It’s the end of an era: for the past 5 1/2 years, I have been working from home one day a week in order to watch the kids. Now that the kids are both in school, I will be going into the office (for most of) Fridays.
First off, I feel very fortunate for the ability to work from home. Most people don’t have the option, and I feel like it has been a huge benefit. Working from home allowed me to be a part of my kids lives that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to be a part of. It allowed Sara to keep her job, which was important to her and therefore important to me.
I honestly don’t know how other people manage their childcare without it. I guess the answer is they pay someone to do it, but this is so much simpler than it sounds. It’s ridiculously expensive, hard to coordinate, and depends on finding the right person. And when it comes to raising your kids, even the very best person is not you. So I am very grateful that we were able to keep the kids with us the majority of the time, and put them in day care for only 2 days a week.
Working from home is a blessing and a curse. Some of the blessings are what I outlined above, and those are the obvious advantages. But what people don’t realize is how difficult it can be to work from home, and there are a lot of negative stereotypes. People (my boss) picture someone lazing around in their pjs and generally slacking off. I suppose there are people who do that, but if so, I think people would catch on very quick, because you wouldn’t be completing your tasks on time. I simply have too much to do to take one day off of every five.
Here’s the secret: I hated working from home. Hated it. But I did it because of the obvious benefits to my family.
I meticulously tracked my time using a timer. Because I didn’t have time to work much on Fridays, I had to make up all of my work at other times. This mostly meant working here or there Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and frequently on Sunday night. Often I would finish my work at 10 p.m. on Sunday night, go to bed, and then it’s back to work on Monday. If we went away for the weekend or had visitors (which basically describes every single weekend), then I would instead have to work every night of the week. It was exhausting.
I have to say that I’m kind of relieved to only be working from home one night a week now. I feel like a new man; like my nights are suddenly so free. Also, I have been walking on eggshells for years at work, since my working from home was not very popular with my boss. Despite having no major problems and getting all of my work done on time and then some, I always felt like it was using up all his good graces, leaving me no benefit of the doubt on anything else. It was constantly made known to me that I was lucky to be allowed to do this, and therefore should not complain about anything else. Basically, I was living on borrowed time. This caused a lot of stress, and I am certainly glad to be out from under that.
On the other hand, it requires significant gymnastics to make our current schedule work, including relying on the kindness of strangers. It also requires an extra 2 hours of commuting on my part. I honestly don’t think one realizes how awful 2 hours a day of commuting is, and how much it negatively impacts your life, until you’ve done it for 7 years. It’s just dead time that shortens your day, not to mention stressful, driving-in-traffic time that shortens your life. I work the bare minimum 8 hours a day, and yet my wife is always mad at me for getting home so late. I was more than happy to skip that one day a week (and that’s not even counting the impact on the Earth or the impact on my wallet of all those extra miles).
So all in all, it’s kind of a mixed bag. I’m very glad for the opportunity, but maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
For all you employers out there, please consider an arrangement like this. Believe me, your employees are not getting away with something! In the right situation (in a computer job like mine with a dedicated employee who will actually work), it can really help your employee out with minimal cost to you. This is a significant benefit you can offer at practically no cost! In this day and age, it is so easy to reach people, with cell phones, emails, video chats, etc., that it hardly matters where they are physically located. Happy workers with good home lives are worth vastly more to you than the dubious benefit of bodies in the office.