With all the kerfuffle over the now-abolished Yahoo! Work at home policy, I’ve been thinking about working from home – and what makes it work for me.
I’ve worked from home, on and off, since 2000. The total is something like 7 years over the last 13, and I think I can safely say that working at home works for me. It doesn’t work for everyone, though, and I think one of the reasons why is that working from home is something many need to learn to do successfully rather than something that comes naturally. For me, its the following:
- Having set office hours – While I work part time, for the most part, I have a set time I’m either working or take meetings. “Winging it” does not work.
- Having childcare – Working at home is not a substitute for childcare, especially when they are mouthy and under 5. A report written whilst Thomas the Tank Engine plays in the background is a crappy report.
- Making it like a regular workday – Getting dressed, scheduling breaks, and making sure I eat on a normal schedule.
- Have goals & reporting set – Set your goals (report due by X day, weekly updates, ongoing project deadlines) so that you keep yourself on track.
- Getting out – occasionally getting out of the office to go to meetings, educational events, or lunch with clients.
- Turning off – Making sure I delineate between “Work” and “Not work” by turning off my email, social networks and other stuff for family time. (This is the one I struggle with because checking email is SO EASY.)
While there are differences between working for yourself from home and working from an employer from home, I honestly think back on the past decade plus and realize that all the best practices I use now are things that formed while I was working for an organization. Has anyone else done both? (And what works for you?)
It’s not really the world of tomorrow, its the world of today, but if you don’t start off the first blog post of a year with a Futurama quote, you don’t start a year off right.
2012 was good to me, in that I:
- Got to speak at some excellent events. Though I didn’t write about it at the time, my favorite was when I went down for a Lincoln AMA luncheon and ended up being the speaker because a close friend (who was the real speaker) had her flight canceled at the last minute. It was fun, because it proved to me that if you know your topic, you can wing it if necessary. Notes aren’t needed.
- Got to go to some even more excellent events. I attended my first BarCamp Omaha, I went to the TEDxOmaha event, and, for the third year in a row, I got to get a behind the scenes look at ICAN’s Women’s Leadership Conference. Even though I only help with a tiny, little part of it, I’m always amazed at how a small team can put on such a great event.
- Relaunched this website…and then got too busy to update it much.
- Worked with clients (old and new) and got to learn about entire new industries. I think my favorite client experience this year was sitting with the customer service team of a new client, listening to them take calls. Customer Service is a hard job, and often a thankless one. Next time you talk to someone in customer service, be nice to them. Say thank you. They need it.
- Joined the Omaha Chamber of Commerce like a normal business person.
As I look into 2013 (even though I hate resolutions), I have three goals for 2013 as far as they relate to work:
- Market myself and my work a better. They say the doctor’s kids get sick and shoemaker’s kids go shoeless. Well, sometimes marketers are the worst at marketing their work. I plan to take some time in January to start looking at how I can tell my own personal story a bit better. My biggest goal is how to do it without looking like a total cheeseball.
- Get more involved in the Omaha business community. I used to be very active in the Omaha AMA, and when I had my son in 2009, I stepped far back from any sort of community involvement. I was burnt out, and motherhood was almost too much. Now that he’s a bit older and I have a somewhat normal schedule, I would really like to get more involved again. Joining the Chamber was a start, but I feel like there is a lot more out there if I could find the time. If anyone knows of some good networks for women in business, let me know. I’d really like to start there.
- Do more mentoring. Back when I worked for a regular company, I mentored all the time (though goodness knows why ANYONE felt I could give decent advice about anything). I loved doing it, and on occasion I’ve given advice to colleges & friends who were looking to work for themselves, do what I do, or even figure out what they want to do. I really like doing that, so again, if you know of anyone (or any organization) that does that kind of stuff, let me know.
All in all, I’m looking forward to 2013.
“Do you miss people?”
When I mention that I work for myself, I can always tell the more social types, because this is the first thing they ask. It’s funny because depending on the day, I totally vacillate as to whether or not I miss people.
On one hand, I miss being able to exchange ideas in conversation. I miss the nuance that comes from a facial expression rather than an email or an instant message. I miss being able to run to grab coffee around the corner for a break. I miss seeing the full sweep of office politics.
I don’t miss the constant grind of meetings. I don’t miss coworkers looking for an excuse to waste some time. I don’t miss having to put on a happy face for 9 hours when things aren’t going well. And I *really* don’t miss enforced fun (aka “team building exercises”)
The first time I worked remotely it was hard – I was close to everyone in my office, and I left to move back home. I found it hard to stay motivated, and days went by when the only person I saw was my roommate.
