the equipment I needed to be at least as productive (if not more so) as I was when I actually commuted into an office.
Having my office in the middle of the family room (not the optimal configuration, but it’s what I had to work with) brought with it a whole set of hurdles that I’d never encountered as a work-away-from-home mom. Friends popping over to say “hi” because they knew I was home, the urge to do housework (sick, I know) because I was so conveniently there, and perhaps most annoying, the ability to work nonstop all day, no breaks, no lunch (no wonder I was more productive). Along with those hurdles, though, I had new freedoms and a whole lot of benefits: no hour-long commute to work, no daycare costs, the ability to arrange my schedule to accommodate more readily for the needs of my family, not having to worry about what the dog was doing inside the house alone all day., etc.
Learning to balance the pros and cons of a job where I work at home was a real challenge. How tempting it was to work into the evening when I had stacks of work to do and my employer was breathing down my neck wanting to know when such-and-such a project would be finished. More times than I’d like to admit, I caved in to the pressure and worked ridiculous hours for no overtime pay. If I’d been at the office, I’d have packed my stuff and simply gone home at the end of my scheduled workday, leaving whatever unfinished work waiting until the following day.
I finally decided to throw the towel in and start my own business – home-based, of course. Transitioning from telecommuting for an employer to working at home for myself was relatively easy. Again, the hardest part was to resist the temptation to work non-stop. Having the tools of my work so very available made them very attractive – I’d find myself sitting down to do “just a little work” when I had leisure time.
The most important lesson I’ve learned from going down this road is to clearly identify my priorities each day, and balance my time so that neither my work nor my family is getting short-changed. I can work, when I need to, late into the evening, but I can also, when I need to, take an entire day off to spend on a class field trip with one of my children.
©2002 Hilde Mott