I had a delightful conversation today with the smart and interesting Matthew Stibbe of Bad Language. I was determined to master the art of Skype, which another friend from over the pond told me about, Erica Douglas of Career Mom Radio (I am going to start being a regular contributor to this show, which is part of the homegrown and fun Grasshopper New Media. More on this later.) For the slim fraction of my readers who are not hip to Skype technology, it is a totally free internet phone (and chat) service that allows you to make calls anywhere in the world. All it requires is that you and your calling party be hooked up to a computer with a microphone.
Hence the reality of my work at home dilemma. To prepare for my first-ever Skype call with Matthew, I put on my gigantic headphones, hooked them up to my laptop and nervously glanced over at my 16-month old son Joshua. I had the wild delusion that he would actually sit still and quietly watch his Baby Einstein video while I had my call (Baby Einstein truly is the Valium for kids used by parents everywhere … I was dead set against letting my baby watch any kind of TV until I became a parent myself. Now I think "one hour can’t harm him too much!").
As soon as Matthew cheerfully answered the phone, Josh looked over at me, convinced that Mom had become a frightening, alien monster and he began to wail. Loudly. Poor Matthew tried to be accommodating, but I had to end the call after about 3 minutes or risk full-body baby meltdown, complete with screams, floor thrashes and pulled hair.
After I got Josh calmed down, a neighbor thankfully agreed to watch him for a few minutes so I could complete my call. The experience caused me to think about lessons for the entrepreneur-to-be who is fantasizing about the work-at-home lifestyle:
- If you have young kids, you most likely will have to get babysitting during your working hours. Sometimes it is possible to fire out emails or write in short bursts with kids around, but anything requiring careful detail or professional phone demeanor needs your complete attention. Factor this cost into your startup plans.
- Many of you in corporate jobs may work from home one day a week or so and relish the relaxed environment. (I always delighted to attend long, tedious conference calls from home so that I could fold laundry, making the meeting semi-productive.) But you may forget how easy it is to crank out a lot of stuff in the office when you have no home distractions. When you work from home all the time, you need to develop routines and discipline, otherwise you never get anything done.
- If you are married or live with someone, your non-work-at-home spouse might make the assumption that since you are at home, you don’t mind taking care of a lot of tasks around the house. This will lead to either low productivity on your part because you will do all those tasks instead of working on what you are supposed to, or resentment as you feel the injustice of a lopsided pile of domestic work. To plan for this, agree on the division of chores before you give up your office job.
So before you fall for the "I can raise 5 small kids at home and start my business at the same time" pitch, make sure you have really thought about what it entails.
Scott Adams also recently wrote a funny post about the difficulties of concentrating at home.