Making it work ~ Telecommuting with a Spouse

Couple Working Together at Home Just before 2012 went out in style (and escaped the dreaded Mayan end of the world apocolypse) my husband took a new job. We were both very happy with this move. It was very rewarding professional, looked like a great fit both travel wise and financially, and it was a home based position when we wasn’t on the road.
When I began to mention to people that he would be working from home alongside me now I received a lot of split reviews. There were the “Oh no” group who gasped wondering how we were going to get anything done for our respective positions. There was the “that’s awesome, now he can take the kids to school” group who, like me, immediately saw how our parenting workload might shift. And there was the “I’d never get anything done” group, who probably aren’t cut out to be telecommuters anyway.
From the start it’s been great, but there were definitely a few things that were key to our success in both working from home.

1. We new we would each need our own space. Several months back we remade our dining room over into my office (in a way that still allowed the room to serve its purpose during entertaining events). Check out the design and before and after pictures! Since my space was located downstairs we quickly determined that his “office” was going to have to fit into either the upstairs family room or our bedroom. Since my husband travels a good deal I wanted his office to be able to dissappear when he was on the road.

A few quick Pinterest searches later and I was on the hunt for one of these Armoire Style desks. I would be able to shut the doors and it would by bye bye office, hello bedroom every day at 5.

Isn't this awesome?

Isn’t this awesome?

I happened to be in our super nice Salvation Army about three days later and couldn’t believe it when there one sat!  It was in good shape, even had an L-table drop down for extra office space. I was good and waited semi-patiently until Hubs returned from that weeks travel and then promptly drug him to the store. Bada bing, bada bam…Hubs had a new office. Now I’ll be the first to admit my spacious spread and his awesome armoire are not equal but it works. We each have our own space, own office supplies, own phone lines, own printers, etc.

2. Office hours are a must. I learned this one the hard way years ago when I first became a telecommuter. I needed to shut the computer, switch off the work cellphone and walk away from work just as I had in physcially leaving an office. It is way to easy to walk by a computer, see mail sitting in your inbox and lose an hour on something that would have just as easily been tackled the next morning.  I’m a minority in my company since I still haven’t synced up my phone with the email servers and don’t work on weekends and vacations, but it helps me keep the balance between work and life.  This is something that Hubs, who is new to telecommuting is working on. I’ll occasionally search the house for him and find him hiding in his armoire checking email.

3. Find a routine that works for you. I work early in the morning, take a break to get the kids ready and off to school and then finish up by the time to pick them up. Fitting in daily exercise is something I need to work hard on this year but my routine allows me to focus on where I truly want to be, when I want to be there, in my case available for my kids after school hours. With Hubs joining me in telecommuting we’ve been able to improve on our routine, splitting up who takes and picks up each kid to allow both of us to spend some one on one time with each kid each day.

4. keepcalmandgotostarbucksA coffee frother, the gym, and Pandora…yeah I know these don’t make a lick of sense in the same sentence, but they are all vital to making telecommuting work for me. I’m a coffee fanatic and a loyal Starbucks customer through and through. Only problem is now it would mean a special trip out of the house, just for coffee to get my morning fix. I stumbled on a coffee frother at Bed Bath and Beyond one day and haven’t looked back! Each morning I mix up my own latte at home and Starbucks has become more of a treat than a daily vice.  The gym is Hubs escape. At the end of a day working from home, eating at home and not leaving other than to pick up the kids, he escapes to the neighborhood gym for a workout and some socialization.  Last but not lease, Pandora = Productivity for me. A good jamming playlist, a quiet house and a long to do list that gets knocked out quickly is a daily ritual for me.

5. Calendar blocks are also essential. When I have tasks to do that are not meetings with others or travel, I schedule them as meetings on my calendar. For instance if I need to do expense reports, work on my to do list, send a block of emails or draft a powerpoint, I make a point to put a block of time on my calendar, marked as busy to work on those objectives. The hardest part for my peers when I moved to working from home was not having the visual that I was busy. I ended up with a lot of random, last minute requests that kept me from completing my tasks. Scheduling my tasks on my calendar gave them back that visual and kept me from being overloaded with last minute piddly items.

I could go on and on but these are some of the key items that made telecommuting work for me and that I’ve shared to help Hubs be successful in his new endeavor.

