Home Work: Double Income, No Kids, and Telecommuting
Originally written in October 2007
I started telecommuting in 1997, though “telecommuting” was not a word I applied to myself then. I was working as a independent contractor medical transcriptionist, receiving dictation sent over regular telephone lines to my dictation/transcription station, which I then transcribed and e-mailed back to the client. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was part of a growing number of MTs moving from being based in a hospital or office to their homes. The ever-growing number of medical facilities choosing to outsource their transcription meant that MTs had to adapt to the new demands of the healthcare industry, or risk the uncertainties of moving into a new field. Initially MTs began working together in offices outside the once-familiar environment of a hospital or medical practice, but the cost of commercial real estate and the expansion of the internet soon made it clear that money-conscious companies were better off working with MTs who could work from home. Many such money-conscious companies preferred to work with independent contractors rather than offering full-time employee status. After all, independent contractors provided their own computer, sometimes their own software, their own office furniture, their own office space, and anything they didn’t have could be rented to them by the company.
Eventually I decided I was tired of being an independent contractor and sought the security of employment that would still allow me to work from home. I expected a difficult search. But the industry trends had shifted again, away from the independent contractor model and towards the security of full-time employee status, so I was able to pick and choose from a number of offers over the first month after I had terminated my independent contractor status in the fall of 2001. Instead of a dictation/transcription station, I received dictation over a secure Internet connection and delivered my transcription back along the same connection. Best of all, as far as I was concerned, I had a definite schedule, paid vacation time, and I no longer had to worry about filing quarterly tax returns.
But the changes didn’t stop there. My assigned schedule meant that I was no longer working 10 hours (or more) a day, which meant that I had more time to myself and to spend with my husband. I welcomed a productivity quota that had a definite number attached to it, instead of “keep typing until the client stops talking.” I began to indulge in baking, something that had fascinated me since childhood, but because I’d since lived in apartments with galley kitchens, I hadn’t had the counter space to do more than very basic cooking. Now living in a home with country-style kitchen, and with a schedule that gave me time to think about something other than earning a paycheck, I could bake. I could spend time in the garden. After work (I had an “after work!”) I could work on my freelance writing, or kick back with a book or a TV show or a movie, or simply spend time with our cats. When my husband returned from work every evening, he was generally greeted with a homecooked meal.
In early 2007, my husband was also offered the opportunity to telecommute, which he seized gratefully. During the previous years, we’d often had very different schedules, cutting into our time together. Telecommuting, we agreed, would give us more time together, save us gas money, and otherwise be close to perfect, right?
As with any opportunity, there were pitfalls. My own telecommuting situation had changed, thanks to 2 promotions, and I was working the classic office hours of Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM. My husband was working the night shift, and we shared the same spare bedroom as an office. Over the last 6 years, I’d come to think of it as my office, and initially was annoyed and distracted by the presence of another person–even a person I knew and loved. Fortunately we had (and have) a strong marriage, which made it easier for us to talk about what kinds of changes we needed to make in order for both of us to be successful in our work and as a couple.
Throughout all the changes we’ve gone through in the last few years, one thing has remained constant: the questions from our friends who want to know how they, too, can work from home. Over time I’ve come to realize that finding a job where you can work from home is relatively easy. The biggest adjustment is learning how to work at home, away from the external order and discipline imposed by an office environment. Stay-at-home parents, too, find themselves challenged to maintain order. As so many mothers have discovered in the past, even the best attempts to keep everything running perfectly at home can’t be maintained forever.
So is the problem in ourselves, or in the methods we try to apply? Is it a matter of willpower or a matter of finding the right way to balance family, work, and all the other demands of modern life?
I’m going to say something radical here: I don’t believe in a “one size fits all” solution. We are all individuals, with different priorities, different needs, different learning styles, different lives. What I do believe in is the need to take control of a situation in a way that works best for you. You and your family are the ones most familiar with your duties and your abilities, including the ability to carry through on a plan. So while I can’t provide a magic formula, I can share what has worked for me and others, helping you determine the tools you need to work at home.