As the weather gets colder and snow threatens to fly, I start to dread getting snow day phone calls. Not the ones from the school, but the ones from other parents. Typically they go something like this:Other Parent: "Hi there. Did you know there's no school today?"
Me (warily): "Yes."
OP: "Well, since you're home anyway, I was wondering if you could watch Johnny while I'm at work."
Me: "I'm sorry, but I have to work today, too."
Both my husband and I work from home. He works for one company and is expected to be at his desk for set hours everyday, no matter what the weather. I'm a freelance contractor. I set my hours as needed to meet my deadlines and, if you're a contractor too, then you know this can often mean weekends or evenings in addition to the typical workday. Interestingly enough, I don't think anyone would dream of calling my husband to ask him if he could watch their kids while they go to work on a snow day.
Personally, I think it boils down to semantics, a kind of subtle verbal boundary that many of us who work from home fail to set. The difference between telling people you work from home as opposed to working at home can be tremendous.
For some reason, the idea of working at home connotes a less serious devotion to what you're doing. It evokes thoughts of work-at-home scams and I've found that many people associate the phrase "work-at-home" with "stay-at-home", sometimes failing to make a distinction between the two.
Contrast that with a scenario in which a new acquaintance asks me what I do and where I work. If I say I work at home as a freelance writer, invariably the response is something along the lines of "How nice that you can be available during the day for the kids and errands!" Typically, I say I'm a freelance writer with a number of clients for whom I work, adding that I'm lucky enough to be able to work from home. The response is much different -- I'm viewed as a professional.
Setting boundaries when your office is in your house can be a tricky proposition anyway, especially if you have some flexibility in your hours. Physically and emotionally, there are a number of things you can do to make it clear that just because you can see the dishes and laundry piling up it doesn't mean you're available to take care of them during business hours. Consider these simple tricks as a first step:
- Set a work schedule. Decide on the hours which will be designated for work and stick to them. To help yourself in this regard, let your clients, children and family know what your hours are and don't hesitate to remind them if you're being interrupted.
- Create a separate work space. This one can be a little tricky. In our house, we just don't have the space for an office, so both of us work in the (large) dining room/office. However, cubicle barriers can make a tremendous difference in keeping your office space separate from your living space.
- Ignore non-work distractions. Let the home phone go to voicemail. Don't worry if UPS is at the door. You're in work mode, remember?