Working from home with a sick kid

Is there anything tougher than knowing work won’t wait when your child is sick?  As a telecommuting, work from home mom, I can honestly say no.  When I was in an office and stayed home sick I was out of sight out of mind, but now my co-workers see no difference on the days when I’m out either caring for a sick kid or home sick myself.  What ends up happening is we pull double duty trying to please everyone.  How many of you have ended up more exhausted than your sick kid by running back and forth between caring for your kid and checking email.

All I can say is Thank Goodness for the mute button! I’ve had a sick, cranky kid home all week. Between teething and the horrible allergies she is overtired, wants nothing more than an around the clock supply of juice and Wonder Pets (side note: I want to know how to call that can phone so they come rescue me from this tiny tyrant ;)). I’ve held two live webinars and more than 7 conference calls this week and although they all went well there were some nerve wracking moments. 

My advice if you are home with a sick kid- don’t even open the computer, but if you don’t have a choice, plan ahead. I hold off on the WonderPets until right before a meeting, we eat lunch early and get in a good nap so I can power through some pressing work and I work early or late so I can take time when she needs me to just sit and cuddle on the couch.

Today it’s The Traveling Tyrant

Let me start this by saying that 5 am is a ridiculously early time to get up. I know there are some amazing/crazy people who get up at this hour every day to workout and do all kinds of good stuff, but since the onset of Moody Tyrant and Tiny Tyrant, the little people that run my life, there is never enough sleep. However today I was up bright and early at 4:45 am to catch a 7 am plane to the wintry northern lands of Detroit.

Generally I love to travel. I love the break from my routine chaos, love the adult time where conversation doesn’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of every superhero every made, their superpowers and who’s nemesis is whose. However this has been a tricky trip from the beginning. I got late notice, booked a super expensive flight, only to realize that Mr. Dictator was also traveling. So starts the scramble for a sitter for my kids who is willing to pull a 36 hour shift.

Sitters are never in short supply but I always feel a bit Machiavellian booking anyone for an overnight. My kids are not solid sleepers, nope not one bit. Matter of fact, Tiny Tyrant who is definitely showing significant signs of being another High Sensitivity Child (HSC) woke up with a blood curdling scream at 10:05pm last night just as I was getting into bed and for the next hour rivaled Paris Hilton with her dramatics. She screamed, she flung herself around, she demanded food and beverage befitting her tyrant state and then flung every offering away as unacceptable. All of this while tears pour down her face, she breaks out in a face rash from the screaming and refuses to be held and comforted, but also refuses to be put down. (this results in a series of back bends out of my arms so that she can be both in my arms and as far away from me as possible at the same moment)

Let me just tell you that there is nothing that will break your heart more than a child whose emotions are so overpowering to them that they are lost at sea and can’t even recognize Mom as a safe harbor. Both of my kids handle the ups and downs that life dishes out with screams, tears and extreme joy. Every moment is an up or down and our life is a runaway roller coaster. Learning to accept this as normal for us, learning to brush off the judgmental among us and learning to accept my kids for who they are instead of who I pictured they would be.

This post is a bit rambling but hopefully you’ll forgive me since this was written by a sleep deprived, caffeinated traveler!

Social media as a customer service tool

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase Finally a lazy Sunday to catch up…well as lazy as a Sunday can be around here. Kids are up before dawn, husband is spending the three day weekend finishing up our landscaping, I’m playing online working on the dining room re-design and then there is the usual cooking, cleaning and never ending “will you play with me” questions that I hate saying no to. 🙂

I’ve been pretty MIA from cyber space lately. My sister in law is now a Mrs. and weekends are now no longer dedicated to wedding plans, Alex is officially not in preschool any longer (OMG how did my baby turn into a Kindergartener??) and Liv is walking…plenty to keep me busy. It’s funny how attached we become to our information sources. I use Twitter to stay up on news and to interact with friends, and lately also as a venting outlet for crappy customer service issues.

I hate dealing with customer service numbers. It never works out well for me. I end up in a never ending loop of hold music and lack of answers. Boy does that make me mad…enough that I had pretty much given up on calling anymore. Instead I got mad and shot my mouth off on Twitter. I had a rough day, McDonalds screwed up my coffee, Target wouldn’t let me enter a prescription online (well they would, just at the end of the process they kicked it out since the person it was for was 9 months old and needed an adult…seriously like my prodigy 9 month old was entering it herself), Lumber Liquidators wouldn’t refund half my money for a product I had never picked up for some unknown reason, and Sam’s Club had double charged me and messed my order up and I was stuck in an endless loop of them insisting both issues were fixed because they refunded the overcharge. Not my best day and perhaps I can be forgiven for getting a little testy and shouting off on Twitter.