The second time I worked remotely (yes, I’ve done this more than once) it was almost effortless. My major job tasks required a lot of concentration and being able to manage the noise and distraction level really helped me get things done. From a productivity standpoint, I was a rockstar and I loved working on my own. At the same time, I was (again) very close to my office mates and had moved to a new city where I knew virtually no one, so it was lonely. I went back to the office once a month because keeping those ties were incredibly important. I almost had the best of both worlds.
At the start of my consulting career, I was effectively doing the same things I’d done at my old job but I wasn’t working on a team. My client was two time zones away and I wasn’t on the phone all day long. It was really lonely, but I did try to connect to the outside world more frequently. By the time I went into consulting full time in 2009, I had several clients in town. Over the past two years I’ve been able to cobble together that allows me to get my work done while also engaging with other people – clients, friends and other people in my industry – with whom I can exchange ideas.
Here are a few things that I recommend you do to keep yourself connected:
- Get some facetime with your clients – Email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype…etc….is great but it doesn’t give you the real nuances of a person. I try to meet with my clients in person somewhat regularly – for some it probably feels like I drop by daily, but for others it’s scheduled. Getting that time with them can give you some cues to how a project is going, and some understanding of the person behind the emails/phone calls/etc.
- Find a professional organization – I’ve been really bad about going to local events in the last year or so due to childcare reasons (as in “When I have childcare, I’m usually too busy to go to a luncheon”) but getting involved in my local professional organization was invaluable for my first few years in town, and working on my own. If you work for yourself, or if you work at home, I’d really recommend not just going to meetings but actually volunteering your time. Most of my clients came from referrals of people that I met while on the board of my local organization.
- Get thee a support network – One of the best things that’s happened in recent years is that several friends of my have gone off on their own as well. It’s been great for me, because it’s like a built-in support network of people who get it. We might not all do exactly the same thing, but its close enough that we can share ideas, commiserate (or congratulate) and address issues that might not be something your friend whose worked at the same job for 10 years can answer.
Most of these things can help you stay connected without pulling you outside of your work environment. I’ve actually thought about Coworking as an option, but ultimately the way my day(s) are scheduled I would lose an hour of work time driving, parking and walking into the nearest coworking place. Maybe in the future it would help me be even more connected, but for now, these things keep me going.
I don’t know how to say this any better than how I put it in the title. When I tell people that I work at home, I so frequently get people remarking how great it is that I get to spend so much time with my son. It is great, but if it were just him and I, all the time, I would get very few things get done. My hardest lesson to learn over the past two years – that I can’t emphasize enough – is how important it is to have some sort of childcare arrangement worked out if you plan on working for yourself or working at home.
I learned this the hard way. When I started consulting, my son wasn’t in the picture. By the time he came around, two years later, I had enough of a groove going that I kind of mooshed him into my work day. With all the naïve certainty that a new parent can have, I was positive that I could manage it all as he grew.
For a while, it worked. My schedule was cobbled together with glue sticks and duct tape, but it worked. Meetings were difficult, but most of my clients were very understanding when it came to giving me enough of a window to find childcare. There were a few clients who so wanted me with them for meetings that, when I couldn’t get a sitter, would let me bring him in his little sling, and he slept while we talked marketing strategy. I know, I was very lucky.
Two things happened in the last two years that changed my outlook – I got more clients and he got bigger. Looking back now, I can honestly say I was crazy. And stupid. Maybe stupid-crazy. Once he started walking, I had more difficulty managing, and I slowly brought in help. First, my mom started coming to watch him two days a week. When that wasn’t enough, I worked out a deal with my husband that he would watch him on Saturdays and Sundays for 5 hours so I could cram some more work in. I would do a lot of work at night.
Everyone tried very hard, but I’ll tell you – trying to get work done with limited coverage time during the week is difficult. In addition to that, I totally ignored my personal life – I had no time for writing, creative pursuits, and other things (like sleep) that allow me enjoy life rather than plod through it. Everything came to a head this February when I realized that I needed a more formal arrangement, so I brought in a babysitter to cover two days a week while my mom covers another two days a week. Fridays are my day for him.
Despite the help, I’m still navigating my way. My son often creeps into my work time, while my work time creeps into the time when I don’t have childcare. I never have enough time to get everything I want to get done, done (and that is another post entirely). At the same time, I try to be more aware of what I’m doing when we’re alone – just the two of us. It would be unfair if I didn’t admit that last Friday, I had some things I REALLY needed to get out the door, so I popped in Bob the Builder for a few hours. It would also be unfair to him if that was his life – having mom half in, half out of his day while she attended to something on the laptop. My goal is to work when I have childcare and pay attention to him when I don’t.
It’s a process, trying to figu re out how much coverage you need, but in the end it lets you provide some much-needed fences up between your work life and your home life that can be so hard to find when you work on your own.