Working From Home: It’s Hellacious

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As a single mother, working from home was the most ideal situation. Logistically it made the best sense. I could set my hours around the needs of my child. I never wanted to miss a meal time with my son, his school events, our precious bedtime routine and as he got older –football games, travelling him to important extra-curricular activities and just being available as he needed me. But I also romanticized the notion about working from home- holding steamy mugs of hot chocolate, whilst cozy in a velour jumpsuit in front of the computer while the weather blizzards on outside, or how about after the kids are in bed -or not, a gin and tonic ‘cause who’s looking as you finish answering emails, fill out boring forms or finesse some piece or report that’s due the next day. Oh I do all of those things, but I also deal with the unanticipated challenges that come with working from home. For me, namely, that is ‘distraction’ and ‘guilt’.

The family and collection of pets have grown over the years and therefore so have the commotion and demands in the house- the place where I work. Leaving my office –the extra bedroom that spares as a storage room, for a bathroom break or a beverage refill, I’m forced to dodge a wave of line backers demanding hugs and kisses, eggs over easy and belly rubs. Or even worse, as I pass through the house to fetch a needed item, lonely and wounded eyes track my moves, silently imploring ‘are you done yet’ or ‘is it safe to talk to you yet’.

I’m easily distracted from my work. In the early days I would work from coffee shops during the day and pretend the other patrons were supervising my work. Today, I frequently roam around the house while I’m working –this always confuses the family who can’t figure out if I’m still in my ‘work head’ or not. When my office becomes claustrophobic, I move into the kitchen and take over the dining table –another confusing move for the family and distressing for me when there are multiple stacks of dishes to be washed.

According to Jacqueline Whitmore in her piece to entrepreneur.com, I’m doing ‘working from home’ all wrong. Set and keep regular hours, she writes. And plan and structure your workday and set aside a designated work area and avoid distractions and dress to impress, she says.

Dress to impress? These days, unless I’ve left the house to attend the occasional meeting at my favourite coffee shop or pub, ‘professionally attired’ means I put my bra on to conduct a phone interview.

A 2014 report released by Stats Canada analyzed data collected from stay-at-home-workers who were either employees or self-employed.  The research found that in 2008 the number of employees working from home was 1,748,600 compared with 1,425,700 in 2000 –a small upward trend. However, the incidence of self-employed workers has notable increased from 54% to 60% between 2006 and 2008. In 2008, 1,842,000 self-employed workers worked from home.

Also noted in the report is that 20% of university-graduate employees work at home. In 2008, 54% of all employees who worked at home had a university degree, compared with 25% of those who never worked at home. Moreover, 55% of employees who worked at home at least occasionally were in professional or managerial jobs, compared with 23% of employees who did not work at home. In addition, 52% of employees who worked at home had a personal income of more than $60,000 a year, compared with 25% of employees who did not work at home.

Among employees, it was found that women are less likely than men to work from home. However, among the self-employed, women were more likely than men to work from home. Ten percent of employees working from home were women, compared to 12% who were men. The gap widened when looking at the number of professional women working from home compared to professional men- 19% and 29% respectively in 2008. Self-employed women were more likely to work from home then self-employed men – 67% and 56% respectively.

The most common reasons for working from home was that it was a job requirement (25%); better provision of working conditions (23%); and that home was just where they always worked (18%). Employees and the self-employed with children at home were more likely to indicate that they were working from home for family reasons. In 2008, 12% of female self-employed workers reported that they were working at home for family reasons compared with 3% of male counterparts. Furthermore, 25% of female self-employed workers with children aged 12 and under at home said they were working at home for family related reasons compared to 10% of men in the same situation.

Perception can also be a factor that makes the idea of working from home so novel. Some employers believe that employees like the idea working from home but many studies demonstrate otherwise. At home workers often express feelings of isolation, abandonment by the employer and difficulty separating the work-life from the home-life. Employers who are not supportive of employees working from home cite disadvantages supervising from a distance, poor communication, decline in team spirit and problems with confidentiality of information.

As an ‘office type worker’, given a choice to return to a structured work environment and leave my cluttered, noisy workspace at home, I’d have to opt for the latter. I’d sooner push thumbtacks in my eyes before sliding behind a bolted down desk, beneath a row of assaultive fluorescent lights. Even more horrifying- the micro-managing supervisor huffing their dragon breath down my neck or –kill me before it gets worse, forced team building exercises sharing and huddling and edifying one another with gooey sweet nothings laced with saccharine once a week.

