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The Truth about Working from Home
Board: Living Below Your Means

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By DuckyDuck
February 28, 2007

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Now that I have your attention, I thought I'd bring up a topic that a lot of Fools ask me (usually through private email) every so often: Working from home.

This comes up a lot because any time I mention in a post that I work from home, I get a lot of questions.

So here goes:

1) How did you get started working from home? - Easy. It was pure dumb luck. In 2000, I was working for a large communications company in Atlanta and it was a "regular" job. I'd drive from my home in Smyrna to my office in north Atlanta, maybe a total of 12 miles one way, but could be one HOUR easily in drive time. I had been at work with my company for almost two years. However, the lovely MrsDuck, also working in an Atlanta-area company, had received word that their division was being closed and her job eliminated. So we did what we always did - PANIC! No, no, just kidding. She looked for a company in the upper Midwest to work for and it was going to be in the North Chicago suburbs. At first I thought I'd have to quit my job immediately. However, that was not the case. My "team" was short on personnel due to a couple key players leaving and one going on permanent disability. So my boss asked me if I could take his laptop and dial in from home "until I found a new job". He was very easy going and very permissive, but the key thing was that we were WAY overloaded with work and keeping me around, even for a few more months, would still help him. However, what happened was that I dialed in from our new home in Illinois and I kept up with the work that I usually did...and this impressed my boss to suggest "why not just keep doing what's your doing and stay with the company?" So that's how it started. I did NOT explicitly started working from home because I sought a "work from home" job. The work from home job found me.

2) How can I find a "work from home" job? - If you hadn't been paying attention and skipped most of #1, please read the above again. It's not so much finding a "work from home job", but finding a "job that has the possibility of working from home". Typically, though, these kinds of jobs are jobs that you can do from a desk at home and have connection either through the Internet or to a direct connection into your current company's computer. So a lot of the time, those are Fortune 500 companies, but not exclusively. My current company has made changes over the last half dozen years, though, so that MOST employees have the ability to work from home, but this is mostly because this makes the employee more accessible and that he can connect in to the company and work on problems or emergencies at all hours of the day or night, 24/7/365... So that may be a side effect that you DON'T want.

3) What are all these "WORK FROM HOME" ads referring to for "work"? Are they real jobs? - Most are scams, going as far back as "envelope stuffing" as many of them were long ago, but have now included multi-level marketing programs or scams, or instructions on how to sell crap on eBay, or a combination of both. Don't go there. Don't even bother. Even more are just sales jobs, in which you're not doing face-to-face sales, just putting up a cheap website and hoping that somebody responds. No, the REAL work from home jobs are real jobs, they just happen to be jobs that can be performed with a connection to the company's network. Of course, there are traditional "work at home jobs", such as private accountants, tax preparers, some real estate agents, etc...

4) If I find a work from home job, I can "work" and watch TV, and/or clean house, or surf the web, right? - Only if you know you can accomplish that much. I have to keep a certain level of productivity and responsiveness at work. Do I have time to surf? Sometimes. Can I start a load of laundry and maybe get that done over the work day? Maybe. As for TV, I intentionally DON'T have a TV in my home office as I know that would be WAY TOO distracting for me. My boss's honest opinion is that if I can do everything that's expected from me every day, he doesn't mind what else goes on in my house while I'm doing it.

5) I can work in my pajamas, right? - Sure. If your idea of "working at home" apparel happens to be a pair of Depends, a set of Mickey Mouse ears, kneepads, and flaming pink bunny slippers, then fine. (We don't do video teleconferencing, so I don't have to worry about that...) Honestly, you just wear whatever you are most comfortable for wearing at your desk at home. I mostly work in t-shirts and either sweatpants or athletic shorts. It IS indeed cheaper than having to wear suits, dresses, makeup, or other more formal clothing. Some "work at home" articles suggest that you "dress up" to work at home, so that you feel more professional. Yeah, right...spppppt! Dressing in your dingiest scruffy, but comfortable, clothes is far cheaper and more comfortable. I haven't bought pants in four years.

