Want to work from home? Here’s a warts and all reality check!
This is a contribution by Dana Flannery, who successfully established a work from home career in 2009. Her work from home venture grew into Talk About Creative a successful digital agency, with over thirty contractors, most of whom work from home.
I work from home. I have our spare room set up as an office and I spend my days in there, pounding away on my computer. Living the dream right? A cousin was looking for a work from home job and called me to pick my brain. This is what she was after:
“I want to find a job where I’m paid the industry standard to work part time out of my house so I can spend quality time with my young kids and still make enough to cover the mortgage.”
Sounds realistic right? Could be. Could be that everything falls lovingly into place and everyone lives happily ever after. In my experience (and I’m playing devil’s advocate and being a bit pessimistic here) this isn’t a realistic expectation. This is a warts and all view of why this is unrealistic. Warts. I am including ALL the warts.
Problem 1: I want a job
This woman wanted a job. She didn’t want to be a contractor. She didn’t want to freelance. She wanted a job. Job security. Paid holidays. Sick leave. While the world is slowly heading in the direction of remote workforces, it’s not there yet. Finding an employer who will hire a stranger to work from home is near impossible.
For one, it’s a pain in the butt having work from home employees. It’s inconvenient. For 99% of businesses, that means that there’s nothing in it for them having you at home. If you were already employed, you might be able to negotiate flexible working for return to work but otherwise why would they give this high trust, high demand option to “the new girl”? Just about every woman in their office wants this option. Don’t you think they’d get “first dibs”?
Problem 2: Paid the industry standard
Not too much to ask is it? Generally, if an employer is actively seeking a work at home employee, it’s because they’re a start-up, or they are expanding into a new territory. If it’s the first, they probably won’t have much money. If it’s the second, your first work at home job will likely be to find office space to go work from! So say you do find a well-paid job you’d love through a site like Lifestyle Careers or School Hours, you can bet thousands of other people will be applying for that sucker too! You’ll need a kickass resume.
Problem 3: Spend quality time with my young kids
When you work from home, young kids see you as “being home”. They want you to play with playdough and do finger painting and have a Frozen concert in the lounge room. They don’t understand that you’re “working from home”. “Not now, mummy’s working” is a hard thing for a kid to accept and you’ll say it, a lot. Your boss will want to know that this work from home arrangement still gets him/her access to your time and that you’re not slacking off.
“Not now, Mummy’s working” becomes the sentence you say most to your little one. Suddenly your mummy guilt goes through the roof. If you’re out in the office all day, your young kids don’t lay the guilt on, you get the privilege of doing that to yourself. It’s not right. It’s not simple. It just is. Working from home doesn’t mean an end to mummy guilt. Not one little bit. If you work from home, you need childcare.
Problem 4: Still make enough to cover the mortgage
So you’re in a lucky situation. You have a partner who earns some cash. The bills are mostly covered, you just need a bit extra to live happily ever after. Contribute to the mortgage and pay for enough day care to get the job done. About $600 a week? That’s not much to ask is it?
Let’s say you’re going to do admin from home. The award rate, pro rata for permanent part time will be between $25 and $30 per hour depending on your experience. Let’s call it $30. So that’s 20 hours per week. But, that’s $600 in hand, so you’ll have to factor in about $3600 tax a year. Another 3 hours give or take a week for tax. So you’re doing 23 hours per week. Easy right, that’s like three days. You can totally do it! Those three days will be three days of childcare expenditure. That’s about $240 in most capital cities and the more you earn, the less you get back from the government on that. So, of your 23 hours a week, 8 will go straight to the childcare centre. Eek. Maybe you could work nights and weekends to save on childcare? That quality of life you were seeking isn’t looking so high quality is it?
When kids get sick (and lordy, how often these little blighters are sick!) you’re going to be the one that it falls on to care for them. You work from home – to everyone else, that means you have oodles of time on your hands. To you, a sick kid means paying for childcare you can’t use, while working your heart out to stay on top of workload. If you can’t manage all the balls you have in the air, you could find yourself unemployed and unable to make that mortgage.
Yes, I know, I’m a big old pessimist
Maybe I’m just jealous of women who get dream jobs that don’t have the stress I have! That’s entirely possible! Back to my cousin, I explained some of the challenges she would face and she seemed a bit annoyed that I wouldn’t just hire her and be done with it. I told her that most women in her situation set themselves up as a contractor/freelancer/consultant and go from there. I suggested that she get herself an ABN (that sounds hard) and register a business (oh, really, I wouldn’t even know where to start) to get some contract work.
She was right of course. If it sounds too hard to get an ABN (literally one form) then running a freelance business isn’t right for her. Working from home in your own business is hard. It’s lots of unbillable hours, and learning TONS of new skills (some are painful to learn too – hello GST) and making sales. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it is a viable way to work from home, make good money and live happily (but tired) ever after.
Some of the same problems apply, childcare is still a necessary evil, but if you can choose your own hours, you can plan your week to fit to childcare – and therefore do it all more efficiently. You might be able to squeeze your working week into two days of childcare instead of three if you commit to doing emails and admin in the evenings. Your work week will be as long or longer as it would with an employer but your time can be managed to best suit you, not the boss.
The biggest benefit to running your own work at home business is one that you might not expect. Working with young children is HARD – for full time working mothers, full time working fathers, part time working single mums, parents who study – young kids are just hard in general! When you run a work from home business though, the hard work hurts less because it pays off directly into your bank account. It’s not working your heart out to make your boss rich. It’s working your heart out to make your family comfortable.
That’s worth its weight in gold.