Working from Home

On Motherlode today, Lisa Belkin raises the question of whether working from home really allows parents to spend more time with their kids.  I often tell people that I “work from home,” though that’s a bit misleading since none of the work I’m currently doing am I getting paid to do.  And, unfortunately, that means I let household chores and childcare take precedence over doing things that might actually earn me money.  But that’s been my choice and I’ve been keenly aware of it.  And sometimes, I do manage to crack down and do a lot of work.  The last two weeks have been like that for the most part.  Back when I worked full time, I often brought work home with me.  In theory, because I was staff and not faculty, I could shut down at 5 or 5:30 and not think about work again until 8:30 the next day.  After all, there were no classes to prep or grading to do.  Even before I added teaching to the mix, there always seemed to be things to catch up on. I would check email because I hadn’t been able to all day or I’d tweak a web site or check on a Blackboard account.  And that made me miserable.  At first I did those things because I was still interested, fascinated by my work and so I’d continue doing it when I got home.  But I think doing it eventually led me to burnout, and people started expecting me to be available 24/7.  And when I was available to them, I wasn’t available to my family.  It sucked all the way around.  I eventually instituted a no-checking email at home rule, to the point of even having to email people the next day and say, “I’m sorry I couldn’t respond/take care of your issue, but I don’t check email from home.”

Working at home is only the answer if you can draw the line between work time and family time.  And that’s hard to do for many people.  So what do you think?  Can we gain work-life balance by working more from home? Or are we kidding ourselves?

8 Replies to “Working from Home”

  1. For me working from home saves me the commute. I can do that about once a week but I don’t often do it unless there’s a reason (sick kid, roof repair).

    When I worked from home for real (no office at the office) I gradually found it was a disaster. It may have partly been where I was in my career at the time, but for ME it ended up that I never, ever felt my attention was focused appropriately and I just felt guilty all the time. I had a young child and childcare for about half the hours I was working; the rest of the hours were either naps or weekends/evenings and for me it just didn’t work at all.

    I think in almost any life/work balance situation it depends on the supports you have – not just where you work but who’s watching the kids, doing the laundry, assisting at work, etc.

  2. I worked from home for 7 years up until a little while ago. 3 of those years were full time and the rest I had a daughter in the mix. In general for full time I was able to put in a lot more hours and my productivity was amazing because I didn’t have the commute and I didn’t have the distractions of other people, the coffee machine talk, and the telephone. I did have the distraction of the fridge being far too close at hand though! I was able to set a fine line between work and home and was able to close the bedroom door and forget about work. When my daughter came along I worked 20 hours a week – mainly while she was sleeping and up until she was 2 – then I had to resort to some daycare as getting up at 5am to work before she woke, and working till midnight after she had gone down was taking its toll. Even then, I was still mostly able to seperate work from homelife. Sometimes it was hard to do, but I’d like to think I balanced it well enough, and she realises the importance of work no matter where it is done.

    I do think it is completely unique and depends on the character of the person. There are so many people who commented that they could never work from home like I did, and I could quite believe it. Daytime TV and household chores don’t appeal to me, but I could see how they can draw people to do anything other than work. My house is a tip, but it’ll still be a tip when i’m gone, so when i’m not working i try to do as many family things as I can. I started back working in an office a year ago, and there are a lot of benefits to that, but I also miss working from home – a lot more than i thought I would.

  3. Hello Laura,

    I am impressed with your candor and even more with your willingness to invite apposing experiences. That is definitely going outside the academic box my friend. I would have loved having you as a professor. Unfortunately mine couldn’t wait to get rid of me! Not only do I work from home with my youngest, when she was about 8 months old we signed 100 books together at the largest event Denver had at that time. My husband tried to take her out of the way, but she wouldn’t have it. I held one pen and she another,and we got rid of those books in record time as people couldn’t believe what they were seeing as she mastered her course in Mom. I’ve done alot of out of box things from nursing her at the Mexican Consulate during a roundtable meeting to holding business meetings in museums, playhouses… You name it! For me the bottom line came when I was kicked out of a networking group because I was about to give birth, and delegating the care of my newborn wasn’t an option. She and I do a 60-second news radio show online, and when she answers the phone my 5 year old sounds like a personal assistant. My motivation continues to be those I’ve met with children who are equally savvy working right alongside their parents. The world outside the classroom is altogether another country! In fact my inner circle includes Grandma Carolyn the founder of

    When we talked and she heard my daughter’s conversation she said, “We need to get these kids together!” She’ll be represented us next week when she takes her message to our first lady Michelle Obama. So thanks so much for letting me share here! I’m so thankful to you that I’ve just posted a blog on the topic. You’re definitely on to something Professor!

