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Working at home: a prize or a punishment?

Stress Management

By Otilia Mentruyt


Working at home is always a choice we make. Many times it is disguised as a need to save time or money but it is ultimately a personal decision. Whatever the reason, home officing should be considered a tool to benefit you or your employee's activity and performance. We will discuss at length the opportunities and obstacles that you may encounter while working at home.


If we understand we are exercising an option when working at home we are one step ahead from those who see it as their only chance to work. By taking ownership of the decision we are ultimately taking responsibility for our daily routine making it easier to cope with its disadvantages and also to enjoy the advantages.

Statistics about home officing are very scarce and what you can find is not very valid for the following reasons:

  1. Most people that work at home do not declare the activity as work so they are left out of the measurements;

  2. Many people that work at home most of the time appear on the record as part of a company that has offices. This is the case for sales people, for example;

  3. The wide variety of jobs you can perform at home (professional, labor, crafts, artistic, scientific, etc.) and the many ways you can organize your time make it very hard to build data that is meaningful.

Let's get into the advantages and disadvantages we can find when looking at the subject broadly. Remember that not all the topics we will mention will be applicable to all jobs we can possibly perform at home.

Advantages Disadvantages
Time savings: no commuting time. Our work becomes part of our life at home with no clear boundary between personal and working life.
Money Savings: no commuting cost and no office space cost. Work phone calls keep coming after hours.
You can have your house and your job supervised at the same time. People in your household interrupt your activity making you sometimes waste time.
In case of emergencies at home you are right there. Your working space may not have everything you need to perform well.
You can be productive no matter the day and the time. This is especially good for activities that require creativity to assault you. You lower you social activity level by not going out to work with other people but staying inside your house.
You can organize your time and efforts however suit you each day. You lose privacy and there is never an out of the office time. You are always in a working fashion.

Typical Issues

We can analyze three categories:

  1. Work related: It sometimes happens that work takes a second place to family and personal affaires and performance decreases;

  2. Personal: It may happen that the energy spent separating personal from work activities is too high. Even for people that live by themselves this could be a big effort. In households with many members putting a limit to domestic requirements this may be very hard to do while working at

  3. Family related: It is possible that the family may feel (or be) invaded by the work activity becoming de facto employees like receptionist, secretaries, assistants etc. When there is a family issue it may emerge as active or passive resistance. The former is open and it takes the form of anger, complain and general bad temper. It is very hard to endure but it is relatively easy to spot.
    Action can and should be taken to address the underlying issue. When resistance is passive it is harder to identify the problem and it can take time before you can address it. This may cause a lot of damage to the work performance and the family dynamics. Messages could be misplaced and more interruption could arise only to fulfill the purpose of boycotting the work at home scenario. The family looses integration and begins to feel aloof.

Space and time need to be considered carefully.

Ideally one room should be devoted to work and to work only. This way the person working at home can concentrate no matter what the rest of the family is doing. On the other hand the family can carry on as usual without being invaded by a work activity in a space that was formerly used for family activity (e.g. the family room where everyone could watch TV).

In terms of ¨time¨ the challenge remains whether you work at home or in an office. There should always be a schedule no matter how unique it may be. Once the working schedule is over or once you are out of the working time you should be fully into you personal time making sure your family knows what you are up to at all times. This way they know when they may ask for your attention and when you are busy and should not be interrupted.

The advantages are more objective than the disadvantages from my point of view. The disadvantages emerge from working and personal relationship mismanagement and can be easily and quickly neutralized in order to make the experience a rewarding one for everyone involved. To enjoy all the advantages that working at home gives you and take away the related stress follow these guidelines:

  1. Remember you are working at home because you have decided to, take responsibility for your decision;

  2. Try to bring the entire household on board to decide and make sure everybody understands the pros and cons and agree to make an effort to help you succeed. Share your goals and needs with everyone as well as your achievements;

  3. Clearly determine the working space and time so you can put a limit to both personal and working activities; If you cannot pay attention to your child or your spouse then you cannot take a call from your friend. Make sure your limits are clear and fair.

  4. Look for creative solutions to the problems that arise after the decision has been made and meet again with your household members to decide which way to go. Encourage everyone to raise their issues up-front to avoid passive resistance and resentment;

  5. Make sure everybody can enjoy the benefits and not only suffer the disadvantages. Give your family a ¨bonus¨ when you achieve something or when they have been cooperative with you so they can feel your appreciation. Let them see there is ¨something¨ for them in it too.

Finally, let us get into the gender issue one more time. Is working at home for a woman any different that it is for a man? Yes, it is ...! Traditionally the male role is that of the provider therefore his work is more easily respected at home. The concept of the man working while the woman takes care of the house and the kids is somewhat familiar.

In the case of the woman it may not be so easy to clearly limit the roles of working and homemaking while she remains in the house. Not only the children but also the husband may be easily tempted to require her even when she is busy working.

So, Prize or Punishment? It is up to each individual to make it work. Circumstances do not define the problem, people define the problem. It is not what happens to us but what we do with it. When you are committed to solving the issues and enjoying the advantages you manage to do that. The secret is to decide to leave the complaint mode behind and enter the world of the happy people. You decide.