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Jul 162009
the joys of working from home

Image by Ben McLeod via Flickr

Summer holidays are always a challenge for parents. Juggling the kids, summer camps, childcare, jobs and sundry other things is, frankly, exhausting.

When you work from home some of those things become easier… but there are a host of new problems to overcome. What do you do, for example, when you’re in the middle of a conference call with clients and your five-year-old erupts into your office bawling that her eight-year-old sister has whacked her? How do you meet pressing deadlines when you’ve got a seemingly perpetual stream of minor interruptions to deal with? Nettle stings, lost ferrets, sibling rivalry, outright warfare… you name it, it happens in the day of a work-from-home parent, and during the summer holidays it happens more.

With the recession in full swing, experts are predicting a surge in home-based businesses and telecommuting as people lose their jobs and companies push to cut costs. A lot more people are likely to find themselves working from home, with a new set of challenges to overcome.

I’m not an expert. In fact, I’ve grown uncomfortable with the word "expert": it’s chronically oversubscribed, and too-often self-assigned.

Once upon a time experts used to be well respected authorities in their chosen field: professors or industry stalwarts who’d put in the hard graft to truly understanding their subject. Then along came daytime telly, trotting out a conveyor belt of experts on anything and everything. Now things are even worse: thanks to the internet, Google and Wikipedia everyone is an expert on everything. Except of course they’re not, and so I no longer trust the term.

But I digress. While I wouldn’t dream of labelling myself an expert, I have been working from home for eight years now, and you tend to pick up a few things along the way that make things easier.

  • You need your space: perhaps the most important thing when working from home is to have your own dedicated working space. I have an office at the end of the garden. It can be a room in the house, an outbuilding, or any dedicated space you like… but it needs to be your space and you need to make it clear that when you’re there, you’re working.
  • Set clear ground rules: part of having a dedicated working space is that you can define a different set of rules that apply when you’re "in work". When I’m in the office the children know that Dad’s working, and they only disturb me for important things. Of course, important for a five-year-old could be showing you the slug slime-trail she’s just discovered, but you get the general idea.
  • Early bird or night owl: use your time productively. If you’re an early riser get some work done before the kids wake up. Likewise if you stay up late, get stuff done when they’re in bed.
  • Know when to stop: this is one of the hardest things to do. When you work from home it’s always "there", and there’s the temptation just to keep on working. You have to train yourself to walk away and leave work. Some people say you should stick to rigid working hours, but for me that would kill the flexibility that makes working from home so great. You just need to find a system that works for you.
  • Enjoy it: working from home can make striking that elusive work-life balance much easier. There’s no commute, for a start, and you’re your own boss. If it’s sunny, you can hit the beach, or spend some time playing with the kids. There’s always time to catch up with work when it’s raining at the weekend.

Everyone’s experience of working from home will be different, and it’s challenging in lots of ways, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Now I can’t imagine working any other way.

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  One Response to “Working from home with kids”

  1. […] this week’s column about working from home with children, was career related, I’ve posted it over on the new Career Moves blog, where you’ll find lots […]

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