Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The WFH Quandry

No. I didn't misspell WTF.

WFH stands for Work From Home. An ability I've cherished for over a decade.

Its opponents would say that it allows unsupervised workers to slack off. Play video games and watch TV instead of earning their paycheck.

It's actually the opposite. When I work from home I'm able to log in earlier, stay online longer, focus better and be far more productive. It also has a dark side, where I've sometimes put in 10-14 hours (or more) in a single day. That's fine once in a while if you're paid hourly wages and getting overtime. Just dumb if you're salaried, like me.

For several years I was entirely WFH. I ran my writing and editing business from my home office. Since I was my own boss, there were no PTO days. When I wasn't working, I wasn't earning. Period. So I worked. A lot. Too much. Work and home were one in the same, and the lines were entirely too blurred.

When I decided to go back to corporate life, I was happy to learn that WFH was accepted.

I started by using WFH for the occasional bad weather days. I've been living in Minnesota for years, and our harsh winters are sometimes unkind and downright dangerous for long commutes -- or even short ones. On days when the roads were treacherous, or the car wouldn't start, instead of being late or absent I'd just log in from home and fulfill my entire work day.

Then, I'd start using WFH for when the kids were sick. If they were going to spend all day sleeping and just need me for the occasional bowl of chicken soup, why not be working? Then, I started using WFH for when I was sick. Instead of taking a day to make myself better, I was up in front of my computer, tapping away, answering calls between sips of hot tea and muting my line while I hacked and coughed.

At least it preserved my few days of PTO that were required to be used for sick days as well as vacation.

As gas prices rose and internet connectivity got better, I was able to establish a regular WFH schedule of one day a week. Usually on Fridays, but it moved dependent on whether or not I was needed in person that day. I had a long commute, and WFH meant I could spend an extra 3 hours working instead of making myself pretty and driving.

After my MS diagnosis 5 years ago, I bumped that up to two days a week. My doctor demanded that I take better care of myself, MS fatigue was a major factor affecting my life, and driving 2-3 hours every day wasn't helping. My job was stressful enough on its own. Working from a home setting 2 days a week was a huge help.

So for the past 6 years, I've been working from home an average of 2 days a week. I'm an associate director now, and manage a team, so some weeks I just have to be onsite. Some weeks I work from home more -- bad weather, health issues, a heavy deadline where I need to cut myself off from everyone. I'm fortunate to have a dedicated and organized home office space that meets all of my needs. What's to complain about?

Two and a half weeks ago, we took a family vacation. A big vacation. Like traveled to Europe for the first time in 25 years kind of vacation.

And boy did I need it. Deadlines and big production releases changed at work. Tough. I made my reservations months ago and those airline tickets were non-refundable, baby. Thank goodness. I prepared my team and director, set up delegates, told them I wouldn't be available by phone or email and took off. I had hardly a thought of work for two weeks.

Our vacation wasn't perfect. In fact, there were a few considerably stressful kinks that came up. The travel day there was an exhausting 32 hours. The trip home was 24 hours. But the good far, far outweighed the bad.

The night before I went back to work, I hardly slept a wink. Anxiety over the hundreds of emails and problems that would be there waiting for me robbed me of any rest. My drive in to work that morning was no better. My stomach was in knots. This wasn't right.

I made a point of getting into the office early, before anyone else. The lights were still off on my floor. All was quiet as I dug into the electronic mess before me. Within a few hours, I was feeling better. Co-workers were happy to see me back. I'd gained back most of the perspective I'd lost in the months of day-to-day work issues. I was able to let the problems and the stressors roll off and take a calm approach in the office.

Until today. Until I had my first day back, working from home.

I was cranky.

What was it? I got up. Didn't have to dress up or do my hair. Logged in early, as usual. Didn't have to fight traffic or make appearances. Just work. Not even the usual litany of endless meetings from 8am - 5pm.

It finally dawned on me.

I'd spent two weeks absolutely separated from work. No emails. No text messages before breakfast and after dinner. No late calls. No 3am wake-ups. No commutes spent worrying and fuming. No missed lunches for back to back meetings.

I spent time focused on my family. Just my family.

After two weeks, logging into my computer at home felt like an intrusion. I found myself wanting to focus on my home and family when I was in my house. For someone who has made a habit of WFH for over 10 years, it came as quite a shock. This morning, I didn't see my established home office as a room apart, but as part of our home.

Don't get me wrong. I don't just cherish the ability to WFH, I need it. But in trying to maintain my european vacation zen, I've become protective my personal space and privacy. And that's okay. In staunchly defending WFH, I'd allowed it to take over my home. That's not okay.

Before the vacation, my life was severely out of balance. Work got the attention, and home sometimes suffered for it. I just need to get one foot firmly on each side of this teeter-totter.


Wayne. said...

I'm glad the vacation allowed you the perspective. Now you can decide what needs to change and make everything the better for it.

GeekGoddess said...

Indeed, Wayne!

And on a side note, wow! You actually saw this? I'm trying to remind myself to step away from the FB world occasionally and write things that accumulated FB extended family members and co-workers won't see. I can be a bit more opinionated and open here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wayne. said...

Indeed. I still check the "infrequently updated blogs" of folks I want to keep in touch with. You are obviously on that list... ;-)