Some time ago, I found myself in a verbal sparring match with a care adviser who was (at that time) coordinating my aunt’s home health plan. Even though I was on a cell phone discussing issues and concerns that should have been addressed in person, I felt like I was in this woman’s presence…and pushed up against a wall.
“Can you take a leave of absence from your job to help care for her?” she asked.
“I’m already caring for her,” I replied.
“Yes, but she needs 24-hour attention. You work.”
“For a couple of hours a day,” I countered.
She wouldn’t budge. ”Can you take some time under the Family Medical Leave Act?”
“I’m self-employed. I have no paid time off. If I take a sabbatical, it means I’ve gone out of business.”
And that’s the truth. When you’re a small business owner — and entrepreneur, a sole proprietor — there’s a healthy chance you’re already on a type of family medical leave. People who work from home do so for many reasons, one of which is the flexibility to perform services (when it doesn’t conflict with loved ones’ needs).
“Well, then,” she began. “You’re going to have to hire someone to sit with your aunt when you can’t be there. Are you sure you can’t adjust your schedule?”
My brain hummed with anger. Insults raced from one hemisphere to the other. Can’t you adjust yours? That’s a fine idea, actually. Perhaps YOU should take some time off from YOUR job!
We hung up with no clear solution — well, nothing other than my desire to talk to someone else about the situation.
The next day, my youngest daughter produced a stomach virus. Four days later, my older daughter caught it. My husband had a deadline that forced him to stay at the office until 7:00 or later. I needed a babysitter, an aunt sitter, a nurse, possibly a doctor, an office assistant and a drink.
Had I worked for someone else, I would’ve had to quit. That is, if a supervisor hadn’t already fired me.
Thank God I have understanding clients who have repeated to me on numerous occasions: “First things first. Family always comes first.”
It seems as though more employers are sitting in softer office chairs these days, as about 34 million people work from their residence on occasion, reports Forrester Research, a technology and market survey company. Forrester Research also predicts that the number of people who work remotely will nearly double — to approximately 63 million people — by the year 2016.
Why is this the case when the demand appears to be for more human interaction? It’s all about the Benjamins. Alternative employment saves an average business $10,000 per year by hiring a virtual employee. There is no need to lease office space when the business grows, owners don’t have to invest in equipment when they can hire a freelancer that already has it, and they don’t need to hire a full-time staff member for a termed project. Employers can hire professionals anywhere on the map, and an invisible employee eases tax burdens. As with creative freelance work, most every product or service can be e-mailed to the employer or client. And, most managers will admit that the majority of in-office days are wasted in unnecessary meetings or in Cubeville chit-chat. They also believe that most off-site employees are more productive because they don’t want to lose the sweet deal of working from home.
As for freelancers, the upside is being able to “walk” to work. Office hours are scattered, which frees parents to spend more time with their children and at school activities. While there may be start-up expenses — computer, cell phone, software, etc., if the employer doesn’t provide those tools — there are considerably savings in automotive upkeep, parking, meals and dressing for a public office setting.
Did you notice what was missing from these savings? Childcare expenses. Even though a parent works from home, mom and dad may find themselves in a bind when kids aren’t in school. Business doesn’t fold up just because it’s spring break or summer vacation…or when a relative gets sick. And I can tell you that it’s a weird feeling to be working in a basement office with a sitter carrying for children a floor away. It’s a type of “Upstairs, Downstairs” production.
No job is perfect, and a home-based arrangement has its own set of disadvantages. As I explained to the care adviser, being self-employed means there’s no security net of any kind: No long-term or short-term disability coverage, no paid holidays, no free Saturdays or Sundays. In the words of the The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) from Downtown Abbey, “What is a weekend?”
As for my situation? Two options remained: Be there all the time, or hire someone to be there part of the time (if I refused a nursing or personal care home). So, I’ve stopped teaching and I’ve scaled back on my volunteer work. I handed off a few projects that required undivided attention, and I’ve hired a sitter to be with my aunt while I work part-time…from home…next door to her house. However, if she still needs me, I can run from my desk to her bedside in seven seconds flat. I’ve timed it.
I was angry with the care adviser because my best efforts weren’t good enough. That was hard to hear. There would have to be trade-offs if my aunt intended to stay at home. But isn’t that what I wanted, too? To remain at home so I could be with my family?
As a parent of a child or as the guardian of a family member, you do what you have to do, when you have to do it, without second guesses and without regret. And, in the end, I doubt too many people will look back on their lives and wish they had spent more time at the office.