‘Dreams don’t work until you do’
The phrase ‘work from home’ invariably brings to the imagination a rather clichéd image: A relaxed individual lounging around in pyjamas and sipping a cup of coffee on the couch. However, this is not always the true picture. While working from home affords balance between family and career, you have to be professional, disciplined and committed in order to develop your career or business and make it a success. Working in a home environment is quite different from working in an office and it pays to understand the differences between the two. Once you appreciate the different ways in which you can straddle both worlds comfortably, you are likely to enjoy the excitement and fulfilment of a work-at-home career.
While the article is mainly relevant to mothers looking to resurrect their career by exploring work from home options, it’s equally applicable to those who wish to give up a regular 9 to 5 job and consider working from home. Juggling family life and a work-at-home career becomes easier when you learn how to overcome problems and obstacles that typically crop up. We have listed several different ideas. However, you can choose those that work best for your preferences and requirement.
Benefits and Challenges of Working from Home
As women with young children and babies returning to work in an office, we often face a catch-22 situation: In the office, we feel guilty about neglecting our responsibilities as a mother and at home, we feel frustrated about not being able to go out to work. Since women by nature tend to be others-oriented, work from home options offer benefits that help you overcome guilt and frustration.
Let’s begin with the benefits of working from home. You do not have to be worried about answering to a boss peering down your shoulder, you enjoy flexibility of hours, you don’t have to navigate traffic jams or stand in queues for the bus or train and most importantly, you can keep a watchful eye on your children and home. It’s a myth that work from home careers cannot provide a regular source of income; in fact, work from home careers can provide an excellent source of income over time. Moreover, you can work with people from all over the world! Emails make it possible to work with people who live in other time zones.
As with any life transition point, challenges also arise in certain areas. You need to be able to separate your personal life from your work, you need to develop self-motivation and commitment and most importantly, you may need to get used to the concept of faceless communication with people you may never meet. Other challenges include adjustment on the part of family members to your new schedule and goals. You must also avoid distraction such as watching TV or chatting with your neighbours, etc. It’s a good idea to treat your new work- at-home career with the same dedication and seriousness as you would accord to a regular corporate job.
Contrary to popular belief, working from home does not imply shorter working hours. As a matter of fact, if you don’t draw up a disciplined schedule, you may find yourself working in spurts throughout the day and into the late evening. You may also miss the warmth and spontaneity of face-to-face meetings, but that is resolved with the help of interactive online meetings using Skype, instant messaging, Google Hangouts, etc.
Read on for useful strategies to overcome common challenges of working at home:
- Schedule an interesting activity at the end of the work day in order to add structure to your work day. Otherwise we tend to work long hours without realising it. If something new crops up, reorganise your schedule so that you plan it for the following day. Make sure that you inform your clients or colleagues about your preferred timings.
- Babies and very young children may not always follow regular sleep and waking schedules. They may not realise that they should not interrupt you during work or during a telephone call. It’s a good idea to schedule your work around their nap time or during the time when someone is available to babysit them.
- Family life can be rather unpredictable in several ways. Guests, for example, may turn up and may stay for longer than they said they would. It may be impossible to work while everyone around you is chatting; there are likely to be too many distractions. This is why it’s a good idea to identify cafes, shopping centres or even parks, etc where you can work for a while without being disturbed. A noisy home can affect quality of attention and reduce work productivity. It’s also wise to let relatives and family members know about your work timings. If you find people imposing on you, inform them politely but firmly that you have work to do. If we expect clients, customers and colleagues to take us seriously, we must be professional and committed from our side too. Excuses for delays and frequent confusions with work deliverables will end up frustrating your clients.
- Although working from home helps reduce costs of commuting, etc, you should be prepared for a few incidental expenses that may arise. For example, you may need to invest in a good printer and scanner. If you choose to work for an employer, you may able to negotiate these expenses or request the office to help out with a few expenses. If you are looking to start your own freelance career, you may need to buy these basic pieces of equipment. Since unexpected power outages and server issues may occur anywhere, make sure that you identify one or two alternative places where you can sit and work. Take along an extension cord for improved flexibility.
- We may often feel compelled or pressured to complete pending household chores since we are physically at home. A basket overflowing with clothes, a sink full of dirty dishes or a dusty living room may distract you from work. It’s also easy to feel guilty about not completing household chores. However, please share chores with your partner if possible, or schedule them for another time after work. Otherwise we will end up wasting a lot of valuable work time completing household tasks. Household chores are usually a never-ending list; there will always be something to do. Avoid becoming obsessive about it.
