WORKING AT HOME: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

WARNING:  This is a no-edit zone…

What’s the upside?  Are there perks?  What’s best about working at home?

What’s the downside?  Are there drawbacks?  What’s worst about working at home?

When we’re stuck in a 9 to 5 job, married to a desk, or we’re torn between being at home with the kids when the family really could use a second income, our thoughts often turn to working at home.  We dream of working at home.  How wonderful, we think, it would be to not have to get up and go to work.

Sometimes in these dreams we go so far as to do a pro and con list.  These are the benefits and drawbacks of working outside the home, and these are the benefits and drawbacks of working at home.

In the past two decades, I’ve done plenty of both, and there are benefits and drawbacks on either path–some of which you might have considered, and some that perhaps have yet to come to mind and make it onto your list.  As in most situations, when you look beyond the work itself and to the realities of living with doing the work on a daily basis, things you didn’t think of and couldn’t know come up.  It’s those things I’d like to discuss in this series on Working-at-Home.

The ugly is obvious to us all, but let’s do a little comparison of the good and the bad.

THE GOOD

You set your own hours.
You determine your own workload.
You set your own agenda.
You elect which jobs to take on, and which ones to refuse.
You can be at home with your kids, or with the parent residing with you, or with the spouse who works from or is confined to home.
If you need time off, you can schedule it.
You’re the boss, and the perks are many.
You choose, you decide and you assign/attribute focus–all are your choices.

THE BAD

You set your own hours.
You determine your own workload.
You set your own agenda.
You elect which jobs to take on, and which ones to refuse.
You can be at home with your kids, or with the parent residing with you, or with the spouse who works from or is confined to home.
If you need time off, you can schedule it.
You’re the boss, and the perks are many.
You choose, you decide and you assign/attribute focus–all are your choices.

Note that the entries in the “good” and “bad” column are exactly the same.

The reason for that is each of these points can be positive or negative–a benefit and blessing–or a bane and curse.  Which column–good or bad–each item ends up in depends on one thing:  you.

You, and the choices you make.  Those choices are relative to your character, your personal preferences, your attitude and work ethic, your goals and ambitions and your personality.

SETTING YOUR OWN HOURS.  When you work at home, no one is tapping you on the shoulder to punch in and start work at 9 A.M.  No one is going to chain to your desk until you get your work done.  You have to have the discipline to do this yourself.  So you’d better know the answer to this question:  Do I have the discipline to show up and stick with it to accomplish the job?

People have visions of the person who works at home having all this free time.  It’s common to hear, “Oh, you can do this volunteer job, because you’re at home all day.”  But the truth of the matter is that when you work at home, rather than working fewer hours than you would in an office, you end up working more.  Not by choice but by necessity.  Why?

At home, you are dong the job and you are the support staff.  There is no one else doing any aspect of the job.  You must handle everything–taxes, bookkeeping, marketing and publicity, acquiring new clients or those you sub-contract for–you do all of it in addition to doing the work itself.  Or you must pay someone to do aspects of the job you don’t want to do or your can’t do.  In that case, you end up working more hours in order to earn additional income to cover those additional expenses.

Every aspect of the work, not just the work itself, takes time.  And how well you execute each aspect has a direct impact on the success of your at-home work. Yes, you set your own hours.  But your hours are divided between work and the other work that is ancillary to that work.

YOU DETERMINE YOUR WORKLOAD.  If you want to work two days a week, then you can plan
your workload so that only two days a week are required of you.  If things come up (and often, they do) and you need to scale back, you can choose to turn down business that would prohibit you from being able to scale down.

The flip side of this is that with each offer of work that is refused, your clients must find someone else to take on the work.  And each time you send them to someone else, or that you fail to meet an obligation, not do what you say when you say you will, you invite them to do business elsewhere.  Some will wait for you.  Some will take their business elsewhere–this time and next time.  And you’ve lost a client that now you must spend time and energy and expend effort replacing.

