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Working from Home

Someone asked me recently about working from home.  They, like me, had someone they wanted to care for but needed a full-time income.  Knowing that I worked from home, they asked me what type of jobs would allow that option. 
I’ve done a lot of research into telework or telecommuting.  Having worked full-time from home for the past year, I want to say it’s not as easy as it would seem.  If you are thinking about working from home, consider the following.
What Jobs can be Performed from Home?
The first consideration is the amount of interaction you need with others to be able to do your job well.  Do you need to be able to talk to people face-to-face or could you accomplish as much using a phone, email, or maybe a webcam?  I’m fortunate in that my office was already located offsite from the main facility.  People who wanted to interact with me were used to calling or emailing me but I still participated in a lot of meetings where I went to see my “customer.”  A lot of people want that face-to-face interaction with you so even if you work from home, there may be times you need to go on site to be “seen.”  Therefore, you have to decide if the position you are considering can be done strictly from home or do you need to split your time between the on site office and your home office.
What Will your Hours of Work be?
When you work from home, you’re always at your office.  Lynn interrupts me a lot during my “workday” so I tend to work from the time I get up until I go to bed plus I work seven days a week.  This allows me to make up lost time from his interruptions and to keep up with my work load (which is significant.) I can do this in my job because I do a lot of independent project work and I’m exempt (meaning I don’t earn overtime). However, if you have customers who expect you to be available 8-5, you would not have that flexibility.  Plus if you earn overtime, you would have to clock in and out multiple times to keep accurate hours.
How would you handle it if your job needed you at the same time the person you are caring for needed you?  It’s difficult.  I do it all the time so it can be done but it’s not easy and it’s often frustrating.  I have both a speaker phone and a bluetooth device so I can carry on conversations while caring for Lynn.  However, it’s also very distracting to do that and you can miss things both from the person who is speaking and the one you’re caring for.
The other thing about working every day, all day, is that it’s very tiring. You never get away from work. I check my email every time I walk by my computer. I have a Blackberry, a cell phone, a house phone and my computer mail that I check on a regular basis keeping up with my job. I’ve often been on my cell phone when my house phone rang–both calls being work related.  Some people have all three numbers because they know me well.  Others, I do not want to know my personal numbers so they only have my Blackberry number. Privacy therefore, is another issue to consider–both your own and the confidentiality of customer information that you may have.
What about Equipment and Resources?
Will your employer give you equipment to use?  What about the cost of internet service, long-distance phone calls, office supplies, fax machines?  I have a phone line and a fax line that I pay for as well as my internet service.  What happens if one of my lines goes down?  I can’t work at home.  That may mean taking the day off or finding a way to go into work.  If I have to go into work, then I have to find a sitter for Lynn.  That’s not easy to do in the middle of the day.
Do you Need Social Interaction?
As a caregiver, your world is often limited to the person you are caring for.  Most of your time, energy, and social life resolves around that person.  If you also work from home, you almost become totally isolated.  I miss the people I work with.  I’m an introvert but I liked being able to talk to others and share in conversations with other adults.  It was fun to catch a lunch out on occasion and see the pictures of new grandchildren or hear about vacations.  You miss all that when you work from home.  People forget about you. They forget to share their news with you and assume you know about changes happening in the office or company that are discussed in meetings you can’t attend or in hallway conversations.  It’s difficult to feel a part of the group when you no longer share in the daily challenges.  Working from home is very isolating.
The Advantages of Working from Home
Now there’s the good side, too.  I never put on make up.  I don’t fix my hair and I wear comfortable clothes and slippers. The trip to my office is less than 30 seconds away.  I save gas, rarely need new clothes, and no one can see my expression when I’m attending a meeting through air wave connections (which I admit is sometimes a really good thing).  I also don’t catch the latest cold or virus going around so I stay healthier. 
I can give Lynn the care and support he needs.  I can make sure his needs are met in the way he wants them met. I can provide both his physical and emotional support.  But just as those are good things, they are also bad things because it also means I never am free from those responsibilities.  I save a ton of money by caring for him myself.  I don’t, in fact, know how I could afford to get someone to care for him if I could not work from home.  
Conclusion
You might consider working from home if:

