Monday, July 28, 2008

Working from home: A personal cost/benefit analysis

The other day I rushed to pick up my sweet, innocent little boy from camp. When I scooped him up in a hug, he scowled and pulled away, “Uh, Mommy, you wore that yesterday. And the day before,” he said, disgusted. “And your hair smells yucky.”

Busted. Such is the life of a work from home mother.

I love working from home. I think it’s just about the best benefit any company can offer, particularly when I think about balancing my work and my life. And now, with gas costing upwards of $4/gallon, more and more people are doing it. (Here’s a good article about how telecommuting allows both parents to work full-time, demanding jobs, yet parent the way that they want to: http://news.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=7&a=328830. And here’s another on the benefits of telecommuting during bad weather (great Boston accents on the video): http://www.workforceinstitute.org/extreme-weather-commute.htm.)

Telecommuting really makes my life work. While I can’t say that working from home is going to save the world, it sure keeps my work/life/work/life roller coaster on track. Plus, it really appeals to my cheap side. Honestly if someone told me I had to come into the office every day, I would ask for a raise. A pretty big raise. The other night my husband and I were tallying the costs of commuting from my lovely suburb 20 miles west of Boston into the city. Now, this was cocktail napkin figuring, but here’s what we came up with:

  • Keeping son in daycare an extra 1.5 hours/day = $175 more a month

  • Keeping daughter in daycare an extra 1 hour/day = $50 more a month

  • Parking = $300 more a month

  • Gas = $300 more a month

  • Food/coffee (let’s say I’m really good and bring my lunch half the time) = $150 more a month


Add in clothes, makeup, shoes (all that stuff that I frankly don’t put any effort into right now) and I'm saving about $1,000 a month by not commuting!

HOWEVER, working from home does have some costs, some of which are very high and should be taken into consideration:

  • It’s freezing cold. Or it's blazing hot. This past winter was one of the coldest, snowiest of record in Boston, and the oil man cameth. So, to save some dough, the heat in my house automatically kicked off at 8 a.m. Thus, I spent most of my day wearing three sweatshirts and blasting a space heater at my feet. And, now that suburban Boston has decided that it wants to become SoFla with humidity at 110% this summer, I'm dealing with the other extreme, with the added bonus of frizzy hair.
  • My house is a mess. Because I’m here all day, I figure I can throw in the laundry or do the dishes at any time. Except I don’t…
  • I don’t exercise. In fact, I sit on my bottom for hours at a time. I’m so lazy that I even wheel myself around my little office on my chair.
  • I munch. Sometimes all day. But, there’s a trade-off: I have to get off my chair to get to the kitchen (I can’t wheel there because there’s a small step).
  • I look like hell. I only wear jeans and sweatshirts, or shorts and t-shirts. My hair is in a ponytail. My makeup is drying out in a case in the back of the vanity. I don’t shower. Well, not as often as I should (is that too much information?). Seriously, though, at 4:55, five minutes before I’m due to pick up my kids at school, I rush upstairs and do a quick rinse. I hardly ever wash my hair—I don’t have time.
  • I am a social half-wit …I have tons of “virtual” friends online, but I’ve forgotten how to make small talk in person!
  • I never turn off the computer--“Just one more check of email” is my mantra.

I know, I know, I’ve got to draw my own boundaries. I have to shut off the computer and walk away. I have to brush my hair. But, I’m so productive! And I’m spending all of my non-work time with my kids! And I respond to all my emails!

So, I have to ask myself if my plummeting self-esteem is a fair tradeoff for the time I get with my family. Right now, while my kids are young, I think it is…at least until they mandate webcams in the next roll-out of laptops.

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