I connected with a handful of Northern Hoot readers who work from home. Many thanks to these cracked half dozen who shared their insights!

Tiffy Thompson

Tiffy Thompson

Tiffy Thompson, Toronto, Ontario, 2 Years Working From Home

I’ve worked from home for the last couple years; first as a texting surrogate to find a man a wife (unfortunately not anymore though), then as an editor of a blog called She Does The City. I also do occasional copywriting contracts for a design firm called Propeller and the occasional article for Toronto Life.

Best things are I get to spend time with my baby and my dog, and don’t have to shell out for daycare or a dog walker. I love not having to commute or deal with people (I basically only email and the occasional phone call). I can work flexible hours (when the baby is asleep). I get a lot more done now than I did before the baby because I know I only have a limited time before he wakes, and I have deadlines. I also love working and listening to the radio and drinking coffee in my own space.

Worst thing I guess would be the lack of human contact, but again, I don’t miss it much.

Another danger is falling into an Internet rabbit hole (following the live tweets of the Jian Ghomeshi trial, for example), so I have to be mindful of my constant social media checking. My husband works out of the home so I don’t want to kill him THAT much, if he was here all day with me I would probably want to if he wasn’t helping out (but he does on his days off).

I never want to go back to an office. I despise office culture, meetings, management speak, and getting dressed up. I found I never got much done at work because of constant interruptions. If you can work remotely, why not? It saves fuel, stops traffic congestion, and gives you more hours in the day to do what you want.

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly, Northwest Territories, 25 Years Working From Home

I’m a self-employed consultant- often work from home, other times I work in the client’s office. Depends on the gig. Work at home varies greatly: managing projects; writing/evaluating responses for RFPs; programming; developing business processes; managing my company – doing payrolls, government remittances, bookkeeping, issuing T4s, paying bills; staying on top of business dialogues via email; and writing training material for project managers.

What do I love? Flexibility. I can choose to do what I want, when I want. Can stop the clock, do some personal stuff like take out garbage, work in the garden, do laundry, cook something, run an errand, have a nap, then go back to work billing my time. I have a greater ability to focus without interruption… much of my work is intellectually taxing, and I think this ability to focus long and deep enables me to deliver exceptional value to clients.

There are definitely drawbacks. Social isolation. Lack of connectedness to what is going on in client’s work environment – no “water cooler conversation” input, which can be important and valuable to do a good job. There is difficulty getting necessary input and/or direction. In an office setting I can usually collar busy people between meetings for a quick question, or knock on a door/cubicle. Email communication is often much slower or ignored.

I have not often lived with humans in the last 25 years. But when I have it was more of a challenge for me to get work done. Subjected to, “Tim could you just…” when trying to work, hit deadlines. Another drawback –self-discipline. It is very easy to be distracted at home. My most productive hours are morning. I’ll often cave mid-afternoon which may actually be a more natural rhythm for work.

Indispensable tools have been GotoMeeting to share desktops, combined with teleconference and a cell plan with unlimited long distance anywhere in Canada.

Liv Dietrich

Liv Dietrich

Liv Dietrich, Thunder Bay Ontario, 27 Years Working From Home

I worked from home running a Construction Company and Real Estate office with my ex-husband. Recently, I am working from home, finishing my second book. I’m fortunate enough to have an accountability partner who is also an author. She and I report to each other on progress made. The most important thing is to structure the time that will be for business and stick to it. Otherwise, the business can take up 24-7. Unless it is a life or death emergency, stick to the business hours. A separate phone line for business helps, even if it takes having two cell phones.

A separate area for the business helps also. This area is off limits to everyone and to you when the office is “closed”. I was just thinking about different things that have happened when clients have come into the house when there isn’t a separate office room: Hurrying to put the dirty dishes in the oven because they don’t all fit in the dishwasher, then forgetting to take them out while pre-heating the oven; Throwing a bedsheet over the mess of papers on the dining room table, then scooping it up, adding it to the wash with an important paper stuck to it; Inviting a client to take a seat without realizing that the cat is on the chair or that the chair is covered with cat hair.

When the children were little there were more challenges involved with working from home. It’s easy to think you are spending time with your children if they are playing on the kitchen floor while you are on the phone with business and cooking. When my youngest was two years old, I was surprised to hear her imitate me, “Quiet boys, I’m on the phone.” That was an eye opener.

