Feature Profile published in the
Rhode Island Parents’ Paper
Working at working from
Instead of sitting down at my computer to
begin writing this article at a brisk, energetic, efficient
and focused 9:00am this morning I flopped down at a decidedly
harried and fatigued 1:45pm, only to have what little concentration
I could muster shattered by the yells of my 2-1/2 year-old
daughter fighting her afternoon nap in combination with
the moans of my five-month-old daughter waking up from her
all-too-short late-morning nap. Such is the way things go
when you’re a parent, and you work from your home.
|“Working from home
can be marvelous or monstrous.”
Working from home can be marvelous or monstrous
depending on any number of factors: your home, your line
of work, your personality, your family, your ability to
concentrate, your ability to either meet or make deadlines,
your ability to change gears constantly, your ... Well,
for quick reference I shaped this list for you to use to
quickly assess whether you could work at home -- or whether
you’d even want to. It’s certainly not right
for everyone. To get as broad a perspective as I could on
the subject of working from home I talked to a large selection
of Rhode Island parents -- among them a video producer &
writer (myself, a mother of 2, and why not), another writer
-- a mother of a 20-month-old, a couple with three children
ranging in age from 2-16 who jointly sell Shaklee products
from their home, a father of an 8-year old who sells life
insurance, a mother of three under 9 years of age who not
only runs a daycare center at home but also supervises a
party plan from home, a mother of 3 who used to do piece
work from home, a mother of a 2-year old who makes wedding
and party cakes in her home kitchen and is expecting her
second child, a mother of one teenaged son who designs and
builds costumes, and finally a father of two toddlers who
designs and makes jewelery at home. I also talked with a
weaver, a dressmaker, and a young man who stuffs envelopes.
At present, according to statistics from
the RI Department of Employment and Training there are approximately
32,300) self-employed people in Rhode Island as of April
this year. Joyce Dorsey, Principal Research Technician,
did emphasize that this figure was “ball-park”
and that it was impossible to determine how many of these
self-employed people actually work from home. But it’s
a useful statistic anyway because from it you can easily
see that the figure is growing. In April of 1980 a documented
26,300 were self-employed, and in 1985 it was 31,000.
|“Why do people
want, or need, to work from home?”
Why do people want, or need, to work from
home? The reasons for working from home are many and varied
but the one I heard most frequently was: “I like to
have control of my time.” Almost everyone I talked
to said they wanted this control in order to spend as much
of that time as possible with their families. And the second
most-voiced reason was the desire for flexibility. A lot
of work is suited to the home environment and can be readily
performed from there.
technology has made this even easier and more acceptable
-- the emergence of computers, modems, fax machines, and
the internet for instance. Some work, however, cannot legally
be performed at home. The state of Rhode Island has outlawed
certain of this homework. Bruce Butterfield published an
article recently entitled: “For many at home, ‘helping
out’ means piece work.” In it he says: “They
call it homework, jobs people take into their kitchens and
living rooms to complete nights and weekends -- often with
family and children. It has been prohitibted in Rhode Island,
the center of the costume jewlery industry in America, since
1936 because of rampant wage and child labor violations.”
Two industries in particular spring to mind -- the jewelery
industry and the lace industry, both of which are very active
in this state. I spoke with Jackie Cugini of the RI Labor
Department who specified why work in these two industries,
and others, is not allowed: “It’s often unsafe,
young children are all too often involved, it’s hard
to ensure that the minimum wage and overtime is paid, and
it’s too hard to control.” Paula Berman, a mother
of three used to do piece work putting incense sticks in
plastic bags and then into boxes. She confirms what Cugini
says: “I’d have been very hard pressed to make
the minimum wage. I’d have had to do it eight hours
a day every day, and then I don’t think I’d
have made it.” She says the work would be “sprawled
all over the living room. The fumes were awful, and the
dust would get everywhere.” Berman did this home piece
work for 4 months for the extra money, but when she became
pregnant with her now 4-year- old she stopped. She feared
the health risks of “inhaling incense all day long.”
It’s important when examining the pro’s and
con’s of working from home to differentiate between
parents who work from home without the presence of their
children -- either they’re in daycare or they’re
of school age, and parents who work with their children
in the house. The latter may or may not have the assistance
of a spouse or babysitter on hand to deal with the children.