If you’re good at what you do and you have great work ethics (quality service/product in a timely
manner; people skills, etc.), then there will likely come a time when you have more business than you can handle.  It helps to have someone to share the load.  For example, is there another home worker with whom you can trade off work during times when it’s necessary?  The above traits are essential in any trade, because you’re entrusting each other with both reputations.

The important thing is to do a realistic assessment on how much work you want to take on, how long it will take you to do it, and when you find the balance that works, hold the line.  From time to time, you should reassess–our visions do change.  But keep your finger on the pulse of this.  Take on no more than you’re willing to invest a hundred percent in doing.  That assures you that you get what you want and your business (and clients) get what they deserve.

YOU SET YOUR DAILY AGENDA.   Because you have all these ancillary jobs to do that are associ-
ated with your work, your life will run more smoothly if you are organized.  The key isn’t which method of organization you use.  The key is that it works well for you and keeps you out of working in crisis-mode.

Know what you have to accomplish on a daily and weekly basis (short-term goals) and monthly, annually and even develop a five-year plan (long-term goals).

I like working from a priority list.  That way, the most critical items on my list are done first and if
things pop up, those remaining undone at the end of the day are far less likely to be critical–things that will put me into working in crisis-mode.

Think of your daily agenda as a guide not as a rigid do-or-die-trying rule list.  Things will come up.
Everyone must deal with the unexpected, unanticipated, and often the unwanted.  If you’re rigid, you’re going to spend a lot of time tense.  If you’re flexible and working from a priority list, you’re better able to absorb the changes without tension and without them creating a crisis.

When I first started working at home, if someone called and they were in crisis, I’d do what I could to help–even if it meant putting me into crisis.  I took on their challenges.  But along the way, I discovered that the majority of their challenges–ones they dumped into my lap to fix–were self-inflicted wounds.  They had elected to do other things, often enjoyable things, gotten themselves into a fix because they had neglected their responsibilities, and then wanted me to fix the problem.  Yes, they were appreciative–some of them, anyway–and yes, I did want to do what I could to help them.  But invariably what occurred was not that they’d be more responsible next time, but that they’d again neglect their responsibility and come to me to fix it because they knew I would.

Helping others is a terrific thing.  But you have to check yourself so that you don’t become part of
someone else’s problem.  Ask:  Am I reinforcing their bad habits or am I genuinely helping.  Sometimes saying no is absolutely the best thing you can do for someone else.  Sometimes letting them scrape their knees keeps them from later scraping their nose.  Learning this was a valuable lesson.

YOU ELECT WHICH JOBS TO TAKE ON AND WHICH ONES TO REFUSE.  When you’re
first getting started in an at-home job, you’re apt to be hungry and eagerly accept whatever work you can get.  Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it’s a disaster.

For example.  A writer friend of mine is also an independent movie producer and is very gifted at converting novels to screen-scripts.  While his own work and movies keep him pretty booked up, now and then he gets a request and he takes a look, loves the book and is tempted.  The first judgment call isn’t based on the book.  It’s based on the person seeking the conversion.  Is that individual professional?  Does s/he know this process?  How much trouble is s/he going to be?  How effective will you be at dealing with that?

Few want to work or deal with difficult people.  But when your time is your money and you’re standing alone, it isn’t that you just don’t want to work or deal with them, you can’t afford to deal with them. And the point in this is that working at home requires you to be judicious in your alliances.  All of them.  Whether it is a client, an assistant, or a person with whom you’ve formed a strategic business alliance.  If you’re spending all of your time dealing with a problem, you’re not producing work and that reflects (and negatively impacts) your earnings.

Anything that negatively impacts earnings threatens your business.

Even if you’re new and hungry, be selective.  You’ll save money and increase earnings for having been.

YOU CAN BE AT HOME WITH YOUR KIDS, OR WITH THE PARENT RESIDING WITH YOU, OR WITH THE SPOUSE WHO WORKS at OR IS CONFINED TO HOME.  If the children are small, not yet in school, it’s often difficult to find affordable child care.  Working at home can be an asset, provided you set boundaries and rules which enable you to both care for the kids and accomplish your work.  It’s critical that your workload be adjusted to allow quality time with the children so that they get what they need from you.  Just being in the house with them isn’t enough.  They need your attention and your interest in them and priority for their development.