It is a challenge to find social interaction. I am fortunate to be active in church and church groups that provide much interaction and support. I also take dance lessons and Zumba which are good for interacting with people. Setting goals and hours is key to work production, family life and social life. Write the perfect scenario and stick to it. Getting off track doesn’t mean that life is over. Get back on track the next day.

Carol Cottrill

Carol Cottrill

Carol Cottrill, Moncton, New Brunswick, 15 Years Working From Home

I’ve worked primarily at home for the last fifteen years. First as a public relations consultant and writer, now in my position in healthcare communications. Working from home has changed a lot in that time. For instance, it’s much easier now to videoconference with clients in other parts of the city or province.

For me the best part of working from home is having my dogs sleeping on my feet while I work. There are very few offices that allow pets. Also, I really enjoy the quiet. It allows me to focus and can better multi-task when I don’t have other interruptions.

It is, however, easy to feel isolated. Depending on the types of projects I’m working on, there may be times where I have little contact with the outside world. I realize that for me, as much as I love working at home, it’s important to get out sometimes – meet with people. Even if it’s only the barista at Starbucks.

A few years ago my husband also began working more often from home. When that began his office was across the hall from mine. That was difficult because he likes music and noise and hubbub, whereas I like peace and quiet.

I put the door back on my office so I could shut it when I needed to concentrate. Eventually his office took over our rec room on the floor below my office. I don’t even know if he’s home or out at meetings most of the time. At least not until 4:30 and I ‘leave the office’.

Having a routine is very important to my success. Even when I was working for multiple clients as a freelancer, I tried to keep core office hours when I didn’t allow myself to be distracted by dishes, or laundry or the sunshine outside.

It takes discipline to be able to set a schedule and stick to it. I am always working to a deadline, so things must get done.

I’d like to be able to say that working from home I’m able to attain a better work-life balance, but that’s hit and miss depending on my workload. Certainly that’s the goal and I’ve been more successful at it then in the past.

Gordon Kraushaar

Gordon Kraushaar

Gordon Kraushaar (Carol’s husband!), Moncton New Brunswick, 6 Years Working From Home

As a professional architect, my business is to turn a client’s vision into reality, or to solve a problem for them. The business relies on personal service for success.

The best part about working from home is being able to integrate daily personal life with work life. Also, I like saving time by not having to commute from home to an office. Being more in control of my personal schedule is also a big benefit. Finally, if something is urgent and additional work time is required, there is less sacrifice in terms of your daily schedule since it is easy to return to the office even for a short period of time. Also I can see my pets and spouse much more often.

However, sometime it is more difficult to leave work behind. My home gets associated with work. Also, working at home means that you don’t have access to the social conditions you might if you worked in an office group setting. You can end up feeling a bit stranded.

Sometimes working from home means working through all of the personal considerations in a day as they overlap work requirements. One key to making it work is using the flexibility of working from home to your advantage to fit everything in. I also hate being crowded or cramped or disorganized so having a good space with lots of room is very important. Outfitting your home office with the same level of amenities, equipment and resources that a traditional office has makes the environment as professional as possible.

Jackie Janisse

Jackie Janisse

Jackie Janisse, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, 3 Years Working From Home

As a professional artist, I work in my art studio full-time which happens to be in the lower level of my home. It is a perfect location for me since it is near the workshop where I construct braced wood panels for paintings. My studio has a great open area with ideal lighting and of course quick access to a bathroom.

What do I like about it? Mainly control. I control all aspects of my business from what hours I work, to the organization of my office and work supplies. I have no commute to work and am not under any other leadership.

What do I hate about it? I would say the isolation of working from home grates on me. I don’t have many other people to talk with during the day or relationships with co-workers. The outside workplace also offers fundamental boundaries that keep work in check as well as a location that would keep work and home life separate. Having to clean my entire house before a client comes over is a bit nerve racking also.

A great challenge for the family, I believe, is understanding that I really do want to work hard and long-hours with no interruptions. Making a great painting takes concentration and the simplest, most innocent question from a family member will shut my brain off. Maybe that is because I am an introvert or because I don’t want to think about what we are having for dinner. We are all adults in my house so- grab a sandwich…the painting is almost finished.

(feature image: the author’s favourite work station at home in Sault Ste. Marie)

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