    Believe well!

    Adelaide Zindler

    P.S. The most ironic part is that when I returned to my alumni to give a presentation to the faculty, you should have seen their faces. They nearly went potty right in their seats!

  4. I “worked from home” as adjunct faculty for 3 institutions for several years before my kids were born. For me, it wasn’t a good fit, even without kids in the mix. I also worked for a couple of years at a remote location on campus after I started in our central IT office. That also didn’t work well for me.

    At home, there were too many personal distractions and I wasn’t able to easily make myself accountable for my time. The latter factor was also an issue when I was at the remote location. In the end, though, I am energized and inspired by the team with whom I work. The hallway meetings and walk for coffee is part of how connections get made and solutions are reached.

    I’ve often thought that the “work or study from home is good for mothers / parents” argument is just cover for “we don’t want to have to worry about good childcare and transportation solutions.” It’s a good option for some people, but not because they are parents.

  5. working from home works for me. Made more money in the B&M world, but was stressed to the max, and worked around 50 hrs. Now, I have 2 PT gigs earn about $500 for 30 hrs week, and have the flexiblity to work when I want. I’m not a tv person, so no problems w/distractions there. Yes, sometimes I’m working late at night, but it’s usually a choice, and when we travelled last weekend, my laptop came too. It’s a personal choice. I like driving my kids to school, and I work well independently. Downside w/my gigs is no benefits. PS great topic, great blog.

  6. When I was done with coursework for graduate school, I moved back to Virginia and continued to work for the academic publisher who I had a job with. I absolutely HATED working from home at the time — my “office” was a desk outside my bedroom and I felt like I was on-call 24/7. I answered email constantly and lost sleep stressing about deadlines. I swore I would never work from home again.

    When I lived in Montana in my first stint as an administrator one of my tactics for managing home/work balance (before kids) was to never use my work email for personal reasons. I kept a strict line between the two so that I could easily keep in touch with family and friends without introducing the stress of work into the mix.

    At the time, that seemed like a really good approach, but I realize now that it was a knee-jerk reaction because I simply wasn’t handling the stress well or doing a good job at drawing boundaries.

    Now I work P/T at my University and work at home doing freelance for the rest of the time. I see my kids WAY more than I did when I was working full-time.Partly, that’s because my University job isn’t as stressful. Partly, it’s because I’ve found that working P/T for the University has helped me to develop a healthy psychological distance from work (without having to institute technological walls or boundaries to protect myself). Partly, it’s because I’m a little older and wiser and have different priorities. And partly it’s because my freelance work is for my own business so the only person I really have to answer to is myself. Sure, I may piss a client off if I don’t get back to them immediately, but, you know what, I’m the boss and I get to decide if that was an excusable action. (It usually is.)

    Working from home has made my life MUCH more balanced but mostly because I’ve been lucky enough to balance it with a structured, intellectually stimulating traditional part-time job and because I get to make the own rules when it comes to the rest. My advice to anyone trying to put together a balanced worklife is to make sure you have the mental discipline to make the right choices for yourself and your family. Be honest with yourself about your goals and, if possible, piece together the bits that will make it work.

  7. I’ve worked from home for most of the last decade. It is a pretty fabulous way to balance family life once the kids are in school all day.

    Mostly, I worked while they were gone, and stopped when they got home.

    Not only did this save the time of the commute, but being able to start a load of laundry, or start dinner over my lunch break, made our lives SO much better than if all of this stuff would have had to be packed into the hours from 6-10.

    But perhaps the most important perk was that our house was the place kids could hang out on school days off. I never had to worry about how to handle teacher institute days, half-days, snow days, sick days, all of which start to get pretty dicey once kids are in middle school and the various child-care options dry up but the temptations to do not-so-great stuff increase.

    Oh, and you know, summer. It solved summer. Big time. I did not go fulltime until my eldest could drive. We explained to him that since I was working to save for his college education, his contribution would be that his summer job was running errands for me and running his sibs to various activities. But I didn’t have to over-program them just to make sure they were supervised.

    Everyone at my workplace works from home (I work for a software company) so the occasional distraction provided by kids at home is well-tolerated. This would never have worked when the kids were little — small kids require close supervision. But it really worked very well for a the middle school/HS period.


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