Imagine my surprise when I almostly immediately got direct messages back from Sam’s Club, McDonalds and Lumber Liquidators. Direct messages asking me why I was frustrated (kind of hard to explain in 140 characters but I did my best). Direct messages flew back and forth and ended with me giving them my phone number. Within minutes my phone rang and without a minute on hold I was speaking with an awesome customer service rep based here locally. To keep this post out of the novella range suffice it to say that the morning ended with all my refunds being processed (plus some! Rock on Sam’s Club for offering a 200% money back guarentee on flowers LOVE THAT), and McDonalds sending me out a coupon for free coffee.

Who knew how powerful venting on Twitter could be and closely some stores watch their brand. Target was the only store to never respond at all and believe me, I’ll call 3 out of 4 a win win!

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Working with children at home

I have to admit, 2 weeks ago as we approached the end of the school year I was very worried about how to keep my kiddo busy while I worked. Working from home is probably very tough for a toddler to understand. Mom is home, available and should be ready to play right?

Normally I would have arranged for a summer camp, but none will take a three year old, even a potty trained, articulate, just finished Pre K one. Too bad cause this little guy hums with energy and I would gladly hand over some green to find the soccer came that would wear him out! Since there were no takers on a short camp option over June, Camp at Home began.

Week One: Getting in routine. Learning the ropes took about a week. There were a few tantrums, not a lot of TV and a good bit of “but Mrs. Pack says” (his teacher and the end all authority figure in his book). Not a lot was accomplished other than my learning that Alex has a terrific memory and amazing talent and love for puzzles.

Week Two: Camp out week. We had mini sub sandwiches made from hot dog buns, turkey, cheese,and fixings. Spritzers with juice and sprite, set up a tent in the playroom and napped in it, and set up our earning system for TV and computer time. So far things are going great and without jinxing myself I find that I’m optimistically looking for additional things for him to do.

I checked out a great book called “When the Kids are Home from School” and it’s filled with advice and ideas that have inspired me to plan a little ahead and ensure he has lots to do during the day.

Adventures in Telecomuting …Day 2

So yesterday was the first day my son was out of school and home with me. He’s on summer vacation, ready for the pool, playtime and never ending fun, and I’ve got work to do! I’ve adjusted my hours, am working hard and fast and spending time in the evenings plotting out things to keep him busy. It’s just to bad his attention span is so short.

I have to admit though, so far so good! I’m able to work a steady 7-3 with minimal interruptions that I like to think of as “Smoke Breaks” since I don’t smoke by my old office mates do. I know they take those every few hours so I don’t beat myself up about mine!

With 29 days to go before Liv’s due date, my maternity leave and a whole summer of fun with two kiddos before me I’m working to clear the decks and it is taking organization like I’ve never had to have before!

Shout if you have any suggestions for self-entertaining, not wrecking the house kind of activities for little ones! I’m looking for anything I can get my hands on!

Work Life Balance Words of Wisdom

I started this blog as my journey into a comfortable balance of work, family and fun, but throw pregnancy into the mix and everything else goes out the door. We’re nearing the end of this pregnancy and have hit the sleepless nights, can’t get comfy, crazy dreams stage. I can’t wait to meet my little girl and at this rate I’ll probably get more rest when she gets here…maybe!

It’s amazing how many people I’ve talked to lately have issues with work-life balance. A college roommate working up north, my Mother in law, my husband (although he would like a little more work in his balance)have all complained recently about the balance they have. It makes me wonder what about today’s culture is driving us to make work our life instead of a means to support our life.

Don’t get me wrong I love my job, but it is a job. J. O. B. Something that I do to support my family, pay my bills, and contribute to society. However none of those reasons are good enough to ignore my growing family, miss an important event or lose my personal time with the ones I love.

Working at home was a tough transition with this since I was suddenly in the “office” 24 hours a day. But whether you physically shut an office door at 5 pm or close and lock away the computer (pregnant women work from the couch around here!), you have to set limits and establish a quitting time when you shift from working bee, to your at home self.