- While working from home can feel meaningful and exciting, you are vulnerable to exhaustion and burnout just as you would be in a regular job. Remember to keep weekends free from work (this is also a good time to catch up on laundry, buy groceries, etc). However, sometimes, if your child has been sick or there are unavoidable delays, you can work on a weekend. Try not to make it a habit. If you keep working throughout the weekend without a break, you are likely to feel exhausted. Since you work from home during the week and are also at home during the weekend, the lines may become blurred. It’s important to develop a schedule that helps you balance work and family life. Set regular work hours and stick to it. Otherwise, there is a tendency to become addicted to the computer screen.
- Since home also functions as an office, we can begin to feel excessively housebound when we choose to work from home. Make it a point to go out for a walk every day and plan more outings during the weekend. This will refresh your mind and body. Even if you need to buy something trivial like a loaf of bread or milk, take the opportunity to get some fresh air.
There is nothing wrong in taking a small nap between work tasks, but this should also be scheduled. It can sometimes feel awful to have to complete work-related tasks. But this can seem tough when you have sat up for most of the night with a crying baby. There will be days when you feel weary and exhausted.
The upside of working from home is that you can sleep in for some time, feel refreshed and sit down to work at a later time – something that will be practically impossible if you’re going out to work. Just remember to stick to time deadlines (make sure that you incorporate some breathing space when negotiating your contract), but there are different ways to meet deadlines. At the end of the day, your client or boss will not mind if you work in the morning or evening as long as you deliver quality work.
Additional Techniques that help Juggle Work-at-Home Careers with Family Life and Children
- If you’ve been used to going to work, you may need to change your approach to get in the mood. For example, you may feel like working only when you get dressed and go somewhere. To overcome this mental block, try getting dressed as if you are going to work and then sit in your workspace at home. This will help put you in the right frame of mind. While working in pyjamas may work for some, it may not suit others. Get dressed for the part.
- Choose a work at home career that piques your interest, fits in your new schedule and suits your inclination. For example, if you were a PR executive or management workshop trainer, you may not necessarily be able to work at such careers from home. This is because you will need to physically go out and visit people, venues, etc. The good news is that there are numerous work-at-home careers to choose from.
- Eat a healthy breakfast and set aside 10 minutes for yoga or meditation to relax your mind and body. If you are behind schedule, please avoid skipping breakfast (you may feel that you can always eat later because you are at home). The objective is to attain a healthy work-life balance, not to starve or invite health problems.
- Once your children are old enough, provide clear instructions on your work times when you will not be available for chores or playing, etc.
- If you work at home, chances are that you will have to put up with a blaring TV or music system during bank holidays or school holidays. It helps to demarcate certain timings when you can request that the TV be turned off. Allocate an alternative time when children can enjoy TV. It’s also a good idea to practise mindfulness as this helps focus our attention on work despite external distractions. You may also consider using headphones, especially if you have toddlers or young children playing around you.
- Do not allow work to consume your life. Keep time for meeting friends, family and playing with your children.
- Cook quick, non-fussy dishes in the morning and close the kitchen counter until you are free to cook in the evening. Having adequate food in the kitchen goes a long way in preparing for the day. Older children can help themselves and younger ones will not go hungry (and become cranky in the process). You do not have to get up from work every now and then in order to cook.
- Once your work from home business or freelance career begins to earn you income, don’t forget to keep your accounts in meticulous order and pay your taxes. You can consider hiring a tax consultant to help you update your books.
- Talk to your family and tell them not to take your time and availability for granted. Your partner may expect you to do the laundry or your daughter may request you to drop her off at an unexpected class. Share all chores and train children to respect your routine. Meticulous planning helps avert unexpected delays.
- Harness technology and use it to save time and effort. Use your computer, emailing, mobile phones, etc to maximum extent to reduce manual effort.
- If you’re earning a good income, consider hiring part-time help for mundane household chores. This can go a long way in easing the burden of straddling the two different worlds of family and work.
It’s never easy to juggle a family, children, household chores and a career. However, it’s not necessary to alienate yourself from the world of career ambitions and work once you have a baby. You can invest your ingenuity, resourcefulness and talents into working from home and can expect excellent results through consistent effort and diligence. It may be challenging to begin work with a baby or toddler in tow, but you can achieve success and earn a good income. There are several ways to incorporate a work from home career even if you have to deal with a lengthy task list.
A supportive family who understands your needs and commitments is important for career success. Good health is paramount to proving your mettle at a work-at-home job and managing a bustling household at the same time. If you get the balance right, you can have your cake and eat it too.
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