Posted: Thu 1st Dec 2011
This morning we had a very engaging online chat with Enterprise Nation readers about whether homeworkers work too much. Joining in the discussion we had people who have run their own businesses from home with employees, people who outsource, freelancers (or 'solopreneurs' if you like) like me and a homeworker who's thinking of going freelance. I don't want to create a false distinction here because we had much in common - not least a shared desire to run our lives as we chose - but we did seem to fall into two fairly distinct camps. As our own San Sharma put it, we were either 'boundary-keepers' or 'integrators'. You what? Here's a boundary keeper: "I think it is important to design how you want work to merge with home life and put strong boundaries in place to protect this. By being intentional, we can enjoy the many benefits and rewards of working from home. Having said that, we have the gift of flexibility so one day/week/month can be different from the next." Ali Davies Ali went on to point out that her typical daily working hours of 9am-3pm are shaped around her responsibilities as a mother, so there's a strong incentive to be disciplined. Here's an integrator: "It depends what you define as work! I find that being able to mix up 'work' and 'domestic' all day, every day, is very beneficial. To me, it's all just life and nobody ever asks if we have to experience too much life! I think lots of people who work from home are doing something they love - and so the question of overwork isn't that relevant." Judy Heminsley
These are two distinct points of view, but they're not so different. Both Judy and Ali have found a way of arranging their lives that suits them. Neither is perfect, of course - there will be times when Ali has to work a little extra to meet a commitment, and times when Judy feels she needs to exert more control over her hours. But this issue of arranging your life in a way that suits you is central to homeworkers. It's precisely why we do it. Nevertheless, if you're an integrator like me, that presents a real challenge. Reading the discussion again, I notice that my own contributions tended to be along the lines of 'I'm still sitting at my desk at midnight"¦'. In my defence, I'm a recent freelancer and I'm still building up my profile, my portfolio and my customer base. My view is that if I put the hard hours in now, I'll be able to reap the reward of a more balanced and flexible life later on. But Ali said something that really made me think: "It is easy to get into the habit of working too many hours, not because that is what we choose or have to do, but because we just haven't set things up to operate differently. I am a big believer in having working from home serve me in living my ideal life. To do that I have to be intentional in not becoming a slave to the business. I highly recommend getting clear on your ideal."
This was a challenge. What is my ideal? To be perfectly honest, I'm not completely clear about that. Thus far, my ideal has been focused more on the work that I do than the life that I live. That comes next, I tell myself. But what if it doesn't? What if the working patterns that I'm slipping into now become the template for the rest of my (freelance) working life? Maybe we have to make our ideal right here, right now, and make that the habit that shapes our lives. Am I becoming a boundary-keeper? I don't think so - I've always been terrible with boundaries and one of the major reasons I became freelance was to remove them from my working life. Having said that, I think there's an important lesson I can learn from the boundary-keepers of the world. The truth is, it's very easy to get sucked into working too hard or too long hours without a strong justification for doing so, simply because we can. But being homeworkers, we have the 'gifts' of flexibility and choice. That's the whole point, isn't it? With thanks to everybody who took part in the discussion. You can read the full chat here - and keep an eye open for our next one, too. We'll let you know when it's coming. Simon Wicks is editor of Enterprise Nation - and that's a photo of his desk at the top of the page!