Mark Terry

Friday, September 12, 2008

Working At Home--Myth Versus Reality

September 12, 2008
Deborah Ng has a lovely column today about the myths versus reality of working at home. I thought I'd address her myths in my own way.

You Can Work At Your Own Convenience
Well, maybe. If you don't have kids, a spouse, sleeping habits or clients that have schedules. That is to say, if you're a novelist living in the middle of nowhere, quite possibly. If you're like me, I'm more or less on the kids' school schedules and because I interview people, I'm often tied to their work schedules.

And I wanted to emphasize that part. There are 4 time zones in the Continental U.S. (at least). As a matter of fact, I have over the last 4 years conducted phone interviews with people in Hawaii (a 6-hour time difference, I believe), Israel, Spain, and the U.K. This is rarely convenient to someone living in Michigan (Eastern Time).

Also, I have some clients who are so busy during their workdays (they're podiatrists) that sometimes meetings and interviews are conducted in their evenings, ie., in MY evenings. I had an editing gig a couple years ago where the publication was in California and I often ended up working until 8:00 or 9:00 my time just to deal with THEIR end of workday schedules.

Convenient? Sort of, but not really.

It's Easy.
Whatever that means. I work pretty hard, I keep a steady schedule. I think by this Deborah means it's easy to keep working because you're at home. Well, I'm not really distracted by things like doing the dishes or laundry--the Internet is my biggest killer. And by the way, I've got a bad cold and have had totally crappy sleep the last 2 nights and all I want to do today is lay around the house and nap, hoping I can shake this thing. But I've got a call this morning about a potential gig (essentially they're interviewing me--and you thought once you were a freelancer you never had to do job interviews--ha!). And there have been some things I've just HAD to do. That's okay when you're talking a bad cold. It's a nuisance, but manageable. But a nice case of the stomach flu or migraines or worse? Guess what? Sometimes you still have to work through them (somehow).

So I'd say it's actually easier for me to work for myself out of my house than it is to work for someone else out of their place of business. But part of that is just my personality. I tend to resent the people I work for when I'm working at their place of business (which is why freelancing works so well for me). I look forward (somewhat obsessively) to going into my office and working.

You Can Work In Your Pajamas
I suppose you could. I never have. However, my working clothes are typically jeans and sweatshirts in the winter (with slippers to keep my footies warm in my cold basement office) and T-shirts and shorts in the summer. I know that TV writer Paul Guyot actually puts on dress clothes and shoes and maybe even a tie when he works at home, but he's nuts. What's the point of that, for god sakes? Freelancing has fewer perks than you think, but being able to wear what you want is generally one of them. (That said, sometimes you have to do site meetings or interviews that aren't on the phone and then you've got to dress accordingly).

Anyone Can Do It
No, I really don't think so. I like working alone. I don't go stir-crazy spending my day by myself, although in the summer I enjoy having the kids around (and once they go back to school in the fall I miss them, but quickly enjoy the solitude and the relative freedom to come and go as I please). Some people just can't handle that. Some people really need that water cooler chatter. (I've never worked anywhere with an actual water cooler, have you?) Some people find they're too easily distracted by things like TV, the Internet, the dishes, the laundry, dusting, neighbors, phone calls, and just can't force themselves to work. Aside from the evils of the Internet, I'm not too bad about that. My biggest issue is on nice days I want to go outside and ride my bike or walk the dog or run errands and go to lunch instead of working, but aside from that, I'm pretty disciplined, if that's the right word. It doesn't feel like discipline to me. It seems like a fairly straightforward equation:

Get Work Done...
Go Get A Real Job.

To me that's pretty much a no-brainer.

It should also be noted that a freelance or any self-employed person probably has as part of their personality a compulsion to complete things. I've always had that and I'm not much of a procrastinator either. Having that as a personality component is going to make working at home a lot easier.

Oh, and one more thought. My 10-year-old, Sean, asked me once: why do you say you work out of the house when  you work in the house?

Mark Terry


Blogger spyscribbler said...

I admire and envy that, Mark. I don't have a compulsion to finish things. In fact, it's my worst fault. Like you said, though, it's a no-brainer: Get work done, or get a real job.

(In my case, more like, get work done or go work for near-minimum wage in an entry level position.)

I've "called in sick" once in the past six or seven years. Days off? I'm getting better at not working for real, and taking complete days off. I managed about four days around Christmas, and when we went to DC.

Weds. night at 10pm, I realized I had to do something else. So you have to do it, stay up all night if necessary.

Today is what I sometimes call a day off, which means I don't have to be anywhere at a certain time and I don't have to get dressed.

I still have to get stuff done. I'll probably work ten hours and take 10 minutes an hour to play on the internet.

But it's true: I might just stay right here in bed to do it! It's been an exhausting week. Oh, damn, I have to go to the bank.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

"I tend to resent the people I work for when I'm working at their place of business (which is why freelancing works so well for me)"

Describes me perfectly!

I also love not having to commute. I reckon not wasting time commuting can give you a whole extra working day every week.

But if you figure you can take it easy, you're lost. I sometimes need to work very long days. You have to be able to motivate yourself. I have no problem with that because I am always motivated by deadlines. However, some people can't do it. I know of someone who left the legal publishing company where I worked to go freelance and went back because, she said, she couldn't force herself to work on her own. Inexplicable to me, but there you go.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

This was wonderful.

I do work in my pjs. But everything else was a total truism.

AND . . . I also have to say that I think the "assumption" that moms are more involved in their kids' lives than dads (which, despite feminism, still exists in the schools) means I am still perceived as being a stay-at-home mom because I am home. Not that I am home and WORKING. This is reflected in room mom requests and all manner of other parenting things that I don't think are asked to the same degree of working-outside-the-home moms or of fathers. No one thinks of me as working. Pisses me off.

But other than THAT.

12:12 PM  
Blogger MissWrite said...

Great article. I think the biggest killer for people who decide to try and work at home (see that works instead of work out of the house, lol, cute point though that kid's sharp) is many people do not have the drive. They need someone watching over them even if it is just knowing they're there around rather than a slave driver atmosphere. I'm my own worst slave driver. I do well in the outside work force for the same reason, but I love working for myself from home.

1:10 PM  
Blogger lucidkim said...

I agree with you and Eric in that I also tend to resent people I'm working for when I'm working at their place of business. I don't work from home right now, but it is my goal.

As far as water coolers...I always thought they meant those water things that have the paper cups with the big blue water bottle (that I always picture water pouring out of all over the floor as a new bottle is being put on)...and nearly every job I've had in the last 15 years has had one of those - but no one ever stands around talking there (and the places I've worked, if you did, someone in charge would likely glare at you until you got back to work anyway).


1:51 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, I'm certain Eric and I (in this case I'll speak for him, I guess) wouldn't suggest our attitudes about working for others are good or healthy, but they are what they are.

And I've never worked in a place with a water cooler. Drinking fountains, yes. Water coolers, no.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

I prefer working alone also. I actually like being alone. Not that I don't love my family and friends but I think I need the quiet sometimes. Work from home would be heaven!

Awhile ago you posted about freelancing jobs and where to find them. I had them saved on my last puter. That puter wandered to college with my dd. Do you remember what month/year that was in so I can look them up on your bog?

3:53 PM  
Blogger Merelyme said...

It is difficult in some ways in that it seems there are no boundaries between work and personal life. I hear of some people going off to cafes or coffee shops to write but I have never been able to concentrate at such places. For all the challenges of working at home, it is good for me.

5:58 PM  

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