The presence of the children and the age of the children
adds some interesting challenges, or benefits, to working
from home. Berman, for instance, who now writes for a newspaper,
says that she finds the frustration of having the kids underfoot
seems to translate into a kind of creative energy, She finds
she works better and faster.
|“It’s a two
When I asked Paul Hoyt about the pro’s
and con’s of running the Shaklee business from his
Portsmouth home he answered very succinctly: “It’s
a two-sided sword sometimes. I often ask myself, where did
the last three days go? And I realise I’ve spent them
playing with Katie, our two-year-old.” Hoyt works
at home alongside his wife Kathy, because he wants to be
around to see Katie grow up, yet he admits there’s
always that temptation to “goof-off” and play
Let’s examine both sides of the sword.
First, the bright side -- the pro’s of working from
home, then the con’s, and finally, what it takes to
work from home, and how to do it. You will see, however,
that for each pro more often than not there’s a con
attached at its waist.
First and foremost you are definitely your own boss. You
create your own flexible schedule and so you are free to
do whatever you want with your time -- your work, hug a
child, schedule business meetings to fit in with your child’s
naps, be there when your child needs soothing, nurse a baby,
do laundry (god forbid!), and work before or after “office
hours.” Julian Twardzik, a father who sells life insurance
for John Hancock from his Newport home says: “I can
be playing with my 8-year-old daughter on the street at
2:30 and then meeting with a client at 7:00 -- my hours
are very unorthodox.” You can even do some kind of
volunteer work in your “free” time. I work with
abused and neglected children. This means that I have to
appear in court sometimes, spend time on the phone, and
visit the child or the parents of the child in question.
Because I work from home I can do these things more easily
than if I worked in a more structured office setting.
|“I can be playing
with my daughter at 2:30 and meeting a client
Because you’re in control of your
own time you may decide to take an impulsive day off, and
you don’t have to check with anyone. You create your
own working environment. My office is set up in what used
to be the “sun-room.” This is off the living
room and as the name suggests it gets a lot of light and
sun. The space is a pleasure to work in after years working
in what I call “hermetically sealed” multi-storey
office buildings, all of which seem to suffer from the “sick
air” syndrome. Michael Ferrazzoli creates his custom
designed gold jewelery in a workshop behind his North Kingstown
home where his jewelery designer wife (who is expecting
their third child), his 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old
son are able to visit any time of the day, as long as they
keep their hands off the valuables. “I spend a lot
of time with my kids,” says Ferrazzoli, “but
they know that when I’m in my workshop I’m working
and they can’t disturb me. If I’m setting small
diamonds I can’t have a child needing attention. I
ask my wife to take them for an hour, and then I’m
finished. That’s all it takes.” Julie Chapin
works in the kitchen of her North Kingstown home, designing,
baking and decorating upwards of 200-person wedding and
party cakes. Here she can keep an eye on her two-year-old
son when he’s not in daycare, although she admits
that it’s not satisfactory. “It’s detailed
and messy work. Having a child underfoot can be very frustrating.”
As your own boss you may be able to set your
own deadlines. Hoyt sits down with his co-worker wife Kathy
at the beginning of each month and decides on the goals
and deadlines they want to set for that month selling Shaklee
products. And if you can’t actually set your own deadlines
then you can at least structure how you’re going to
meet deadlines that are set for you.
|“My office is set
up in what used to be the sun-room.”
You make your own rules. Do I or don’t
I want to work today? Do I or don’t I reply to that
phone call? Do I or don’t I go after that project?
if you’re not in an office, or working for someone
else, you don’t have to deal with those elusive, time-consuming
and all-pervasive “office politics.” Not only
that but you don’t have to deal with office administration
-- filling in forms and such like. Furthermore, people I
talked to who used to work in an office or other structured
environment find that they actually get far more “real”
work done at home. As Ferrazzoli says, “I use my time
much more efficiently at home.” A variety of activities
fill your days -- both work and family related, so you’re
rarely bored, if ever. You can work in the morning and go
to the zoo in the afternoon. And, if you so choose, you
can structure your day to work in one concentrated slug,
or in fits and spurts as I seem to. Amazingly, the latter
can sometimes be both refreshing and stimulating.
“Office clothes” can be a thing
of the past, unless you like getting up in the morning and
donning your three-piece suit just to set the mood. Most
people I talked to said they often work all day in comfortable
jeans and sneakers. And no client is going to see what I’m
wearing as long as I am businesslike on the phone. The office
clothes become fun to wear because you do it infrequently
such as when you have to meet a client. You can set the
limits, or lack of same, on your income. You can choose
to work very hard and earn a lot, or work just a little,
which may also mean that you earn just a little. Sanni Connery
who runs a daycare center in her Tiverton home also supervises
a home party plan. But for her the latter is “play
money. If I don”t want to do the party plan I don’t.
