The perks of working from home

Montreal mom says she has never worked harder than she does now and she never has to call in sick when her child isn't feeling well

As I sat down at my computer to work earlier this year, I had to stifle a laugh: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer had just issued a “confidential” memo telling her staff it was no longer acceptable to work from home.

I have to (respectfully) disagree with Mayer.  I’ve worked in offices, schools and my home at various times, and I’ve never worked harder than I do now as a telecommuter. My current job is as a marketing director for a mid-sized, California-based software company. Since Montreal is home, my work life occurs through the telephone and/or daily video meetings.

Sure, working alone from a basement office means I may throw in a load of laundry here and there or walk the dog around the block. However, when I sit down at my desk, I am deeply focused.

Although I may not join my co-workers for lunch, we spend a lot of time forging relationships online: I know who has a sick baby, who needs a haircut and who got a new puppy. Because we work harder to connect, I know them better than I knew people who worked two offices down from me in previous jobs and would email rather than walk the 15 feet between our desks.

Yes, the rhythms and expectations for telecommuters are different. When you work from home, you never leave work per se. I check e-mail at 6:30 a.m. when the alarm goes off and at 8 p.m. as I clear the dinner dishes. And unless I’m seriously ill, I won’t take a sick day, because I’m home anyway. My co-workers can’t catch my cold over Google Hangout.

Yet working at home has given me the flexibility I need for my three school-aged daughters. I don’t have to scramble for childcare when someone is sick or has a ped day. And I can work from our cottage up north so they can be with friends and family in the summertime.

I do recognize that this arrangement seems to work better now that my children are older. I worked from home for a couple of years when my girls were babies and toddlers, and it was hard to tune out their cries, shrieks and giggles, even though I knew they were in great hands with our nanny. Their demands were so much more pressing and immediate and it was painful to shut my office door when my 2-year-old twins were calling for “mommy.” Now my three tweens/teens ignore me most of the time, anyway.

Yes, there are downsides to telecommuting, the biggest one being balancing work and family life. With the office just a few steps away, it’s tempting to check in on work matters, even when I should or need to be taking a break. There’s a real risk of burning out if boundaries aren’t established early one.

And yet, a couple of weeks ago, as I comforted my youngest daughter back to sleep after a midnight bout of stomach flu, my mind drifted to a big meeting I had the next day. And I was relieved I wouldn’t need to figure out how I’d manage to arrange care for my sick little girl and attend a 90-minute teleconference.

So here’s what I’d like to tell Mayer: I don’t think your new policy is good for your company. Whether your staff has children, aging parents, sick relatives or a strong affinity for working in pajamas, they may be happier, and thus more productive, working from home.

Tips for the work-at-home parent

Carve out a workspace:
Find a corner of your home to dedicate to work. Even if you don’t have the luxury of a separate room for an office, try to set up a couple of shelves or a desk that is only for work-related items. This makes it much easier to separate yourself from home “stuff”.

Explain your requirements to your family:
Even young children can learn not to interrupt when you are on the telephone, or not to colour on work papers. Older kids can be taught to respect both your work materials and the time you need to take to concentrate on other tasks. My young children (in the care of a nanny) understood by the age of 3 not to interrupt me when my office door was closed.

Stay focused:
Eliminating distractions means making a firm decision not to deal with the pile of dishes in the sink, and realizing that just because you are sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop doesn’t mean you need to produce a four-course meal for your family every night.

Connect with others:
Working at home can be isolating, especially if you are also caring for young children. Join work-at-home networks (such as Home-Based Working Moms), use social media to stay connected or organize occasional face-to-face networking events to meet like-minded parents.

Cut yourself some slack:
Whether you work from home or at an office, don’t buy into the myth of “having it all.” Take some time for yourself, whether to exercise, meditate or connect with friends.