Work from Home A Pleasure, or A Punishment?

When I started out in corporate life back in the '80s, most if not all the women in executive positions were unmarried and I can't think of one who had children.

Today that's been changing. Many companies allow employees – both mothers and fathers – to work from home (though that has its challenges, too; more on that later).

According to about.com, some of the best companies for telecommuting are Accenture, Federal Express, Sears, Wendy's, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

The advantages for companies are many: save office space and reduce costs, help employees better balance home life and work, reduce absenteeism (how many moms and dads miss a day of work because of ear infections or strep throat?), and finally, happier employees who produce more.

For the employee, it's even better. Less time commuting (more time spent on actual work), ability to stay on-task even with sick kids at home, less money spent on caretakers when both parents work, better concentration. I know I thrived when I started to work from home.

At first, yes, I did laundry, and picked up around the house. But before long, I'd developed a routine. Wake up, exercise (which I did, anyway, before going to work when I worked on-site), quick breakfast and then down to work. I find I'm far more productive away from ringing phones and since I'm a writer, my ability to let my consciousness stream is so much more effective when there are no co-workers around to talk about skiing on the weekend, or the new house or the most amazing thing their three-year-old did. Words sound better in my head when I'm alone.

Of course, it doesn't work for everyone. Some do find it too distracting to be at home while expected to focus on reports or projects. Others (like me) don't have an actual room where they can go and shut the door, so some child activity does occur nearby and can interrupt work.

Forbes.com jokingly calls it “shirking” from work, but points out that research conducted at Stanford with a Chinese company “reveals that working from home is actually more productive than working in the office – and has other benefits in the form of increased job satisfaction and fewer people leaving, too.”

In fact, Sebastian Bailey writes, 9.5% of the increase in productivity during the hours studied was found to come from home employees working more hours. That's another thing about working from home. You never stop. I find myself checking email at 2 a.m. sometimes when I'm working on a big project or getting up at 5 to get an early start. It's much easier to walk down the hall (yes, in pajamas and with my mouth guard – so I don't grind my teeth – still in), than get showered and dressed and then sit in traffic for an hour before I can even begin to put pen to paper,or fingers to keyboard.

So what are the drawbacks, because, of course, there are some. I must admit I found this one among the hardest. Isolation. The flip side of having to listen to the amazing three-year-old's exploits is, well, not having to. And not being in the office, among co-workers, to brainstorm is another. Finally, there's the ultimate work-stopper of distraction. When my son was a toddler (and sometimes, even now, as a teen), there's no understanding that you're working when they want to play or time to explain why you really need to listen, they're failing Spanish.

Fortunately, I've always been able to focus (some say that explains my ability not to pass out when a doctor recently tried to reset my broken wrist about five times without anesthesia). But if you don't have self-discipline, working from home is not for you. You have to religiously abide by the hours you've set aside to work, and not let anything stop you. (I have friends who tell their kids not to bother them unless they're bleeding.)

So, is working from home right for you? It certainly seems the world is going that way. Companies anxious to satisfy – and keep – top employees are showing much more flexibility today in trying to accommodate the hectic, multi-tasking lives of their workers. And workers are finding it easier – and more rewarding, even more productive – to work from home. It seems like a win-win for everyone.














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