For six years I have not only been working from home, but also running a company from my home. With a daily commute of about 30 seconds, I run an award-winning job website and manage a staff of 27 who all work from their home offices around the country. One of the biggest benefits of working from home is that I'm much more available for my family, especially my two amazing sons, ages 4 and 6. As any mom with young children knows, things often come up during the day with your kids, whether it's a doctor's appointment, a school event or any other of the hundred reasons you might be needed. Along the way, I've picked up a few things and am happy to pass along some of the lessons I have learned as a work-from-home mom.
1. Be prepared that your job may not be taken seriously by family and friends. This is not coming from colleagues but, rather, say the friend who wants to grab coffee or asks you to pick her up at the airport when, after all, you are home. True, the flexibility a telecommuting position offers is extremely beneficial as a parent, and I am so grateful that I can flex my schedule to go to my son's preschool play, knowing that I can finish work later that evening. However, it's surprising how many friends mistakenly think "working from home" means "you're free, right?"
2. Have someone else responsible for your kids while you work. If you take your job seriously, you need to have childcare other than yourself if your child or children are at home when you're working. All it takes is one call with a client or boss when your baby starts crying or your kids can be heard yelling in the background to lose all credibility. It's just honestly not worth the risk. Plus, that being said, having a caregiver also allows you to really focus on getting your work done effectively and efficiently, leaving you with more time to focus on your kids later.
3. It truly is more productive -- if you are disciplined. There are countless studies that show working from home can be more productive than working in a traditional office setting with benefits such as fewer interruptions from colleagues, less office politics to deal with, a work environment that's in your control, etc. BUT, in order to benefit from these, you really need to be disciplined with your focus and time. For some people, it can be easy to get distracted with household chores or tempting to take a break to watch a favorite show and that can be the downfall. On the flip side, if you keep yourself on your game, you can accomplish your list of projects for the day in a fraction of the time!
4. Communication and interaction is still critical. It is highly important to be proactive in this area and to maintain ways to communicate, collaborate and interact with your team. Take the initiative to come up with a plan that works for everyone (and especially for you!), whether it's with a business-based social network, regular phone or video calls, weekly meetings, or quarterly off-sites. Working from home can sometimes suck you in, making it hard to remember that there's a whole world out there, so make an effort to see your co-workers in person if possible or attend industry events.
5. Scheduling is key. Life is busy for us working moms and, on top of work, the invitations for birthday parties, school events, lunch dates and so many other life events can pile up. First, stay organized and try to find a calendar system that REALLY works for you. Second, since working from home does allow additional flexibility, I encourage you to keep an open mind and attend the activities that are worthwhile to you. But at the same time, don't feel like you have to say "yes" to everything just because you can. For me, I prioritize my kids' school events and will almost always make that work if I can, and then for more "optional" activities, I try to do them at lunchtime or after I drop my kids off at school, so that I am not leaving my office multiple times throughout the day -- just as I would if I were in the traditional office. This technique allows me to avoid distractions and continue to prove my productivity.
6. You're not alone. In one of my company's recent surveys on parenting and work, we found that 75% of the respondents said that they know other parents who have a telecommuting or flexible job. Working from home and work flexibility in general are a growing trend and, accordingly, there are a great number of people who are raising children and holding jobs from home such as marketing, accounting, medical, education, government and so many more to name. So, if you can, ask around and find some work from home friends to share the experience with and maybe you all meet up for coffee on Monday mornings to kick off the week!