I learned a lot about balance and boundaries in 14 years of telecommuting. In fact, if you were to ask me about my most important lesson it’s not about what computer to buy or where to find coffee shops with free Wifi, it’s about setting boundaries, achieving balance and saying “no.” You see, when I first began working from my home, I thought “telecommuting” meant the ability to do it all. For example, I thought it meant I had the whole day ahead of me to not only work but also clean, cook, run errands, handle carpool, and volunteer at school.
I didn’t just whip this notion out of thin air, either. I found there are many people who feel that because I work at home I have all the time to do all of the things.
Telecommuters have important jobs too!
My biggest issue with telecommuting is how some people minimize the work I do. Even if I’m working in my special corner of the home, obviously handling work-related business, there are still family members, friends, clients, neighbors, teachers, and members of the community who feel that because I’m at home, I don’t mind being interrupted. Look, I don’t mind helping out at school or running out to the supermarket during lunch, but I do resent the notion that what I do isn’t as important as what someone else does because that someone else works in office and I don’t. I mean, no one would ever interrupt an office worker and ask them to stop and run a vacuum or throw a load of laundry in.
Telecommuters have jobs that have to be done, just as any other job has to be done. Just like with any other jobs, if we’re not present, available, and meeting our deadlines, we’re fired. Granted, there could be more flexibility to a telecommuting job, but that all depends on the individual telecommuter’s agreement with an employer or client. So when telecommuters are expected to do all the things, and the job is considered last priority, it becomes a problem.
When we take our jobs seriously, others follow suit.
3 Things Telecommuting Isn’t
1. Telecommuting isn’t running a vacuum
I used to feel guilty about the dog hair tumbleweeds rolling across my floor. But then I asked myself, “what would you do if you didn’t work at home?” If I worked outside of my home I would either leave household tasks until evening or let them pile up until the weekend and hope no one stops by unexpected.
I’m not saying telecommuting means having a messy home – I can’t work in a cluttered mess. However, I don’t think we need to feel as if we have to stop what we’re doing to clean dust bunnies simply because we work and live in the same place. Moreover, we shouldn’t feel others are judging us if we’re working at home with a sink full of messy dishes. Work is work, home is home, and it’s ok to keep them separate without feeling guilty or lazy. If I’m spending my day working, I’m NOT lazy.
Search for Telecommuting Jobs
2. Telecommuting isn’t being the primary driver in the carpool
Telecommuting doesn’t mean I can drop everything to pick up everyone’s kids from sports or other activities. Just because I’m working at home, doesn’t have to mean I’m the only active participant in the neighborhood carpool. Also, I shouldn’t feel guilty about asking to carpool with others in the area. Working at home is still work and I still have to make myself available to get the job done. I’m happy to help out with carpool and do my part, however, my SUV shouldn’t be the only one bringing the kids back and forth.
3. Telecommuting isn’t running to the bank, post office, supermarket, or library
My dear family, you can either figure out a way to run your own errands, or they can wait until an evening or weekend when I’m running my own errands. “Telecommute” doesn’t mean “pick up all of the things for all of the people NOW.” It means “I have a job and, – surprise! – it’s not being your concierge.”
Telecommuting means I have a job
When I allow people to treat my job as if it’s something I can leave at any time to handle tasks and chores, it means I’m letting them minimize what I do as a professional. By not drawing a line, I’m giving others permission to look down on my career choices.
I’m not saying there isn’t flexibility in working at home because for many of us there absolutely is. Here’s the thing, though: when certain others know I’ll drop everything to help out or that I feel a sense of duty, I’m inviting them to take advantage. Moreover, stopping all the time to do different, unrelated to work things takes my focus away from a job I’m paid to do, and it’s hard to get back into the zone.
For most people, telecommuting isn’t some fun hobby where we’re earning a little pocket money. Telecommuting means we have REAL jobs, even if we don’t have to commute to a traditional office each day. Don’t be afraid to say “no,” or draw boundaries as needed. You’ll find the more you stick up for yourself, the more respect others will show for your profession.
Affiliate links are used in this post.