The daycare is my main source of income.” You meet
a wide variety of people who are not in your line of work.
For Instance, I’ve met some very interesting people
at the supermarket, at a cafe, a clothing store, playgroups,
toy stores, the Children’s Museum, and at the playground.
Of course having children with you lends credibility to
this sort of interaction -- after all, you’re not
just “picking up” people you meet.
|“ 'Office clothes'
can be a thing of the past”
I hardly ever get bored with my work, even
if individual projects are boring. Projects don’t
often last a long time, and when they end I’m on to
something else, and dealing with a new set of people. A
day’s work can be a mixture of working on specific
projects, networking, searching out future work, reading
work-related periodicals, reading baby magazines, or simply
staying in touch with friends and colleagues. As a writer
I find my work occupies a great deal of my waking day. I
think and mentally organize most of the time so that when
I do get to the computer it’s a relatively easy exercise
to do the actual writing. And finally, there’s no
commute to work! Not only does this eliminate stress, it’s
Well, as I said before, for almost every pro there is a
con. Working from home is not for everyone. Costume Designer
Mirjana Mladinov says quite emphatically: “I hate
it -- working from home! Because you don’t work in
an office people are inclined to dismiss what you do. In
fact they often don’t take you or your work at all
seriously. And, friends and neighbors think that because
you’re home you’re always available for social
interaction. People tend to drop in unannounced while you’re
working but don’t think to leave to let you work.
Twardzik says of his neighbors: “They can’t
figure out what I do -- they know I work but they’re
not sure at what because I’m around during the day.
They’re so programmed into the 9-5 mentality...”
And Connery adds: “My son will say, ‘Mom, you’re
home all day, why can’t you come and help out at school?’
And I have to say, ‘Yes I’m home but I’m
working.’ Some of the parents even say the same, and
I have to say, ‘Yes I’m at home, but I’m
working.’ It’s hard.” Furthermore, if
you have out-of-town guests it’s very difficult to
entertain them during their stay. When you’re working
away from an office or similar work setting you are sometimes
out of your business loop. It’s harder to stay informed
about what’s going on in your field. There’s
no coffee-room chat to keep you up to date on changes and
advances in your field. It becomes necessary to spend a
lot of time networking and reading related magazines and
journals to keep yourself informed. This, of course, is
time for which no-one pays you.
|“Working from home
is not for everyone”
If social interaction and stimulation with
your peers is something you value then working from home
can leave you feeling somewhat isolated. Connery admits
she does feel confined at times. Others I talked to confessed
to feeling cut-off. I even know some who start climbing
the walls after seven or more hours in the company of people
under the age of 3.
You may not meet many people through your
work, or people with whom you have work in common. As Hoyt
said: “I meet Kathy and Kathy meets me. That can be
it for our day.” In their line of work Hoyt meets
very few men. He has to compensate for this in other ways
and playing basketball once a week is one of those ways.
Because you’re home there’s always the temptation
to do the laundry, straighten up, put dishes in the dishwasher
and go grocery shopping before you sit down to do your work.
Your work can sometimes get short shrift.
Focusing on your work can be a supreme effort
of will. Because the home is not a structured environment
there are constant interruptions with things other than
your work -- plumbers, non-work related phone calls, demands
for attention from your children, babysitters who can’t
find things. So, concentration is often a problem for those
working at home. Focusing on your work can be a supreme
effort of will.
There are mixed demands on your time which necessitates
changing gears often, erratically, and at a moment’s
notice. You may have to work when you don’t feel like
it. This can certainly be true for a fulltime job outside
the home. too. But as a home-worker you may find yourself
working when the majority are not -- Memorial Day or July
4th are good examples. If you have a deadline these may
simply be work days for you.
|“When you work
from home there’s no separation between
workspace and playspace.”
In order to get time to work it falls to you
to organize daycare of some description. It can be in or
out of house. If it’s in-house babysitters that you
prefer you may find yourself spending an inordinate amount
of time organizing and directing them. This can be as time-consuming
as actually looking after your children yourself. With in-house
care it can be difficult continuing with your work when
you hear your child in the next room having fun with the
babysitter, or crying “I want my Mommy.” As
tough as it is, emotionally, to drop your child off at daycare
and go the whole day without seeing them, it’s just
as tough to be in the same physical space and yet have to
put your energies elsewhere. You may not have a space in
your home that is suitable for an office. Remember Berman
with her incense sticks and packing stuff strewn all over
the living room? Before I was lucky enough to get the sun-room
I had a desk set up in the master bedroom. This is definitely
not conducive to romantic marital relations.
