When you work at home, do people think you aren’t really working?

home office woman cell phoneOne downside of working at home is that sometimes people forget that you actually work for a living. When you don’t have that visible demarcation between work and home, when you don’t set off each morning to an office across town where you’re largely unavailable to family and friends, it seems to blur the lines for people. 

My mother still doesn’t get that my sister has a successful and demanding career in ad sales. All she sees is that Amanda’s at home all day, so she assumes her daughter is at her beck and call to drive over and do whatever an old lady might need at the moment. She’ll call in the middle of the workday to get Amanda to accompany her to Costco or come catch a cat and stick it in the pet carrier to go to the vet. 

I have a friend who’s an awesome realtor, with an office at home. She schedules showing houses and closings around her kids’ schedules, so she’s able to pick them up after school and be around in the afternoon. But sometimes her family has a tendency to forget she’s not a stay-at-home-mom. Her daughter forgets that she can’t volunteer at school quite as much as the moms who don’t work. Her  husband occasionally has to be reminded that she works too, so he’s going to have to pitch in with the grocery shopping and other tasks that keep a household going. Friends, too, seem to think they can drop by in the middle of the day and have her available to hang out. I can’t imagine that happening if my realtor friend worked in an office off-site.

When my husband first moved to his home office, I was guilty of the same mistake. Because he was there, I would just assume that I could leave for an early meeting before the nanny arrived, or that I could be a little late getting home at the end of the day. He was actually much more easy going about it than I would have been if the tables were turned, but eventually he called me on it. How did I know he didn’t have a breakfast meeting himself that day? How could he know whether he could fit in a bike ride after work if he had no idea what time I was coming home?

Here are a few thoughts on how to help your family and friends understand that your workday is not optional for you:

1. It’s up to you to mark your boundaries: If you always give in to whatever anyone asks of you during your workday, then it will be much more difficult for them to get the idea that you’re sometimes off-limits because of work. 

2. Practice some non-martyr-like reminders: Try not to make a big emotional deal out of it. You can offer gentle reminders that you’re busy too by saying things like, “I’ve got a conference call at 9, so I’m going to get in the shower now,” or “I have a deadline that afternoon, so it might be better if you pick up the kids.”

3. Respect your own work hours: If someone asks you for a lunch you know will be a long drawn-out affair and you usually power through lunch at your desk with a quick sandwich while you’re working, you can say that you don’t take a real lunch so you can be finished up with work before your daughter’s soccer practice. When you get an invitation to one of those parties where you’re supposed to buy the clothes on display in your friends’ home, it’s perfectly fine to say you’re so sorry, but you can’t take that afternoon off work. 

4. Use the same language you would if you worked for a boss in an office: If someone calls and asks what you’re doing, say “working” instead of “hanging out here at the house.” When someone asks you to do something, say you’ll see if you can “take that time off.” Call your office your office, even if it’s a corner of the den. 

5. Don’t forget that this downside is also an upside: One of the great things about working from home is that you are able to blur those lines between work and home sometimes. Let’s say your son wakes up with the flu. It’s really great to be able to stay home with him and not have to explain that to your boss. Once in a while, you might even want to blow off the afternoon to go to a movie with a friend. It’s nice to have that flexibility.

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2 responses to “When you work at home, do people think you aren’t really working?

  1. Great article. Because they don’t just “forget”, they BELIEVE that you aren’t working. It doesn’t help that to some folks, “work” is defined as doing just enough not to get fired. To small business people, it’s not just our passion, it’s that thing we have to do so we can, you know, eat.

    • Tinu, you are so right about entrepreneurs having a different level of pressure on their work hours than people who have a job that pays a salary no matter what. When you run your own business, you very rarely get paid for slacking off.

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