One Mom in the Middle…
of parenting… of her career… of life…

Working from home vs telecommuting

Updated 2.3.2014; reformatted 9.12.2015
This was written awhile ago, but in the spirit of emptying the content queue, I've polished it up and am publishing it not. To me, this article seems to be yet another response to Yahoo's decision to end telecommuting early in 2013. There can be many benefits to telecommuting, however, there are downsides as well. I don't telecommute, but I do work from home. And make no mistake, the two are not the same.

Telecommuting is not just working from home.

A telecommuter is an employee, and thus generally has more rules to which they must adhere. Many times they need to make an appearance in the office occasionally. And their output is evaluated on the same scale as employees working on site.

People working from home are not employees, though the may be independent contractors. They generally don't receive benefits and have much more freedom in how their day is structured. I think that I work from home successfully, but it took much longer than I like to admit to reach an adequate level of productivity because I have kids.

Can't do two things at once well.

My guess (and this is only speculation) is that too many telecommuters try to do two full time jobs at the same time. And that strategy doesn't work. At least it didn't work for me. However, because I work for me and not for an employer, when I missed deadlines or didn't earn revenues, only I judged whether my effort was adequate. I wasn't going to fire myself.

So, when anything with my kids arose, they were the priority, and the client had to wait. That won't fly when you have a boss who has a benchmarks to meet and depends on your output. Of course, their can be consequences from the client for missed deadlines, but you are not the client's employee.

Also, my projects (while occasionally requiring input from others) in the end are produced entirely by me. No one else is stuck doing nothing because I haven't met a deadline. That's very different from being part of a group that is working cooperatively towards an end goal, which is my understanding of what part of the difficulty was at Yahoo.

No balance to be found, a choice to be made.

It can be difficult to achieve a balance working at home, unless you are willing to setup an office as you'd have on site— meaning no kids. Part of the benefit of working from home was to avoid paying for childcare. The kids did attend nursery schools and for awhile public schools, so I did have a few hours a day alone to work, but never a full 8 hour or longer day.

And sometimes that's what you need. Time to think without distraction. It's cliche, but I did find that the fastest way to have my kids need something was to open my laptop and try to get some work done. Some tasks don't require complete concentration, but some do. Tasks or projects requiring concentration or extended periods of focus are not suitable for work at home parents who intend to have the kids there too.

Although I have a "work space" (which for me is where the treadmill is) I never set up an official office, and have never claimed any tax related deduction. I wanted more flexibility than that. I work most often while slowly walking on my treadmill desk, however, I can also work on my couch or at my kitchen counter if I choose.

As the kids aged, the calculation changed a bit, but not as much as you might think. So many parents seem to think that the first few years are the important ones. Of course those years are important, but they aren't the only important ones. I think as the kids age and begin to make their own decisions parental awareness is even more important. That doesn't mean the parent has to be involved in everything intimately, but it DOES mean the parent has to be aware. And the only way to be aware is to be present and to be attentive to details. You can't notice details in your child's life if you are trying to finish a detailed project for work. Very likely, a parent can do one or the other well, but not both.

This is the internet, so I'm sure there are any number of super parent sites that would dispute that conclusion. But in this case, I know what I know. Parenting doesn't get less involving when the kids enter school, and it isn't any less important. The presence of other adults (teachers and school officials) actually make the parent's efforts MORE important. I may have contracted with the schools to assist in the teaching of my children, but I did not cede any of my ultimate responsibility for that process. It isn't the teacher the child will remember in to old age, it's the parents.

For me, working from home provided a way to keep working. It's a tenuous link to the working world, but at least it gives me something to put on a resume, should I ever try to get a job working for someone else.

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