Working From Home and Making It Work
By Gabrielle C. Sereni
Like myself, more and more moms are delaying having children until their careers reach a point at which they feel secure about introducing the new and daunting priority of children into their already busy lives. Those same moms find themselves facing the quandary all professional moms face – how to remain a legitimate presence in the workplace without missing your little one’s childhood.
As a special education attorney in Southeastern Pennsylvania who litigates in the federal court system, my job is to ensure that disabled children receive the services they need from their public school districts and are treated in a non-discriminatory manner. This is rigorous, challenging work which requires a full commitment from me to handle a caseload that cannot simply be passed off to someone else at my, or my family’s, convenience.
For the past five years, I have enjoyed a home-based, flex-time law practice, while fully maintaining my association with my law firm. This situation has allowed me to remain a viable presence in my field (even achieving the level of shareholder in my firm) while still being there to witness first steps and kiss bruised knees.
More and more employers are beginning to explore flex-time telecommuting as a means to cut costs while maintaining a staff of highly qualified professionals. The following are some tips for any professional mom (or dad) considering approaching an employer to suggest a similar arrangement.
Propose a Plan
Don’t expect that your employer will agree to your working from home simply because you ask. Develop a plan and present it to your employer in a way that explains why working from home will be mutually beneficial. The plan should include, at a minimum, your proposal for division of costs associated with operation of your home office, number of hours you can commit to working per week, your proposed compensation, how you will continue to be accountable for your professional goals and how you will utilize staff. Be ready to present compromises in exchange for enjoying your nontraditional work arrangement.
Child Care is Key
In order to make my arrangement work, I have a full-time child care professional who works in my home caring for my three small children. (Before you assume that 1-1 child care in your home will be too costly, crunch the numbers – I found this situation to be more cost-effective than local day care!) Whatever your arrangement, your child care professional is key to the home-based mom’s success. Pay this person well, recognizing that he or she is absolutely critical to your ability to maintain your income. Make sure this individual, and anyone else who comes into your home during working hours, understands and respects that when you are in the office, you cannot be disturbed except in an emergency. Have a back up for days when your child care worker is sick or needs time off. Your employer will not appreciate your needing a day off every time your child care worker does.
Honor Your Commitments
Your employer is likely to be more sensitive to potential lapses in your professionalism because of your unusual work arrangement. Set and meet the same professional expectations for yourself as you would if you worked in the office every day. If you cannot meet your hourly requirement on a given day, make it up at night after the kids are asleep. Never use your less than full-time telecommuting status as an excuse for not doing your job, i.e., “little Jack was sick so I could not meet my filing deadline.” Consistently fulfilling your commitments will allow your employer to feel confident that you can be trusted to meet your responsibilities. It will also help you to maintain the respect and trust of your colleagues, who may be skeptical of your nontraditional situation.
Make it Worth Your Employer’s While
Absorb the fixed costs of your arrangement. By providing your own office space and covering your own costs, such as office furniture, utilities, computer, printer/fax/copier and phone service, you are saving your employer money while making your employer money – in addition to creating more workspace in the office for another employee.
Accept that there will be days when you feel like you have achieved perfect balance in your career and your mothering, and days when you do not feel successful in either endeavor. There will be full-time working moms who regard you as somehow less because you do not work in the office, and stay-at-home moms who criticize you for working too much instead of devoting every waking moment to your children. Ignore them. Remember that working from home allows you to continue to pursue your professional goals, bring in income, and remain present in your children’s everyday lives and be proud of your choice.
And say it often. Remember that no matter how good job a you do, you are still enjoying a nontraditional work situation at your employer’s prerogative.
Gabrielle C. Sereni, Esquire is a shareholder at McAndrews Law Offices in Berwyn, PA and mother of three.