By Damaria Senne
A friend of mine recently asked me about my thoughts on working from home: how I came to do it, the benefits and challenges. Here are my answers to her. I hope that information will help people considering leaving formal employment to work from home to make an informed decision.
What motivated me to work from home
I wanted to take control of my work conditions. I was working for a media house and getting to work was a big mission, as I had to leave home very early in order to avoid rush-hour traffic.
If I was delayed at work and was unable to leave before 15h30, because I would then be stuff in the afternoon rush, which was also less than thrilling. So when an owner of a small communications company approached me about working for him from my home-office, I jumped at the chance. After a couple of years working for him, I decided to register my own business, quit my telecommuting job and am now self-employed as a writer and publisher.
The benefits of working at home
As far as I’m concerned, the benefits of working from home far outweigh the challenges:
- There is no commute, which is a huge time-saver.
- I also prefer a quiet working environment, especially when I’m writing or editing. Working at an office means I need to interact with other people on a daily basis, and some people are very chatty while they work. Being alone, and seeing my team members only when we have scheduled meetings means that I get the quiet I need to be ultra-productive.
- I also like the fact that I have the flexibility to do my income-earning work and my home-management work whenever I need to, instead of having to pack home errands on weekends.
The down-side of working at home
There are many things that you give up when you work from home.
- You may lose the respect of people who don’t think that working from home is a real job. In their mind, you spend the day watching TV, eating pizza and pretending to work. This is usually accompanied by the assumption that someone else is footing the bill for you to make-like-work.
- The fact of the matter is not all of us who work from home have someone supporting us. Some of us are single moms, or divorced, or we may even be married but the family needs the second income.
- There is also the myth that business people who work from home are less professional as compared to people who work from offsite offices. In my experience, people who work from home work just as hard as offsite workers, and if they are self-employed they are compelled to work even harder because if they don’t work, they don’t get paid, whereas employees draw regular salaries regardless of their productivity.
- Then there are the long hours. Yes, working from home offers me the flexibility to run some home errands during the day. However, I’ve found that I work much longer hours working than I ever did for any employer. Part of it is that I run my business and need to do the writing and editing I used to do for the clients, as well as the admin that used to be done by other staff members when I worked for an employer. And it’s harder to close the computer and be in a non-work mode, especially when you’re on deadline because the office is down the hall, so why not go there after dinner and work on the assignment some more?
- Sometimes clients do want to meet me at my office. The key is that, clients know right from the outset that I work from my home, so they know that asking to see me means asking to see my home. I don’t grant all clients that privilege. If you’re a new client, I generally offer to come to your office.
- Sometimes my home life collides with my business life, creating some minor challenges. For example, a couple of weeks ago I was upgrading the plumbing and electricity in my rural home. So I had a lot of workers tromping in and out of the house, lots of noise while they worked and for some reason, they seemed to need to consult with me every other hour. They were here for a week and it was hell, especially I still had deadlines to meet.
The myths about home-based offices
Sometimes people think that working from home means that you have a quitter environment, where you have less distractions. That is possible, when you are single, live alone and don’t have any children. For example, in my city home, I have more quiet, less interruptions because my family is hardly there.
However, if you live with other people, especially children, then distractions may be the norm and you just have to find a way to shut out all the noise and just work.
As I write this interview, it’s school holidays and we’re in the country and I have two nephews and four nieces in their early twenties visiting for the school holidays. There are also three kids under the age of five periodically spending the day here. Then there is my mother, who recently had a stroke and I’m now taking care of her. Her friends come over to visit quite often and when she entertains them, I need to be on hand to serve drinks and snacks, maybe even cook a meal. This place is actually a working chicken farm run by my sister-in-law, so there are also workers doing whatever it is that chicken farmers do. You can imagine the chaos: loud music from the young adults, occasional tantrums and screaming from the babies (though they do have a nanny taking care of them) and underneath all that, the normal rhythm of a working farm.
Routines and schedules
While I like the flexibility of working from home, and for example, usually do my grocery shopping on a weekday morning, most days I’m at my desk at 09h00 at the latest and don’t finish work until 5pm. I also work in the evenings quite often.
I follow this routine by choice because I do better when I have structure and routine, especially as I also need to take care of my mother, who is also diabetic. That said, I don’t stress too much if I’m unable to work during the day, because I know I can spend the evening/night catching up.
The cost of setting up a home office
- If you are telecommuting ( i.e. working from home but still employed by someone else), then it is the employer’s responsibility to provide you with all the tools that you need to do your job.
- If you are self-employed, then it doesn’t matter whether your office is at home or at some other premises, you still have to pay for all the equipment and phone calls and other resources. I think the problem arises when the employer allows you to work from home but expects you to provide your own resources to do the job..
Are you suited to home-based working?
- People who enjoy their own company and who see spending time alone at home as an opportunity to be productive rather than a problem, are better suited to work from home.
- Working from home is very isolating. In some instances, the person may be home alone all day, or only have the company of their kids, so there is lack of adult conversation and stimulation from others. It can even be claustrophobic if you hardly ever leave home.
- A person who works from home also needs to be self-driven. Working with others in an office environment is very motivating – the fact that your colleagues are gives you the push to also work, whereas being home away from prying eyes provides an opportunity to go shopping, do housecleaning, watch TV/videos or even read a book, all with the excuse that you’ll do the job-related tasks later. There’s also the fact that if you’re not self-driven, maybe you need more face to face interaction with people you answer to, so that the knowledge that they will make their demands in person can spur you to do the work.
Support for the at home worker
Regardless of your personality type though, people who work from home need to have a support structure that helps them to cope with the environment.
The support structure can be made up of a couple of friends whom the home-based worker meets regularly for lunch and/drinks and/dinner, or business association that meets once a week or however frequently it suits members, or an online support group of people in a similar work situations.
Damaria Senne is a writer and publisher who loves tech toys, gardening and renovating old houses. Her published books include:
- How To Get Quoted in the Media( Damaria Senne Media, October 2011)
- Boitshoko (a reader for newly literate adults published by Heinemann South Africa in 1996)
- The Doll That Grew (1st edition by Macmillan South Africa, 1993 and second edition by Damaria Senne Media, February 2012, Kindle version available on Amazon).
- Waking Up Grandma(Damaria Senne Media, March 2012, Kindle version available on Amazon)
She divides her time between Johannesburg and her country home in Phokeng in the North West province of South Africa. Visit Damaria’s blog at http://damariasenne.blogspot.com to learn more about her and her career as a writer and publisher.