Monday, November 9, 2009

5 tips for working at home with your significant other

The tough times have brought about a lot of changes, both personally and professionally. One of those changes has been a lot of people launching their own businesses from home. But what happens when you and your significant other both start working from home? Will it work? Will it cause a rift so wide you'll never recover?

That was a question I posed to Scot and Kate Herrick this week for my Gannett column. Here's what they had to say....

Actress Bette Davis once said that the key to a successful marriage was separate bathrooms.

For Scot and Kate Herrick, it’s headphones.

The Bellevue, Wash. couple have both been working from home since March. She likes to listen to heavy metal music while working. He usually likes instrumentals. They have found marital and professional harmony by using headphones, their iPods delivering the music they each favor.

It’s just one of the many ways the couple, who both once worked for Washington Mutual, have found to share domestic and professional spaces. They both also have separate work areas.

“We’ve found ways not to get on each other’s nerves,” says Scot, owner of, an online career management site.

The recession has had a lot of impact on American lives, and one of those areas has been that many couples have found themselves spending more time together because of job loss, career change – or because they’ve launched businesses from home like the Herricks.

And like the Herricks, many couples are trying to work out the kinks of being together 24/7.

“I love my husband dearly,” Kate says, “but he likes it so quiet that this house is like a museum.”

Despite their different working styles, the Herricks say they’ve managed to develop a system that works for them professionally and personally. The recommend other couples wanting to do the same should:

• Respect the work. Just as you wouldn’t interrupt a colleague unnecessarily, the same should be true of a partner at home. It’s best to have separate work spaces with required office equipment, but if that’s not possible, it’s even more important to be sensitive to the other person’s work style. For example, headphones are a good idea to eliminate distractions, or moving to another part of the house for a conference call is helpful. At the same time, not interacting too much during the day is important “so you can later tell each other about your day,” Scot says. “You need something to talk about.”

• Have regular meetings. The Herricks say they discuss their work schedules every day so they know how they can best support one another. While they each have cell phones for business, they like to use the home land line for conference calls, so coordinated schedules make sure there isn’t a conflict.

• Stay connected. The Herricks admit that with any home-based job, there is a sense of isolation. “I really miss the social interaction of an office a lot,” Kate says. “I miss the collaboration with my colleagues. (Working at home) can be very lonely.” Notes Scott: “When you’re separated because you work in different places, it gives you something to talk about later. Now, we have the same experience because we work in the same place.” Experts say it’s a good idea for those who work at home to schedule meetings or coffee dates with colleagues or friends, and look for opportunities to get out and network at professional events.

• Set terms. Couples need to agree on household duties, and when they will be done. For the Herricks, they live by the schedule they established when both were working outside the home and don’t begin household tasks such as laundry until 5 p.m. “When you work at home, you have to ask yourself: ‘Is this something I would be doing if I was in an office right now?’” Scot says. Adds Kate: “You’ve got to maintain the integrity of the workday.”

• Establish transitions. While one of the advantages of working from home is that couples no longer have to commute to and from work, the Herricks say it’s still important to find a way to “transition” between a professional and domestic life. “You need to find a way to move mentally and socially into the next part of your life,” Scot says. “For me, it’s starting the chores. For someone else, it might be going on a walk. But you have to find that ritual that takes the place of the commute.”

What suggestions do you have for working at home with a significant other?


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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Could telecommuting be a career mistake?

While a lot of people think telecommuting is the answer to all their problems, sometimes you have to be careful of what you wish for. At the same time, this difficult job environment may mean that you have to work even harder and smarter if you're not in the office everyday. Here's a column on the subject I did for Gannett:

While telecommuting is more common than a decade ago because of advances in technology and more flexible workplace cultures, the tough job market has made some telecommuters nervous as they worry that the lack of face time and presence in an office may make them more vulnerable to being laid off.

Zack Grossbart, a telecommuter for the past nine years, says his advice to other telecommuters wanting to be seen as key players is this shaky job market: “Show other people what you do.”

Grossbart’s advice has come from personal experience. Working from his Cambridge, Mass., home as a consulting engineer for his employer in Provo, Utah, he was given 60-days notice in 2007 that he was going to be laid off. But he says people he had never met face-to-face in the company went to top brass and fought for him. He kept his job.

Grossbart says he believes that by constantly making sure others knew of his contributions to the company, he managed to avoid a layoff. Those are lessons he says other telecommuters need to take to heart.

“You’ve got to brag in the right way,” Grossbart says. “When you’re in an office, you think it’s obvious to others that you’re working. But when you’re telecommuting, you must constantly put yourself out there and communicate really effectively. I always make sure I’m out in front of people.”

That means that Grossbart makes an online presentation at least once a month for his company, and is always looking for chances to show small groups of people at his employer “something cool” such as a new software application. He also relies on various forms of communication, ranging from phone conversations to using social media such as Twitter or Facebook.

When he feared he was going to lose his job a couple of years ago, he launched a blog to showcase his communication skills and industry knowledge. It’s something he continues to maintain for the same reasons, he says.

“If someone wants to know what Zack is about, they’ll be able to find me,” he says. “When the economy is tougher, you’ve got to do more to showcase your talent.”

Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended, says that as the manager of 12 telecommuting employees, she finds that “over-communicating isn’t a bad idea.”

Still, “out of sight, out of mind works both ways,” Huhman says.
“We use all kinds of technology to communicate, from instant messaging to Skype. Right now, we don’t have two employees in the same state, so we schedule weekly team meetings, and I make myself available at regular times by phone. Do I wish we could meet more often face-to-face? Sure. The isolation can get to be a problem for some people.”

Huhman says some members of her team battle the lack of personal interaction during their work day by taking their laptop computers and going to a local coffee shop. One employee has taken a night job a couple nights a week “just to get out of the house,” she says.

Grossbart says that while some people may believe telecommuting “sounds like a dream,” they may find they hurt their career if they can’t handle the physical remoteness and need for constant communication and diligent self-promotion to their company.

David W. Mayer, executive director for mergers and acquisitions for Aristeia in Greenwood Village, Colo., says nine of his 24 workers telecommute fulltime, and agrees that some people don’t thrive as telecommuters.

“People get all excited, and then the first day at home, they say they miss the camaraderie of an office,” he says. “Social networking helps, but some people just need to be around other people.”

Grossbart says the problem can be more than social. “If you start telecommuting and do your job the same way you do in an office, you’re going to get laid off,” he says. “You actually have to be better than other people at your company. You can’t just sit there and do your job and think that’s enough. You have to do more.”

What are more tips on making telecommuting a viable option?

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