6) If I work at home, I no longer need daycare for my kids. I can have the kids stay at home with me while I work! - Uh oh. No. NO. NO! A big, freakin', NO! It is NOT possible to work at home, work proficiently eight hours a day, and take care of small children at the same time. Especially with infants. Even more so with toddlers. Or even worse, infants and toddlers! You may get onto a conference call with several high muckety-mucks from the main office, but in the background, the kids have spilled grape juice all over the living room, played doctor with the kitty using a pencil, painted the dog green, turned on the stereo up to eleven playing Slipknot, and are now running around the house wearing condoms on their heads like party hats. (Do not ask me how I know this.) Work is a full-time job. Taking care of kids is a full-time job. You cannot do both at the same time.

7) Will I save money, gas, and time by not having to commute by car if I work at home? - Yes and no. Yes, I burn less gasoline and have less wear and tear on my Aztek by not having to drive every day. My Aztek is classified as a "recreational vehicle" by my insurance company because I don't drive it every day. It is indeed cheaper to eat at home than it is at work. However, your entire pantry and refrigerator are there, though, meaning, if you feel so inclined, you could probably down a quart of Haagen-Daas or a bag of Oreos in the middle of the day. The other bad thing is that you'll also be heating or cooling your house mostly at the same level all day and all night every day and using that much more electricity. In effect, you gain some, but not a LOT, by working at home.

8) Do you have to buy your own computer to work at home? - In my case no, my company provides me with a laptop, docking station and monitor. I have to provide the internet connection (cable, DSL), but my company does reimburse me for my monthly ISP bill. Not every company does this. Also, my connection to the company's computers is through a VPN connection (virtual private network), so it's fairly secure. The thing is, though, is that if you try to surf the web at the same time on the company-provided computer, your personal internet usage can or will be monitored. So, I have my own personal computer (a Mac) connected and sitting next to my work laptop. So while my company laptop is sitting on an Outlook screen, on my Mac, I'm happily surfing TMF and posting here, unmonitored.

9) Do you get any tax breaks or tax advantages from working from home? - Yes, but I can only say that you have to follow the IRS's guidelines. My home office is explicitly set up as a home office to do nothing but "work", which is what the IRS wants. I can therefore take a fraction of the floor space of the office and have some of my utilities taken off as expenses from my taxes. YMMV and all that. I also record and save the receipts for anything that pertains only to my home office as well (paper, desk, chair, printer supplies, whoopee cushions, etc...). Again, check with your own tax preparer. This is also why I set up a home office, as opposed to some who would feel more comfortable in working from their kitchen table or the couch.

10) What about being sick? - Caution. If you're well enough to sit upright at a desk and type on a keyboard, you're well enough to work, in the minds of some employers who allow telecommuting. So that's a big plus to your employer. You're too sick to come work, threatening co-workers with cooties, but you're too well to just NOT work. That's something that you might have to watch for. Another sickness problem, though, is that of your kids being sick and can't go to school, or your local school has a snow day. Even though I mentioned up in #6 that you can't take care of kids and work at the same time, at least you can be in contact with your work and be somewhat available. This is better than if you weren't at home and working in a typical office, you'd have to take a take a full day off with almost no contact with work, a condition some employers don't like. If Duckling1, my nine-year-old daughter, just has a mild fever and sniffles, I can usually work almost a full day and she's usually self-maintaining. So it varies.

11) Any other drawbacks to working from home? - Yeah. In no particular order, lack of "water cooler" social interaction, loneliness, lack of physical activity, loneliness, weight gain, and knowing TOO much about your FedEx guy's private life!

As of today, it's been about six years, three months and a couple days that I've been telecommuting, working from home and all that.

I hope this has been informative, feel free to ask questions.

Now excuse me while I look for my bunny slippers.



Duck


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