My top 5 rules for working from home:
1. Set your schedule and STICK TO IT…If you have trouble with this, physically lock the computer away, turn it completely off and schedule an activity for yourself right at quitting time. Just a walk around the block will get you out of the house and back in a personal mind frame.
2. Get up, get dressed, and pretend you are going to the office. Your commute may have shrunk to 15 seconds, but you are still going to work. It will be much less tempting to turn on the TV and channel surf while you work if you are up dressed and at your desk at a normal working time.
3. Establish office space in your house. Having a place for your office supplies, computer, to work, will all make you more productive and give you somewhere to “leave” at the end of the work day.
4. Don’t work weekends. Unless it’s an emergency and you would be going into the office to handle it, don’t work after hours and on weekends from home. If you do, co-workers will get used to having you available at all hours and will not hesitate to call. A polite but firm, “I’ll handle that when I get to the office tomorrow”, should let them know that you are offline and no longer working if they manage to catch you.
5. Work hard, but recognize that you are working…A lot of new telecommuters have trouble rationalizing not working crazy hours since they are at home. They take a break to throw in laundry or set a crock=pot for dinner and see it as a reason to need to work overtime. However in an office co-workers would take a coffee or smoke break, visit over cube walls, in other words, use the same amount of time in office social niceties that you are using in productive non work related matters. Cut yourself some slack, take a normal amount of break time and then get back to work so you can confidently call it quits at the end of the day.

Words of Wisdom from a Veteran Telecommuter! 🙂

The Great Google Takes A Tumble…

Image representing Google Apps as depicted in ...Image via CrunchBase

at least with me! I’m a huge google fan and generally use just about all their services. I mean they are free, usually right on the money with what consumers want and work well.

Or did until today. Late yesterday I got an email from my Mother in Law telling me my blog wasn’t working. I went to check and sure enough it wasn’t. Apparently Google Apps, the entity I purchased my domain name through, didn’t bother to email me that it was up for renewal. Now there is nothing to be done except pay a good chunk more than the yearly renewal fee to pull it out of redemption status, or wait a few days and try to beat anyone else to it on the open market. Grrr all the way around.

I’ve reverted back to the blogger provided, free url for the time being, but have to say Google Apps has definitely achieved Buyer Beware status for me after a little research showed this was an EXTREMELY common issue.

My advice to Google, STEP IT UP! How hard is it to set up auto emails to go out on this kind of thing!

On a slightly better note the Gluten Free Asian Shredded Beef that’s been slow cooking in my kitchen all day smells delightful and I can’t wait for dinner!

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Telecommuting, Toddlers and Pregnancy

Did you know that U.S. workers actually spend more time commuting to work than vacationing each year…how depressing is that!

If I still lived in Dallas and commuted just 25 miles round trip into the office, Commuter Challenge estimates my commuting costs me $3821.04 per year. I could do a lot of things with $3800 dollars! Makes me glad I work from home, have my son at a school right down the street and only need to fill my small SUV up once every three weeks or so.

Having an overactive toddler, a husband who travels and a new baby on the way makes me one grateful momma that I work from home. Yes it’s a challenge and I hear time and time again…I couldn’t do that, I would be to distracted. Well not to revert back to toddler hood but “can’t never could.” It takes effort, but so does leaving the office group chit chatting around the copy machine to go meet a deadline in an office. As a very social person I actually get more done at home with out the social distractions of visiting with peers.

I have also, over the last 20 weeks had multiple opportunities to be grateful that as a soon to be new mommy I could clock my hours in a flexible fashion. Some days the baby just demanded a nap at lunch time, and others I was too sick to work first thing in the morning. Working from home allowed me to work when I was best able to and not be held to a 9-5 mentality.

I have become friends with several telecommuters over the last three years, many virtual friends from Twitter and Facebook. For anyone working from home or considering it I just started the Work From Home Handbook by Diana Fitzpatrick and Stephen Fishman and am really impressed. Unlike many books that tout the benefits from an anecdotal point of view, this book has the statistics and information to wow your boss when you pitch telecommuting. From job satisfaction ranking higher among telecommuters to a cost benefit analysis of working from the office vs home, it’s a must read.

As a mom, a career woman and a loyal employee I find telecommuting to be a perfect fit!