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I’m Not “AT” Work. But I AM Working.

I’m sorry, I can’t do lunch today.

But you work from home, don’t you?

What was the 3rd word you just said?


Yep, that one.

But don’t you make your own hours?

No, not really. 

You just work part time, right?

No, full time job here folks.

Fancy words describe this way of working –  Telecommuting, Remote Worker, eWorker, Virtual Worker, Mobile Professional, etc.   Bottom line is that my commute consists of walking down the stairs, heading into the kitchen to brew a cup of coffee, making a bee-line to my desk in the corner of the living room and turning on my computer.  My home office.

An opportunity arose about 7 years ago for me to accept a role where I can work from home.  I commuted into New York City for about 17 years and my transportation modes were all over the map – express bus; subway; commuter rails; the occasional drive into the city; and even the commuter rail & subway combo – so I know how lucky I am not to have to do this commute any longer.  Not to mention saving the almost $400 in monthly railroad expenses it would take to head into/out of NYC daily.

Working from home absolutely offers flexibility that most jobs cannot.  I’m able to squeeze in a doctor’s appointment during the day, instead of taking a day off to do so.  I can volunteer at my daughter’s school here and there.  I can run to Target or the supermarket for those quick errands.   I’m there in the morning when my children leave for school and home at the end of day when they get back from school.

I wouldn’t trade this arrangement for anything right now, as it’s perfect for my family.  And I feel quite lucky to work in a organization that allows me this luxury.  But….it is a job.  A real job!  Sometimes it’s tough for folks to understand that I AM ACTUALLY WORKING.  Mama’s gotta earn that paycheck.

The biggest myth is that I have all the time in the world to do whatever I want, whenever and whenever.  And I get it.  I probably thought the same prior to my current role.  No, I cannot hang out with you.  Sure, I’m able to take an extended lunch or coffee date.  But I am on the clock and have work to do.  Getting the point across that I cannot just pick up and leave whenever I want to is tough.  Heck, there are even times when I forget that I’m working – like when raising my hand to volunteer at school events.  Then my alter ego kicks in and I remember that I have a day job.

Been thinking about the working from home gig some more….there are other aspects of the situation that didn’t dawn on me until I experienced it myself.

The Kids Don’t Get It

“Yes! Mom’s Not Working!”  As I mentioned earlier, I get the kids on the bus in the morning and I’m home when they return from school in the early afternoon.  Such an urge to stop working, but no can do!  But the kids certainly “think” mom is not working.  I can be on a call with my headphones on and staring at my computer – but the perception is that mom is free because I’m physically present.  A few years back I was on a call with a Division Vice President – and in the background my son was begging for bacon.  My colleagues and I called him Bacon Boy for years.   It’s simply easier to understand someone who “goes to work” and “comes home from work.”

“Mom, can we…?”  No!  This is what I wind up saying to the kids – often.  And I hate it.  There is a certain guilt associated with that “no,” even though I know that I’m working.  I’m not always free to drop everything, which again, as they get older might not be much of an issue, but it’s still not always understood that I’m unable to hang out, play a game, run to the store,  prepare them a 7 course meal – or even help them with their homework at that moment.

Alternatively though – since I’m physically present, I know I’ve offered my kids less of an opportunity for independence.   At their ages of 12 and 9, they should fend for themselves a little more than they currently do.  They depend on me for things they are way capable of doing themselves.  They’ll often wait for me to be available.  I’m certainly guilty of enabling them.  If I weren’t present so much that independence would have occurred a bit more organically.

Domestic Goddess Much?

“Oh! Your house must be immaculate!  Nope.  My house is not always clean.  The laundry is not always done.  Kitchen sink most likely has dirty dishes.

And how awesome that you have time to make home cooked meals.”  Well, anyone who really knows me knows that home cooked meals aren’t exactly part of my repertoire. But regardless – nope.   But why not?  You’re home!

A nice positive is that there are less “real” interruptions – like no colleagues popping by,  no water cooler chatter –  but there are those constant “subconscious” interruptions, which nudge me to want to fold the pile of laundry; catch up on paperwork; run out for milk, etc.

Quitting time?   You funny

My office is my home.  My home is my office.  Separating the worlds can be difficult and I always feel like I should be working – because I can and I live “in” my office.  I have my computer, access to my work files, and systems –  and that’s all that I need. I never feel completely offline, which is pretty common these days.

There are plenty of times that I work in the evening to catch up from some of the half-ass work I may have done once my kids got home from school.

There are no physical prompts that the work day is over.  There are no colleagues packing up and heading out.  There is no train that I have to make.

Work never feels “complete” at the end of day, so there is this constant nagging feeling that I should be working.  And if there is any down time during “non-work” hours or weekends, there’s my desk staring me in the face from the corner of my living room.

And Get This One…

Weight Gain!  Would you believe?  I envisioned having all the time in the world to get to the gym!  (PS – I recently cancelled my gym membership because I couldn’t fit it in my routine anymore.)  My fridge is feet away from where I work.  Keep healthy snacks nearby?  Okay, good idea –  I’m going to eat those healthy snacks and all the other crap we have here!  If my fridge is there, mama’s gonna eat her food.  Enough said.

As most of my work is completed sitting at my computer, I’m relatively sedentary.  No crazy commute and rat race either – which, as much as it sucks –  it sorta keeps you moving.

Interesting Professional Considerations

Working from home is a little more challenging than I envisioned from a professional standpoint.  Sure, you need to be disciplined – but there are other aspects of it too.  Let’s take the “How am I doing?” question – sometimes you just don’t know!  If you don’t hear from your boss, it’s easy to assume that he/she hates you.  It’s possible that I just have a vivid imagination, but it’s pretty easy to get a wee bit paranoid when you’re flying solo.  A pat on the back is necessary once in while.  On the flip side, I imagine that if I did hear from my boss often – all I’d want is for her to get off my back!

On a similar note…the conference calls.  Oh the conference calls!  Goodness forbid a day goes by without a conference call. And sometimes they throw Adobe into a call so we can see each other? Eww! No! Staaahp!  One of the benefits to working from home is that you’re able to look like crap!  In addition, extra conference calls tend to be a necessary evil because you can’t just run to Bob and Fred down the hall to ask a quick question.  You might start with an email, but then everything gets discombobulated and you have to get on a call to straighten it out.

Collective knowledge doesn’t always disseminate well.  Corporate culture and norms are harder to learn.  It’s more challenging to pick up on those cultural, political and bureaucratic cues needed to be successful.

Of course there are ways to counter the challenges:   Be more disciplined to cut yourself off.  Set hours, set limits.  Be stricter with those kids.  Get off your ass, lady!  Boundaries!  You need boundaries!    I “know” all of this….but I guess it’s just my darn work ethic!  Haha!

Seriously, it’s trade off – if they can offer me flexibility, I can offer a little more time and effort.  I’m not expecting sympathy.  I don’t feel bad for me – and honestly, I wouldn’t have any sympathy for someone in my situation either!   Just consider this a good ol’ PSA if you are contemplating working from home –  or if you love someone who does.

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