16.8.09

When you work from home

I remember back in 2005 and earlier when I would wake up at 5:30 am every day. Shower, get dressed, wake up Javi and get him dressed, grab my packed lunch and some breakfast -- and then hit the road. I'd drop Javi at daycare and then spend the next 45 minutes driving down the quiet backroads that led from home to work.

The day would start when I sat down at my desk and it would end when I left it at 4:30 pm every week day. I'd answer the phone, "Good morning/afternoon, this is Kelly." I'd take lunch. I'd shut my office door when a personal call came in. I'd go on coffee breaks with coworkers or host the occasional gossip fest around my desk.

And it was drudgery, right? That slave-to-the-office thing was drudgery and my since-then schedule of waking up in time to get the kids where they need to be, throwing on something clean, making a to-go mug of cold chai latte, dropping the kids around town, and then returning home to power on the laptop and settle into the couch -- that's freedom, right? That's a "flexible schedule" that allows me to "set my own hours," right?

Confession: Working from home can really suck. Not only are you expected to produce the same amount of work you performed in the office, you have to do it with all the chaos and disruption of home life. And there are no coworkers to commiserate with or to break up the day with. It's just you -- your sense of timing, your ability to stick to a schedule, your commitment to deadlines, your desire to get things done.

But what happens when you have no desire or commitment or ability? What happens when you decide to spend only 10 minutes wading through email yet an hour passes before you know it? What happens when you finally try to plot deadlines on a calendar only to realize you must produce 36 pages of content in four days?

Which one is really drudgery? Which one gives you more real freedom?

I like to tell people that in my ideal world, I'd be an office manager for some company that's secure during recessions. I'd spend the morning making sure the office is happy and then I'd spend the afternoon working on anything I wanted on my cushy little office computer. I'd be well paid and well rested. There would always be a firm boundary between work and home because work can keep.

Instead, I'm living the career other people would love to have. In fact, everytime I tell someone that I work from home, they immediately ask what I do. After I tell them, they stare wistfully off into the horizon and say, "I wish I could find work to do at home."

I feel guilty for a bit and offer up thanks for the many blessings in my life. And then I think about those never-ending deadlines and the brain in my head that always promises me next month will be better. But it isn't. And it's not. So I should probably get started ... I only have four days.

Anyone else out there working from home? How do you make it happen?

2 comments:

  • Tara V

    Like you, back in 2005, I traded in a slave-to-the-office job to work at home on a flexible schedule. I have to say that, in my case, my office life was so unbearable that even my worst day working from home is better than my best day was in the office.

    Looking back, I try to remember what my life was like in 2005 and before, and I can't recall doing much other than working and commuting to DC. he pressure to work long hours was tremendous, and I wanted the respect of my peers and superiors, so I gave in, at the expense of having anything that resembled a life outside of work. My commute was just 30 miles, but it took me over 2 hours in each direction. I felt trapped, and my attitude sucked. So I quit. Sort of. I quit in the sense that I am no longer an employee of the firm. I work for myself, from home (which is now Boston), for the same people, doing the same work. Is this better?

    For me, it is. It has to be. I could never go back to the salt mines of office life on a daily basis, at least not in my field of work and definitely not to my old office. My old office and even my nameplate, remains there in DC waiting for my infrequent office visits. When I visit the office, I feel claustrophobic; my head spins and I can't breathe. I look at the hard floor and industrial carpeting and remember how many nights I slept there, too exhausted to drive home at 3 AM and come back the next morning.

    Do I have more freedom than before? You bet. My laptop travels around the house with me so I can work while at the same time assisting my toddler with building an important Play Doh zoo. I deal with emergency emails from the Science Museum and the beach via Blackberry. Back in DC, I would never have an opportunity to visit those places unless I took time off, or they were open 24 hours. Forget the weekends; we were so tired that we were lucky if we managed to take a shower and change out of our pajamas. My old office environment is toxic for young families.

    So now, I juggle my workload, my household work and my two year old. Partly because I am out of sight, out of mind to some people, and partly because the economy is in the toilet, I have much less work than I used to, and my workload is never consistent. But whether I have 15 hours of work or 50 in a given week, I only have 10 hours of daycare, so I do a lot of juggling. But even on the days when everything goes wrong- when my toddler is throwing fits while I am trying to work, my office phone is ringing off the hook, daycare is closed, my superiors in DC won't stop calling my house at all hours (assuming that because I work and live at home, that means I never stop working), and we have run out of milk - I take a step back and remember that those days are BETTER than the best day in the office. They have to be!

    Do I lack motivation and am I easily distracted by the chaos of my house? Absolutely. But to me, the advantage is there isn't someone breathing down your neck like I would have in the office. I can be distracted during the day, with the trade-off being that I work later at night. But at least I have the freedom to be distracted.

  • Kelly @ The Miller Mix

    I see your point. I think I'm angry with myself for being unable to get my shit together. It's been four years that I've worked from home and yet I still don't have a "system." I think part of the problem is I don't have an office and the other part is my work is dry and unexciting. How do you stay structured?

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