Working from home, until recently used to be something that was restricted to self employed individuals. But over the last decade or so, many organizations are also adopting the policy of allowing their employees to work from home. From the organization’s perspective it is helpful in saving on office infrastructure cost while the employee benefits from saving time on travel to work and back thereby giving them more time to achieve a positive work life balance.
As a person who had been working from home for the past three years, I would like to share with you in this post, some of my experiences.
One of my first observations when I started working from home was that there were more women opting for this than men. Though my department within the organization had work that was not typically office based, very few of my male colleagues wanted to work regularly from home.
“I don’t like it, it is very disturbing! The pressure cooker goes off, the maid flings vessels around the place ….” Said a male co worker when I asked him why he preferred to drive the 15 km to a field office and work rather than stay at home and complete it. Another colleague said that the neighbors kept asking his wife if he had been laid off work and that was troubling him!!
But why is it that these things do not matter to us women? Are we women super humans who can concentrate on work amidst whistling cookers, whirring washing machines and chattering maids?
Well, the reason is that when a woman works from home people just assume that she is doing this along with her “domestic duties” and she has to somehow manage both. And neighbors really do not bother if she is at home all the time! It is considered “natural and normal”!
I think the above assumptions are completely contradictory to the concept of “Work from home”!
One of the first rules about working from home is that one must maintain the discipline of an office even if it is your dining table that you are working out of. So, the cooking and other home tasks need to be completed as before and you should be at your work station by the time business starts. However, it is easier said than done.
It was relatively easier for me because my husband and daughter used to leave for office and school at least an hour before commencement of my office time. There were no changes in schedule on that score. Most of the home related work was completed before 9.00 AM as a result of which, I could be at my seat on the dining table. But when I had house guests, I found that it was difficult to keep to these timings. They would often come for breakfast at their pace and want to chat while I was at my desk. To them, it was simply the fact that I was home and so it was okay. My most challenging experience was with a school friend who stayed over for a week. She would ask me every half an hour through the day “Is your work over”? I just could not manage to explain to her that even if I was not on a call or typing something on the system at that point in time my work would close only by 5.30PM!
Then there was the issue of our maid. Her understanding of the situation was that since I was at home all the time she could show up whenever she wanted! This led to a lot of confusion because there were often meetings that were planned during the day that I had to attend and when that happened my maid would complain “Where were you when I came?”
And then there were the telephone calls. Every time I was on a conference call I had to remember to press “Mute” because otherwise one could hear my father talking at the top of his voice or my maid shouting at the watchman next door! There have often been instances when sales people repeatedly rang the door bell while I was on a call. Most of them could see me seated inside and could not understand why I was not opening the door. Those of you who have been on conference calls know that it can often go on for a couple of hours and in such cases it is very difficult to explain to the sales people outside through sign language that you want them gone!
Strangely these experiences are not common to all those who work out of home. When a man does this he can actually work without disturbance. If it is a stay at home wife she completes the work before the commencement of business so that he can be at his desk on time. She keeps the maids and the sales people at bay and visiting relatives leave a man alone. Even if his wife has an office based job she usually ensures that his meals are ready and served out so that he does not have to even leave his desk to make a cup of tea! A consultant I used to work with had a wife who was a professor in a college. Before she left for work. she used to see that his lunch was packed, his tea was in a flask and the driver on duty not just to drive him around but to send away unwanted visitors!
It is worse when it comes to self employed persons. I have seen my auditor , a young woman who works out of a room in her house, deal with a her child and also manage her work. Her son constantly wants her attention and disturbs client meetings by throwing a tantrum. She uses her office staff to manage the child while she is working, which is a highly unprofessional thing to do!
I have never seen self employed men being disturbed in such a manner. They usually have a child care person to deal with a young child if the wife is working away from home.
To conclude what I would like to say is that while work from home is an excellent opportunity to achieve work life balance there are some things that we must keep in mind while doing it.
1. Treat it seriously and maintain a discipline similar to what we would if were in the office. This means having a person to look after a young child or training your child not to disturb you while you work, taking lunch breaks at the usual time when the office has a break. It also means that if you have to attend to something personal during business hours, one needs to keep the concerned people informed about your unavailability during that time. It is because of the inability of some people to deal with these issues in a disciplined manner that makes employers think twice before allowing people to work from home.
2. People at home should realize that working from home is also work and not disturb people during office hours. There are times when the work hours might go beyond 5.30 PM even when we are working from home. So spouses and kids who come back from office and school must respect that. There have been times when I have worked until 7.00PM from my living room. My husband and daughter have been very supportive during that period. There have been no tantrums that tea or dinner was not ready on time despite my being at home. One should treat it exactly how they would if the person had been held up at office. My husband on those occasions has had dinner organized so that by the time I shut down my lap top I did not have to enter my kitchen.
Mental activity is about as taxing as physical activity. Working from home does not mean that the person is having a holiday. Stressing them out by dumping extra domestic work on them, completely defeats the benefit that they get out of this option. And yes, I would strongly encourage men to opt for this option and share the household work too as they might expect their work from home wives to do. With regard to self employed professionals, whether men or women it is imperative they maintain the required discipline by ensuring that home responsibilities do not spill into professional ones even if the office is within the house. It might come with an additional cost but that has to be factored into their professional service fee!.
So the next time you hear about someone working from home, please do not say “How lucky!” and drop in for a chat. Their time is about as precious as yours. It is just that their work space is different.