Mutual respect is required.  When you’re on the phone, they need to know it’s business and not to interrupt unless it’s urgent.  Define urgent.

Before my kids could read, I had a red light–traffic signal.  If the light was green, they were free to visit.  If it was red, then they were only to interrupt if it was really important.  Establish the barriers for both your sakes.  It isn’t fair for you to get upset with them if you haven’t made your needs and expectations clear.

Working at home can be a blessing if your kids are at that in-between age, too.  Too old for after school daycare, but not really old enough to be at home alone, or latchkey kids.  It’s easier to work at home when your children fall into this age group because they have responsibilities and commitments, too, and they more readily grasp the necessity of your work.

Dealing with an at-home spouse or parent can be a little more difficult, or a little easier, depending on the individual and their attitude toward your work.  Again, mutual respect is required.  Be honest about your needs and expectations and be flexible when you can in meeting theirs.

It takes patience to work at home with others there.  And before you elect to do it, you need to take a hard look at the others in your home and at yourself and determine if realistically it will be a healthy, happy environment for all  of you.

IF YOU NEED TIME OFF, YOU CAN SCHEDULE IT.  Now this is a tricky one.  We’ve already talked about dealing with things that come up, short suspenses and turnaround times, and adjusting your workload to assure solid performance in the time you’ve committed to working.

You can schedule time off, though not always as much of it or when you would like to have it because of those ancillary duties and the nature of work being its own and not wholly in your control.  Preparation is the key.  Letting your clients know ahead of time that you’ll be out and when so that they can prepare for that absence as well.

It’s the unscheduled absences that can be most tricky and cause the at-home worker the greatest challenges.  Illness, an unexpected surgery, or something of that nature.  While others are understanding about these things, it doesn’t get what they need from you to them.  And their bottom line is that they need the work done.

If you’ve formed a strategic alliance with another at-home worker, you’ve got a great benefit in these situations.  When you’re down, s/he takes up the slack and vice versa.  The work gets done, the client’s happy and your business functions.

If not, you’ve got to make alternate arrangements.  That might mean subcontracting a temp to assist you during the down time.  Whether the temp is to help with the work, the house, or your obligations, often you can accomplish all you need to accomplish with assistance.

Being the boss carries perks and that can be tempting.  So tempting that many forget that nothing is free, and when you carry the perks of total choice, you also bear the weight of total responsibility.  You choose what to do, when and how to do it, with or for whom to do what you do.

If you’re right, great.  Business is good and all is right in your world.

If you’re wrong, that’s not so great, and you have one person to blame for mistakes and to rely on to get your business out of trouble and back on an even keel:  yourself.

You’ll have ups and downs in any business and of course you’ll make mistakes.  The key is to try hard to not make the same mistake twice.  Integrity and ethics are still precious resources.  If you goof, say so and do all you can to repair any damage.  That forthright honesty carries you and your business a long way.

At times, you’ll ask yourself, What was I thinking?

At others, you’ll pat yourself on the back and be grateful you took that leap of faith and went to work for you.

Working at home isn’t right for everyone just as working outside the home isn’t right for everyone.  Before you jump in with both feet, think long and hard about the business–do your homework and know what you’re getting into–but also invest your assessment time in looking at yourself.  At your situation, your family, your specific circumstances.  We’ve seen the value of planning and organization and flexibility.  So be realistic about your personality and your work ethics, your attitude toward work and your vision of success.

Only then can you determine if in your specific case, working at home will be good, bad or ugly.  In truth, it’s always going to be a bit of all three, but before you decide it is or isn’t for you, the majority of the time should be in a positive, constructive atmosphere where you can be content in your work and take joy in your work and in your life.

Blessings,

Vicki

C2008

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About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social-IN Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

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