  • You don’t need a lot of social interaction
  • Your job can be done primarily by telephone or electronically
  • Your hours can be flexible
  • You have back-up care in case you need to go into the office
  • You can handle not being away from your caregiving responsibilities–EVER
  • You are extremely good at multi-tasking and keeping two trains of though going at the same time all the time

I have to say it’s not for everyone. It’s been a blessing for me.  I’m very thankful I have this option and I fear the day that I might not have it.  That’s the other thing…your employer can always pull the plug on your being able to work from home.  So always, somewhere in the back of your mind, you’re wondering how long you’ll be able to keep everyone happy so nothing changes.  It’s a lot of stress.  It’s a really good option but keep in mind that most people who work from home, just work from home–they are not also trying to care for someone.  I would say that doing so is VERY rare; not impossible, but unusual.
Good luck if you’re considering this option.  Let me know if you have any questions for me.

Adjusting to being less than the best

I received my annual performance review today.  I had mentally prepared myself for getting a rating less than what I usually get and was even afraid it might be significantly less but I was pleased…and disappointed…and sad…and concerned. 
Not to brag but I’m very good at my job.  Several years ago I was nominated and received the Employee of the Year award.  We had about 7000 employees then so that was a real honor.  Every year for at least the last ten, if not longer, I’ve gotten an exceptional overall rating.  This year I didn’t.  It was still good, better than just proficient, and even still had some exceptional ratings listed, but it was sad to see my performance decline in writing.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not complaining at all about the rating.  It was very fair and probably more than a little generous.  I hold a significant position where I work.  I have a lot of influence and a lot of people come to me for advise…or at least I had and they did.  Now I work remotely every day.  Though I try to keep involved and keep up with everything, the truth is my staff have had to cover meetings for me and are now contacted more often than I am.  People who know me want to spare me anymore stress so they go to someone else.  That’s very kind of them but I’m still working and if no one needs me anymore, I’ll become a liability instead of an asset. I can’t let that happen because I have to work and I have to keep the salary I have now. One of my greatest fears is “out of sight; out of mind,” and my other is “I need you to come back to work at your office.”
I wouldn’t mind being back at work.  I love my job.  It’s very demanding but I find it very rewarding. I really like working to find solutions and knowing what’s going on. I find that working from home, I’m losing that.  I don’t feel connected and there is so much that I am not told about that I would find out in hallway discussions. I see this lower rating as the recognition that I’m not needed as much anymore. I expect that if I continue to work from home, they will find a way to move me out of my job into something else….something not as essential…and something that would be unique and therefore, something to cut if times got tough.  Less job security on the horizon.
So what can I do about it?  Go back to work in my office.  But what if I do that; what does that mean?  It means less sleep since I would have to get up early to get Lynn ready for whomever what going to care for him while I was away.  I’m sure I would not be getting to bed any earlier.  It would mean greater difficulty getting everything done at work that I needed and everything done at home.  Lynn would be very unhappy because no one would pamper him like I do or at least that’s what I suspect because he’s very needy and very particular about how things are done. He doesn’t want anyone here that he would have to entertain as a guest and he doesn’t want anyone he knows well to have to do any of the personal things for him that are needed.  If I had a “sitter” then I would have to put in an indwelling urinary catheter while I was away every day.  I had to do that two days in a row a few weeks ago and he got a urinary track infection from the irritation. So would his condition deteriorate?  If I wasn’t here to straight cath him, to put him to bed when he’s tired, to make sure he gets what he needs to eat and drink, to monitor his medications and to take care of his skin, how long would he last?
So what do I give up?  I give up the exceptional rating on my evaluation, the recognition for a job well done, the interactions with others, the rewards of helping others, the job security, and the challenges of learning new things.  I give up a lot and it hurts but I signed up for better or for worse.  I made a commitment to God and Lynn that I don’t take lightly.  I want to give Lynn the best I have to offer and I want to make his life better than it would be if I wasn’t here to care for him.  So I give up being exceptional at work and I focus on being exceptional at home and hope that somehow it will all balance out. 
For now, it’s the right thing to do…but I admit that I’m just a little sad.