The reality of working from home

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Madbaby I had a delightful conversation today with the smart and interesting Matthew Stibbe of Bad Language.  I was determined to master the art of Skype, which another friend from over the pond told me about, Erica Douglas of Career Mom Radio (I am going to start being a regular contributor to this show, which is part of the homegrown and fun Grasshopper New Media.  More on this later.)  For the slim fraction of my readers who are not hip to Skype technology, it is a totally free internet phone (and chat) service that allows you to make calls anywhere in the world.  All it requires is that you and your calling party be hooked up to a computer with a microphone.

Hence the reality of my work at home dilemma.  To prepare for my first-ever Skype call with Matthew, I put on my gigantic headphones, hooked them up to my laptop and nervously glanced over at my 16-month old son Joshua.  I had the wild delusion that he would actually sit still and quietly watch his Baby Einstein video while I had my call (Baby Einstein truly is the Valium for kids used by parents everywhere … I was dead set against letting my baby watch any kind of TV until I became a parent myself.  Now I think "one hour can’t harm him too much!").

As soon as Matthew cheerfully answered the phone, Josh looked over at me, convinced that Mom had become a frightening, alien monster and he began to wail.  Loudly.  Poor Matthew tried to be accommodating, but I had to end the call after about 3 minutes or risk full-body baby meltdown, complete with screams, floor thrashes and pulled hair.

After I got Josh calmed down, a neighbor thankfully agreed to watch him for a few minutes so I could complete my call.  The experience caused me to think about lessons for the entrepreneur-to-be who is fantasizing about the work-at-home lifestyle:

  • If you have young kids, you most likely will have to get babysitting during your working hours.  Sometimes it is possible to fire out emails or write in short bursts with kids around, but anything requiring careful detail or professional phone demeanor needs your complete attention.  Factor this cost into your startup plans.
  • Many of you in corporate jobs may work from home one day a week or so and relish the relaxed environment. (I always delighted to attend long, tedious conference calls from home so that I could fold laundry, making the meeting semi-productive.)  But you may forget how easy it is to crank out a lot of stuff in the office when you have no home distractions.  When you work from home all the time, you need to develop routines and discipline, otherwise you never get anything done.
  • If you are married or live with someone, your non-work-at-home spouse might make the assumption that since you are at home, you don’t mind taking care of a lot of tasks around the house.  This will lead to either low productivity on your part because you will do all those tasks instead of working on what you are supposed to, or resentment as you feel the injustice of a lopsided pile of domestic work.  To plan for this, agree on the division of chores before you give up your office job.

So before you fall for the "I can raise 5 small kids at home and start my business at the same time" pitch, make sure you have really thought about what it entails.

Scott Adams also recently wrote a funny post about the difficulties of concentrating at home.

13 Responses to “The reality of working from home”

  1. Staying Sane When You Work From Home

    Some time ago Mark Hollander from Coaching Creative Minds, in a comment on this post, asked me What advice would you offer to those individuals who work at home? They have to *force* themselves out of the house. And they…

  2. J. Jeffryes says:

    I run a small design studio, and at first I tried to do it from our house. We use a great daycare, but I had the delusion that on weekends or nights I could still handle overflow work with a newborn and 2-year-old in the house. I found out quickly that was not the case!

    Even writing e-mails is hard to do properly with the kids, and trying to divide time between them and work doesn’t serve my children or my clients well (though I quickly found out which clients had their own kids by how they handled interrupted calls or missed deadlines due to kid emergencies like dislocated elbows or fevers).

    My kids are 1 and 3 now, and for me, work only happens if they’re at daycare, asleep, or on the rare occasions the older one is watching a movie while my wife gets the little firecracker to settle down and play quietly for a while. I totally agree that if you are home with children, some kind of helper is a must.

    BTW, I’ve heard of “The Continuum Concept”, I think everyone should be aware of how much less stressful a natural setting is, but unfortunately modern business (and in my case design) isn’t nearly as kid-compatible as less technologically advanced pursuits. Too bad we can’t all live off the land and still have internet, modern manufacturing and advanced medical care at the same time!

  3. As the other person in this conversation, I have to say that it really wasn’t a bad experience for me. We chatted for a few minutes, the baby chattered, Pam looked after him and called me back a few minutes later. No problem at all. The rest of the conversation (on Skype) was troublefree in every sense.

    Many of my clients who call me regularly know that I often get up in the middle of a call and make a cup of tea. I suspect from their perspective, this about the same level of disturbance. IE none at all.

  4. Paul says:

    I know exactly what you mean with your last point there about the non-working spouse assuming that the work-at-home spouse has time to do all those little things around the home.

    It is probably unintentional but very true. The flipside is that things can get done at home and working from home does mean that I can determine when the 27 contractors arrive to do whatever it is that they are going to do.

