Working From Home: The Right Choice for You?
Stay Home with Your Kids
Ever wish you could roll out of bed and head to the office in your bathrobe and slippers? Have the freedom to knock off early and take the kids for ice cream after school? Avoid traffic tie-ups by kissing your commute goodbye?
For time-squeezed parents caught between carpools and corporate deadlines, the prospect of working from home may rate higher on a wish-list than a tropical fantasy vacation. Or, perhaps it's seen as the ultimate solution to the problems associated with juggling work and family. It isn't, as anyone who's done it will tell you, but it can be a ticket to a more satisfying lifestyle. Cheryl Demas, author of The Work-at-Home Mom's Guide to Home Business, and publisher of the WAHM.com website, urges parents to play hooky for a day and think about turning the work-from-home dream into reality. Her website, which encourages parents to take a vacation day and spend it at home, is designed to ''give parents who are feeling that they don't have any options to working outside the home a chance to realize that there are alternatives.''
Although the work-from-home option is seldom a ''get-rich-quick'' scheme, many families find they do save both time and money:
- An end to commuting can mean savings on gas, parking fees, or commuter rail or bus fares.
- Depending on the nature of your at-home job, you may not need expensive business clothes. (No more dry-cleaning bills.)
- Some parents are able to work around their children's schedules, saving on after-school or babysitting costs.
- Most importantly, parents say the flexibility of at-home work allows them more time with their kids.
With today's economic boom, there's never been a better time to find out if the work-from-home option is viable for you.
Profiles: Getting the ''Home Work'' Done
Name: Amy P., mother, one two-year-old son.
Job Description: Researcher for children's TV show.
Hours: About 15 per week.
Why She Does It: ''My son was getting older and I needed an outside interest, but I wasn't ready to work fulltime.''
When It Works: ''When he naps. In the beginning, he would take a two- to three-hour nap and I would get a lot done. Now it's getting harder because he's sleeping less, so I have more to do at night.''
When It Doesn't: ''When he doesn't nap! I sometimes feel a bit anxious; I have calls to make, things to do. He's right there next to me, playing.''
Who Shouldn't Try It: ''People who need a lot of social interaction. I find I need adult conversation sometimes! I'll want to work outside the home when he's older, in school. Working at home all day would be too lonely for me. I'd be in the refrigerator all the time, and it would be harder to motivate myself.''
Name: Charles L., father, two school-aged kids.
Job Description: Home-based business selling financial products such as mutual funds, insurance, and annuities.
Hours: About 40 hours per week.
Why He Does It: ''So we don't have to have the kids in after-school programs they don't want to be in. We tried it, they didn't like it, and we felt guilty.''
When It Works: ''Basically, when the kids are in school or camp. That's when I make my phone calls and schedule appointments. I'm with the kids from 2:30 to 4:30, and then my wife comes home from her job and relieves me. I sometimes have evening appointments.''
When It Doesn't: ''It doesn't work when the kids are home. My son Gregory was scheduled to go to an outdoor sports camp yesterday and it rained, so camp was cancelled. So what do you do? If you park the kids in front of the TV it works, but I don't like to do that.''
Who Shouldn't Try It: ''People who can't self-motivate, need a lot of structure, can't change channels quickly, can't reschedule appointments, or have to meet strict production quotas.''
- DO research lots of options.
Most work-from-home jobs involve the computer, but not all. One mom, a former lifeguard, started a booming local business offering kids' swimming lessons in her own backyard pool. Some become ''mystery shoppers,'' paid up to $100 an hour to write reports on their shopping experiences for high-end retailers like William Sonoma and Pottery Barn. Others offer tutoring.
- DO develop rituals for starting and stopping your workday.
Otherwise, you'll end up working all the time! One at-home worker walks out her kitchen door and back in the front door each morning as a symbolic way of starting her workday. Another has a special phone line for work-related calls; children know not to bother Mom when she's on Line 2.
- DO get out and make human contact.
Working all day alone in a home office can be an isolating experience, not always eased by email and online chat opportunities. Schedule lunch with friends or colleagues several times a week.
- DO stay in close touch with the office.
Although telecommuting is becoming more common, many bosses are still suspicious about at-home workers doing the laundry on company time. Make sure you have a communication plan in place (''I'll check email every hour between nine and five'' or ''Let's have a conference call every Monday at 9:45.'')
- DON'T try to work without childcare.
Working from home gives you flexibility, but it may not give you more time with your kids. You still have to get the work done! Don't kid yourself, or you'll end up feeling torn and guilty.
- DON'T buy into on-line work-from-home scams.
Rule of thumb, says Cheryl Demas: ''You should never have to pay someone to work for them. They pay you.'' That $29.95 ''Work from Home'' start-up kit you saw online is probably a hoax.
- DON'T forget to talk with your kids.
Even though you probably chose the work-from-home lifestyle for their sake, your children may not understand it. To them, it may seem that ''Mom's always working on the computer; she never has time to play with me anymore.'' Clue older kids in to the nature of your projects and deadlines. Be clear with younger kids about when you'll be able to stop working: ''I'm going to work on the computer until the clock strikes four times; then we'll play Candy Land.''
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