You may have heard stories about what it’s like being a WAHM. I’m here to set the record straight about the good, the bad and the ugly of working at home.
Being a work-at-home mom, or WAHM, means I don’t have to get up at the bad side of dawn, dress to impress or spend 1-2 hours on the freeway to get to an office. I’m here to help my homeschooled son if he needs it, potty the puppies, do some chores and keep up with This is Us when I’m still awake enough to remember it. My wardrobe and gas expenses are lower along with the miles I put on my car. I can work from the balcony, dress in leggings or work from the RV at the beach. Yeah, sounds pretty good, right?
Being a WAHM also means that I get interrupted a lot. The phone, the door, a neighbor who thinks I’m here to take their dog to the groomer or pick their kid up from school are all distractions. It means that when something needs to get done around the house, I’m the one stopping work to deal with the repair man or tell yet another solicitor why I don’t want their brochures and no, I don’t have time to talk about our energy consumption. Work is always there, feet away, so taking a break can be hard, especially if people don’t respect your boundaries. It’s easy to feel isolated, and when the weather is repeatedly grey, you get to the point where you are so sick of the rain but really don’t feel like driving in it just to get out of the house. Seeing that the grass isn’t always greener yet?
Lots of good, lots of bad, but there are ways to make it better. If you’re just starting to work from home, here are some realities to keep in mind so you can start off on a good note.
You need to make your office a cheery space. Anywhere you spend 6-8-12 hours a day needs to be a place that’s enjoyable, so surround yourself with a few of your favorite things. Posters or artwork or things your kids have made you can turn your desk space into something that you don’t dread going to each day.
Keep a few things within view of your chair that relax you. I like to look outside at the mountains or neighbor kids playing. (But be warned: if you’re stuck working on a day where everyone else is off, that can get depressing really fast. Buy curtains you can close.) I have photos of the kids, my Thor doll collection and stacks of lanyards hanging from fun press events. Things that remind me of what you do and why can make it all much easier when you’re having a rough day.
You don’t need an entire room if you don’t have one, but if you’ve got a door or a divider, you can have a semblance of privacy when you need it. Being able to shut the door and drown out the sound of your family watching TV when you’re stuck on a conference call is a lifesaver as well as helping you maintain your professional appearance. Even a TV or some music can help block the noises you don’t want to hear.
Stick a small adhesive bandage on the webcam of your computer. It adheres better than a sticky note. This will prevent your supervisor or someone else who calls you on Google from seeing you in a robe or noticing that you went to bed last night with wet hair. Not that I’ve done that or anything….
Get dressed. It’s important to be comfortable — says the girl with 12 pairs of black leggings and a pile of fleece lounge pants next to high heels and fancy event dresses — but staying in pajamas can make it hard to start the day or feel serious about anything.
Speaking of starting the day – get up an hour or two before you start. You’ll find things to fill that time, but I like to catch up on the news via GMA (though I have to admit to turning it off when it gets too political or I am learning too much about why a celeb says we need to do something) while drinking a cup of coffee. Sometimes I do yoga, sometimes I go for a run. Read a chapter of a book. Get some laundry started. Do whatever you need to do to feel like you’re getting a head start on the day. Otherwise, 5pm comes around and you realize you’ve done nothing that you couldn’t do on your laptop.
It gets way too convenient to eat like a piggy. Shop to fill your refrigerator and pantry with things you really want to eat, things that are healthy and won’t take long to prepare. Most people that work from home full-time find it way too easy to work through lunch, so you may be in a pinch to eat. Balance that with some prep time in the kitchen so you actually do leave your office.
Weight can often start to increase because you suddenly don’t think you have time to work out anymore, so don’t give up your gym membership. Even if you just get up and walk around some, don’t get too sedentary.
Maintain business hours or you’ll be sorry. Don’t take lunch-time meetings or calls unless it’s an emergency. It only takes one or two for people to think you’re available all day long. This means signing off at a certain time each night, too. If you don’t get paid overtime, you may realize soon you’re working 10-15 extra hours a week with no compensation. Some supervisors feel like the fact that you’re not on the road each day means you won’t hold as tight to 8 hours a day. Be careful to not get taken advantage of or to not fall into the rut of being guilt tripped into staying ‘just a few minutes late.’
People have a really different vision of what it’s like to work from home than what it really is. Reinforce to your family, your friends and your neighbors that you indeed are working — a job is a job, no matter where you do. Deadlines and tasks don’t disappear simply because you’re doing it at home. You’re not paid to run that errand and flexibility is sometimes an illusion.
Get out of the house. Go running in the morning, take a walk or run an errand at lunch. It’s very easy to fall into hobo mode, where you don’t want to get dressed or put on makeup. Before you know it, it’s been days and your car is dusty because you’ve gone nowhere. This isn’t good for your mental health or your physical health. Some of us work at home because we don’t mind being away from people, but since most of us are social to some extent, use your skills or you lose them. Really — the more you don’t deal with people, the less tolerance you have, and this is a bad thing. I’ve had periods of time where I finally get out and I’m in no mind to deal with the public. Don’t do that. Even if you make a short visit to Starbucks or hit up the Panda Express drive-thru, get some sunlight, however overcast it may be, and speak to someone other than the dog.
Develop some relationships with people who get what you’re dealing with. Make friends with other people who work from home. Everyone likes to talk with people that can understand their situation, you’re no different. You’ll also find them more available than your old co-worker still working from the corporate headquarters.
Working from home can solve a lot of problems in your life. It can also create them. Finding jobs that allow for it seems to be getting more, not less, difficult, despite all the new technology. Once you work at home, you get used to it and you’ll find returning to an office probably harder. You’ll either love it or hate it. Just be sure you’re ready for the changes and you’ll probably adapt fine. It won’t happen overnight but give it some time if you really want to make it work. And don’t get mad at your friends still in the office for not being able to run out to lunch with you or help add some noise to your day. Take the good with the bad and you may never look at an office building the same way again. Or you may run towards it screaming, hire me, hire me… nothing sucks more than being unhappy in your work life given how much time you spend there.