After nearly 25 years teaching in the public school arena (and if you think that’s a strange choice of a word to replace ‘school’, think again), I am privileged and happy to be among the ranks of folks who work from home. It makes me happy.
Maybe it makes my co-workers in the actual office even happier. Winning.
When I tell people that I work from home, their first question is, “What do you do?” I tell them I work as a technical writer for a software company. Relieved (or not) upon learning that my job does not involve more nefarious work-at-home schemes, they subsequently conjure images of me sitting in front of my computer in a quiet, well-organized corner of my expansive kitchen, my sleepy face softly lit by the gentle glow of the computer’s monitor, glasses still on, hair in a messy ponytail atop my pretty little head, in my jammies and fuzzy slippers. Let me take it a step further and paint for you the picture of what others undoubtedly think makes up the collage of my day: I’m blithely sipping steaming coffee from a larger than normal-sized mug, in the background you can just about hear the tinkling laughter of Samantha Guthrie and Matt Lauer, and if these people hadn’t yet noticed that my sell-by date has come and gone, you’d see a couple of cute-as-a-bug’s-ear frolicking toddlers playing joyfully but oh so quietly on the spotless, wide-planked kitchen floor.
Well hells bells, who wouldn’t want to work from home?
The reality, though, is quite different. Allow me to shed some softly glowing light on the typical day of the stay-at-home-work-from-home worker.
- It must be nice to work in your jammies!
Well, now, that depends. I’m one of those people who usually fall into bed wearing the exact same thing I wore all day—leggings or yoga pants, a t-shirt or a sweatshirt, and socks if my toes are cold. Kinda like what most gals my age sleep in anyway, so if you feel better calling my ’round the clock ensemble ‘jammies’, knock yourself out.
- You can work whenever you want!
Yes and no. Yes, if I want to get up early and get a start on the day’s tasks; no if I’m expected to be present at a meeting via the various means of technological magic available for getting people from different zip codes together for a meeting.
As an aside, these technological tools that allow meetings to take place remotely are not all they’re cracked up to be. For one, it’s often hard to hear the other people speaking, so to move things along, you have to either pay attention really, really well, or pretend you can hear everyone. For another (and this can be most troublesome for someone like me who is always thinking that people are making fun of me behind my back), people can make fun of you behind your back! They can roll their eyes, give you the finger, give you the finger with both hands, make crude gestures like a wild pack of eighth grade boys, or even write notes to each other about you while you’re in sitting at your kitchen table in another state, unaware of the mirthfulness at your expense. When they laugh, you think they’re not laughing at what you or someone else said, they’re laughing at you—at your stupid question, at your stupid idea, or at the stupid but stunning likeness that someone drew of you in your jammies and fuzzy slippers. While it is true that none of my coworkers would deign to commit such sophomoric antics, I’m just saying that it could happen, especially if one has failed to establish an easy-going, fun-loving rapport with his or her teammates, like I have. Right, guys? Right?
3. You don’t have to put up with the office politics!
This is only true if you never spend any time in your office. But I do—I travel once a month to my office in another state and I’m there for a whole week. Now, for me, it’s a nice change from the usual kitchen-chair-kitchen-table office I have at home. Furthermore, I really like my co-workers, I love the company I work for, and my week in the office is made even more pleasant by the company’s generosity with regard to my lodging and meals. I really don’t know if my company has its share of office politics; however, if they do, I’m not privy to any inside information. I don’t know what I don’t know. You see, at first, I felt like a visitor in the office, like, “What’s she doing here? What does she do?” Once I had been there a while, it was like, “What’s she doing here again? And what is it that she does?” I solved that problem by starting the practice of treating the entire office to doughnuts on the final day of my monthly sojourn. That shut ‘em up. Now it’s, “Oh, Kelly’s here! Doughnuts on Friday!”
- Isn’t it nice that you can stay home with your kids?
Now, I haven’t personally experienced this one, because my kids are almost grown, but if anyone ever says this to you—all you young mothers and fathers out there with young children—the correct response is, “Are you flippin’ kidding me?” Look, I have two Labrador retrievers, and I still find it difficult sometimes to juggle the demands of my job and the demands of two poorly trained and rabbit-motivated canines. I cannot fathom doing what I do here at my kitchen-table-desk cum workspace with even one child at home who requires my attention. Young mothers: If you are considering a career that allows you to work from home and take care of your children at the same time, you are a victim of incorrect thinking and modern-day “I can have it all!” -ishness. Unless you can put them in a dog crate, throw them a bone now and then, and walk them up and down the street during your lunch break, it truly is not a good idea to work at home with a child, or even worse, children afoot. Hire a nanny, a mother’s helper, or just resign yourself to working at night while they’re sleeping because ain’t nothing gonna get done that’s worth anything if you’re trying to earn a living and take care of a child at the same time.
- Isn’t it hard to stay on task?
No. It’s a job, and I take it very seriously. I operate as if there are hidden cameras all over my house that follow my every move between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM. If I need to go out or run an errand, I let someone in the office know or I make sure I that respond to every email via phone during any unexpected absences. Additionally, I’m given certain tasks that require completion by a deadline. That makes the whole work-at-home experience very real.
Okay, so that’s my experience. And because it would be mean of me to leave you empty-handed, here’s a slice of advice for those of you embarking on a stay-at-home career:
- Get up every morning and get ready for work, just as you would if you were going into the office. Okay, you can skip the pantyhose and hurty heels, but shower, dress, put on makeup, shave, do both (I’m not judging), do your hair, and arrive at your workstation at the same time that your colleagues are entering the office.
- Eliminate distractions. As much as you’ve been dying to see that rerun of Dr. Phil where the aged cougar can’t understand why her boyfriend is still texting from Nigeria asking her for another $20K, turn off the TV. Do the people in your office watch Dr. Phil during work hours? And stay off Facebook. Reposting that cat video at 10:33 AM on a Tuesday morning doesn’t reflect well on your work ethic.
- When someone calls to chat, tell them politely that you are working and that you will call them back after 5 PM, but at least answer the phone so they won’t think you’re dead. If you’re too spineless to tell it like it is, lie and say that you’re getting ready for a meeting, in a meeting, or meeting a deadline. They’ll get the message.
- Form familial bonds with other work-from-home employees from your company. Often, pesky, problematic technological issues arise and you can’t access your VPN. Chatting with another remote worker can confirm or refute whether the problem is with you or the company’s network. I speak from experience (so I can tell you that most of the time the problem is with me). Wouldn’t you rather have your sister-in-remoteness making fun of you for not knowing how to work around the VPN than your manager?
- Be available. Answer every email immediately, even if you have to postpone the actual task the sender is asking of you and simply reply, “Got it.” Sync your phone with your work email so you can travel to another room in your house and not miss a beat. (I would advise, however, from making or answering any phone calls while on the potty.) Yes, I realize that not even your coworkers in the office do this (respond to emails in a timely manner, not take or make phone calls while sitting on the john), but it is important to instill confidence in your management that you are always available even though you might be 306.5 miles from the office. And pooping.