Thursday, August 31, 2006


Working at home--thank goodness!

I ran across an interesting statistic yesterday. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly one third of all people in managerial, professional, or related roles in the U.S. worked at least some time at home in 2004 (that's the last year we have data for--I'll bet it's much higher now!). In addition, one in 5 sales people work from home. In real numbers, that's about 13.7 million of us. [Note: I'd be curious to know how this compares with other countries--what's it like where you live?]

I've been working at home for almost 20 years and can't imagine doing anything else. I have real working relationships like people in an office; I get more done than I would if I were in an office (I don't have the drive time or the before- and after-meeting meetings); and I've been able to raise three kids, keep my dogs company, and totally set my own hours for two decades. Ah. Nice.

Ten years ago, I wrote a book called The Working Parent's Handbook: How to Succeed at Work, Raise Your Kids, Maintain a Home, and Still Have Time for You (Park Avenue Productions), and in it I wrote about how to get organized in a new job, help your family deal with the transition of you going back to work, and set things up at home so systems were in place and everything runs relatively smoothly. My favorite chapter in that book was about how to pitch the idea to your boss that you'd be more productive working at least part of the time at home. :) (I'm not an evangelist about this or anything--some people really don't like working at home for a variety of reasons. It can be isolating, it takes a lot of self-discipline, and you can feel out-of-sync with the rest of the working world at times. I just wanted to provide the language for those people who would like to open the subject with their employers but weren't quite sure how.)

But when I was researching that book, working at home was still a fairly odd thing to do. Employers were generally pretty resistant. I mean, how do you control employees when they are out from under your watchful eye? How would you measure productivity? What if your marketing manager is sitting at home eating chips and watching Dr. Phil instead of putting together that presentation he promised for Friday's meeting?

Technology has changed all that--and I think we will continue to see the office walls come down and flexibility increase. Simplified, always-on connection (tools like Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft Office Groove 2007 make this a snap), easy techniques for sharing and reviewing documents, and the means to easily sync file versions among multiple users and devices dissolve the obstacles to happy-at-home-working.

So go ahead and get out of the office early today...just take your laptop or PDA with you. Check e-mail and finish that report while you sip a latte at that little sidewalk cafe. And remember--you're in good company. :)

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