When you work at home there’s no separation
between workspace and playspace. As Hoyt said “You
live, breathe and eat together. Sometimes it can be too
much.” This also means that you may find yourself
working allthe time. It’s hard to stop working and
start playing when you work where you play. Your desk is
always a step away, and it’s so easy to interrupt
an activity with your children or your husband to “just
do something at my desk for a few moments.” This is
As jeans and sneakers are the dress code,
and you never have to get dressed up, you can start to feel
very boring. I know that if I don’t put on at least
perfume during the day I feel frumpy. But that’s personal.
In terms of income freelance work often falls into the “feast
or famine” category. You’re either working too
hard or not working. So you either have time to play, or
you have money. You don’t always get both. You have
time, but no money to play with. If you’re working
it’s too much, and when you’re not working you’re
worried about never working again.
A lot of your time is spend on activities
that are not revenue-generating, i.e. there’s a lot
of work that doesn’t pay anything -- looking for work,
networking, reading... Furthermore, it costs you. “Sometimes,”
says Hoyt, “you get so into what you’re doing
that if you don’t plan to get out socially, you don’t
WHAT IT TAKES TO GO IT ALONE
If you haven’t already figured out whether working
from home is really for you, here’s what you need
to either do or be in order to do so. Without exception
everyone I spoke to agreed that the most important personality
trait needed to work independently at home is self-motivation.
|“Focusing on your
work can be a supreme effort of will.”
The second thing you need is confidence
-- oodles of it. Unless you pay someone to do it for you
the job of selling yourself and your skills falls to you.
And if you don’t think you’re any good why should
anybody else. Your skills should be excellent. In most fields
freelance work is pretty competitive. You’ve got to
be able to focus on whatever task is at hand. If you’re
unable to concentrate it’ll be impossible to get any
work done. The upshot of that is that you’ll miss
deadlines and clients will stop calling you.
Get a good accountant.
You’ve got to be able to keep good records
of business-related expenditure and activities. You may
need to keep documented track of hours, mileage, phone calls,
purchases, and so on, that your accountant will need at
the end of the year. Keep your work area as separate as
possible from your living area so that the IRS knows you’re
not pulling the wool over their eyes when you claim home/office
deductions. Make sure that what you’re doing can legally
be performed at home.
If you want to incorporate make sure you
know how to do it and do it correctly. Get a good lawyer
to advise you.
You’ve got to be able to change gears
at the drop of a hat in order to embrace both family and
Be disciplined about separating out housework
tasks and work tasks so that you don’t spend all day
doing housework when you should be doing your work.
Set up your work space properly -- do it
for real, don’t just pretend to have a work space.
It’s important mentally as well as physically. You
may spend hours a day here. Spend the money for a comfortable
chair, or a good reliable computer and printer, if that’s
what you need.
You’ve got to be comfortable working
Make sure you have a supportive family. It
can be hard on them, or they can make it hard on you.
If deadlines are not set for you by a client,
set them for yourself -- it’s too easy to procrastinate.
Make rules for yourself, such as: I do not
work in the morning -- that’s time for the children.
Or, I will not take my work to bed with me -- that’s
time for my husband.
Decide what you want to earn in any given
month, or year, and go for it. But, don’t be disappointed
if you don’t make your self-imposed “quota.”
You only have yourself to answer to -- well, maybe the family
Be aggressive about going out and meeting
people. If you don’t chances are you may end up living
the life of a hermit.
Be strong about turning friends and relatives away -- or
closing the door on them when you’re working.
Be enterprising about advertising yourself.
Be energetic about reading up on your field,
or talking with colleagues.
Don’t do housework when you should
be doing your work.
Organize the kind of childcare that best
Don’t let anyone bully you into suiting
Balance the revenue-generating work with
that which does not generate revenue.
Know when to stop working!
WOULD WORKING AT HOME SUIT YOU?
Ask yourself the following questions and if you answer “Yes”
to more than 5O% there’s a good chance that you could
make a go of working from home.
Are you self motivated?
Are you confident?
Are your skills excellent?
Are you able to concentrate?
Do you have a good accountant?
Do you have a good lawyer?
Are you good at keeping records?
Can you separate house work from work?
Is your work legal?
Can you change gears often and easily?
Do you have a work space? If not, can you create one?
Can you work alone?
Is your family supportive?
Can you set deadlines?
Can you meet deadlines?
Can you make rules for yourself?
Are you comfortable setting your own income?
Are you good at initiating business relationships?
Can you turn people away when you’re working?
Are you good at blowing your own trumpet?
Do you know when to stop working?