|Working at home: a prize or a punishment?|
By Otilia Mentruyt
Working at home is always a choice we make. Many times it is
disguised as a need to save time or money but it is
ultimately a personal decision. Whatever the reason, home
officing should be considered a tool to benefit you or your
employee's activity and performance. We will discuss at
length the opportunities and obstacles that you may
encounter while working at home.
If we understand we are exercising an option when working at
home we are one step ahead from those who see it as their
only chance to work. By taking ownership of the decision we
are ultimately taking responsibility for our daily routine
making it easier to cope with its disadvantages and also to
enjoy the advantages.
Statistics about home officing are very scarce and what you
can find is not very valid for the following reasons:
- Most people that work at home do not declare the activity
as work so they are left out of the measurements;
- Many people that work at home most of the time appear on
the record as part of a company that has offices. This is
the case for sales people, for example;
- The wide variety of jobs you can perform at home
(professional, labor, crafts, artistic, scientific, etc.)
and the many ways you can organize your time make it very
hard to build data that is meaningful.
Let's get into the advantages and disadvantages we can find
when looking at the subject broadly. Remember that not all
the topics we will mention will be applicable to all jobs we
can possibly perform at home.
Time savings: no commuting time.
Our work becomes part of our life at home with no clear
boundary between personal and working life.
Money Savings: no commuting cost and no office space cost.
Work phone calls keep coming after hours.
You can have your house and your job supervised at
the same time.
People in your household interrupt your
activity making you sometimes waste time.
In case of emergencies at home you are right there.
Your working space may not have everything you need to
You can be productive no matter the day and the time. This
is especially good for activities that require creativity to
You lower you social activity level by not
going out to work with other people but staying inside your
You can organize your time and efforts however suit
you each day.
You lose privacy and there is never an out of
the office time. You are always in a working fashion.
We can analyze three categories:
- Work related: It sometimes happens that work takes a
second place to family and personal affaires and performance
- Personal: It may happen that the energy spent separating
personal from work activities is too high. Even for people
that live by themselves this could be a big effort. In
households with many members putting a limit to domestic
requirements this may be very hard to do while working at
- Family related: It is possible that the family may feel
(or be) invaded by the work activity becoming de facto
employees like receptionist, secretaries, assistants etc.
When there is a family issue it may emerge as active or
passive resistance. The former is open and it takes the form
of anger, complain and general bad temper. It is very hard
to endure but it is relatively easy to spot.
Action can and should be taken to address the underlying
issue. When resistance is passive it is harder to identify
the problem and it can take time before you can address it.
This may cause a lot of damage to the work performance and
the family dynamics. Messages could be misplaced and more
interruption could arise only to fulfill the purpose of
boycotting the work at home scenario. The family looses
integration and begins to feel aloof.
Space and time need to be considered carefully.
Ideally one room should be devoted to work and to work only.
This way the person working at home can concentrate no
matter what the rest of the family is doing. On the other
hand the family can carry on as usual without being invaded
by a work activity in a space that was formerly used for
family activity (e.g. the family room where everyone could
In terms of ¨time¨ the challenge remains whether you work at
home or in an office. There should always be a schedule no
matter how unique it may be. Once the working schedule is
over or once you are out of the working time you should be
fully into you personal time making sure your family knows
what you are up to at all times. This way they know when
they may ask for your attention and
when you are busy and should not be interrupted.
The advantages are more objective than the
disadvantages from my point of view. The disadvantages
emerge from working and personal relationship mismanagement
and can be easily and quickly neutralized in order to make
the experience a rewarding one for everyone involved. To
enjoy all the advantages that working at home gives you and
take away the related stress follow these guidelines:
- Remember you are working at home because you have decided
to, take responsibility for your decision;
- Try to bring the entire household on board to decide and
make sure everybody understands the pros and cons and agree
to make an effort to help you succeed. Share your goals and
needs with everyone as well as your achievements;
- Clearly determine the working space and time so you can
put a limit to both personal and working activities; If you
cannot pay attention to your child or your spouse then you
cannot take a call from your friend. Make sure your limits
are clear and fair.
- Look for creative solutions to the problems that arise
after the decision has been made and meet again with your
household members to decide which way to go. Encourage
everyone to raise their issues up-front to avoid passive
resistance and resentment;
- Make sure everybody can enjoy the benefits and not only
suffer the disadvantages. Give your family a ¨bonus¨ when
you achieve something or when they have been cooperative
with you so they can feel your appreciation. Let them see
there is ¨something¨ for them in it too.
Finally, let us get into the gender issue one more time. Is
working at home for a woman any different that it is for a
man? Yes, it is ...! Traditionally the male role is that of
the provider therefore his work is more easily respected at
home. The concept of the man working while the woman takes
care of the house and the kids is somewhat familiar.
In the case of the woman it may not be so easy to clearly
limit the roles of working and homemaking while she remains
in the house. Not only the children but also the husband may
be easily tempted to require her even when she is busy
So, Prize or Punishment? It is up to each individual to make
it work. Circumstances do not define the problem, people
define the problem. It is not what happens to us but what we
do with it. When you are committed to solving the issues and
enjoying the advantages you manage to do that. The secret is
to decide to leave the complaint mode behind and enter the
world of the happy people. You decide.