  5. Andrew says:

    Hey 🙂

    Just to let you know, there are some cordless phones out there for Skype and the like.

    Okay, so they’re basically glorified mono-headsets anyway, but might help you at least get around the place.

    Or you could always get a bluetooth adapter and one of the ear-headset bluetooth mobile phone connectors.

    The good part about that is that you at least get 100m worth of reach so if someones in the room with you, you can still attend to them and take your call.

    Or do your filing, etc at the same time.

    Anyway, I find that more useful than sitting around with a headset on and cords keeping me at arms length to the PC.


  6. Paul says:

    Hi Pam,

    Have you ever read the book “The Continuum Concept” by Jean Liedloff? It’s a book written by an American woman who went to Venezuela on an expedition, and ended up coming across a stone age Indian tribe called the Yequana. She was amazed that these “uncivilized” people were the happiest, most content people she had ever seen in her life, so she ended up going back and living with them for 2 and a half years in order to figure out their secret. The book is an explanation of all the things she learned about their lifestyle and values.

    Anyways, the part that’s relevant is that the Yequana women have a special child rearing method whereby they continue to work while the babies are growing up, bringing the babies along for every activity, and the babies never spoil things by crying out in the way that Western babies do. Now I’m not a parent, and I’ve never tried the child rearing method outlined in the book, but it’s a fascinating read and a very inspiring book. I thought it might go along nicely with your interest in South America and Native traditions.



  7. Hi! Thanks for mentioning Career Mom Radio. Did you get a chance to hear Episode 1? It’s really great, and I think it shows signs of where the show will go! Did Erica convince you to make a contribution? Judging by the last six or seven posts on your blog, I think it’d probably be a great match. : )

  8. Manisha says:

    Pam, my boss swears by Skype. It works for him because he travels a lot and he takes his laptop with him wherever he goes. It doesn’t work for me because I work from home. I need to be more mobile – maybe answer the door and sign for my mail or a parcel, go get a book from the other room, start the laundry…

    My daughter is now 8 but she knows exactly when to come and ask me if she can watch TV. She has been told over and over again that she cannot come and ask me a question, unless it is a matter of life or death, when I am on the phone. She started writing me notes instead.

    I prefer other VoIP solutions and use Vonage and we’re trying out SunRocket as well. SunRocket has excellent international rates; India, in particular, is cheaper on SunRocket than Skype.

  9. I was delighted to find your blog today through technorati. I am trying to find other mom entrepreneur blogs who can sympathize with my plight! Just last week I was late for a meeting because my baby pooped all over my pants. I have a 6,2,4mo. old and it is nuts, but I work 6-10 am (my husband is mostly home then) and then I work throughout the day as I can and get help here and there for meetings, but I am in pre-launch, so when I launch I will hire a college girl again to help out here so my babies can sleep. College girls like this sort of job because they can do homework when babies are sleeping,etc. I just pay $7/hr and it is totally worth it. I also work after the kids are in bed (I am strict and make them go to bed at 7:30pm!) Too many of us mom entrepreneurs are working the late night shift of 8-2am. Yikes. Killer on my skin and eyes, not to mention my patience. I think hiring some help is worth it! We’ll all be better moms for it. Check out my blog sometime, I feature women entrepreneurs called Start Up Princesses every Tuesday and Thursday. Launched just last month. We have about 130 views a day…so it is slowly catching on. I’d love to interview you some day! Thanks!!

  10. Kathleen says:

    Tee-hee! Welcome to Motherhood Fact #372: Children have radar that constantly pings Mommy. The child will ignore Mommy until the precise moment at which the radar determines that Mommy is engaging in some activity that does not involve said child. Interesting and fun behavior will then begin. 🙂

    I know this won’t comfort you, but it doesn’t get any better. My son will be nine in less than two months, and I’m still “not allowed” to have an uninterrupted conversation. Someday he’s going to go away to college, and Goddess help me then, because I’m sure that I’ll have long since forgotten how to speak in complete sentences.

  11. Thyaga says:

    Hello Pam,
    There are many VOIP services that you can use:

    (1). Yahoo Voice – good but requires a heavy download (similar to Skype)

    (2). Google Talk – very light weight but extremely good in quality

    (3). Jajah – no downloads, no software nothing. Go to the web and initiate the call – your phone will ring, then the destination phone rings and then you just talk :).


  12. In one of your posts you raised concerns about TV and I can see your point. One thing you might want to try is TiVo’s new KidZone You can record material you think is right for your kids in KidZone and they can watch it without access to either live programming or any other recordings. They also offer suggestion lists — and you can set your choices from your desk top. Not too shabby.

  13. Pam,

    Great Post. I think people have the wrong idea about working from home. Especially with kids, I almost wonder if it isn’t easier to use daycare and go into an office.

    – Bryan