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Working in My Pyjamas

by Paul D. Smith

There is revelation in the small comments people make when they encounter behaviour outside of their experience. They reveal their pre-conceptions about the activity in question and their opinions based on those pre-conceptions.

In my case, I work from home as Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE). When I tell people about my situation the first comment people make has to do with working in my pyjamas. Perhaps I seem like the kind of person who would like to work in pyjamas, but I’ve not had it come up when I worked in an office so I think it may be something else. People who make these comments are revealing just a little about their private wishes to trade in the workplace for the comforts of home.

And who can blame them? The notion conjures images of leisurely enjoying home life while still making money. The fantasy recedes quickly for most people, though, as the dreamy promise is displaced by anxiety about working in isolation. Right after the pyjamas comment I normally hear something like, “I don’t know if I could do it. I think I’d go crazy or I wouldn’t get any work done.” These bookends of leisure and loneliness mark the range of peoples’ expectations of what working from home might be.

The reality, of course, lies somewhere in between as those who work remotely will tell you. Maurice Gillingham and Jennifer Hamilton are among those who work from home. Maurice is a technology worker in the Ottawa area whose employer proposed he work from home and he was eager to try it. Jennifer is the Executive Director of a professional association based in Toronto. Her organization is growing and having her position work from home represents cost savings for the organization.

Maurice and Jennifer were kind enough to share their experiences with me and I was surprised how much their observations match with each other’s and my own. Here is a summary of our experiences.

Benefits of working from home:

  • Flexible hours, which is especially important when you work for a global company and your colleagues are not in the same time zone
  • More time to be efficient at work
  • No wasted time commuting
  • Fewer personal expenses related to commuting, clothing and eating out
  • Much greater contact with family, especially young children

Challenges of working from home:

  • Participating in peer-to-peer knowledge transfer and training
  • Managing colleagues’ and family members’ expectations of availability
  • Lack of typical office supports such as IT, administration and supplies
  • Absence of a friendly face to bounce ideas off
  • Some days you feel like you spend the whole day in front of the computer

What are the traits and needs of those who work from home successfully?

  • Self-discipline and motivation
  • Focus and the ability to set your own goals
  • A dedicated work area that can be closed off
  • Communication technology to keep you engaged and in the loop, such as email, web conferencing, a dedicated office telephone line, Skype or Google Talk, and social media networks like Twitter and Facebook
  • Opportunities to meet face-to-face with colleagues
  • Understanding from your family about your work schedule

Questions to ask:

  • What stage are you at in your life? Do you have close contacts to draw on professionally?
  • Can you afford a dedicated office space?
  • Are you highly motivated by the work you do and committed to the organization?
  • Can you work from home on a trial basis first to see it it’s right for you?

Paul D. Smith is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE). He dresses every day.

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