Posted by Wendy Witherell
Professional military spouses often face challenges when it comes to sustaining meaningful careers when they uproot their lives every three to five years in support of their spouses’ military careers. An option getting more attention lately is that of a “portable” career, which you can take with you wherever you go. I am not talking about the be-your-own-boss jobs normally associated with military spouses like Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, and Scentsy to name a few, which are all sales-related jobs. There are challenging, career-centered options out there that will allow you to utilize your education while maintaining consistent employment even as you PCS.
One portable career option to consider is telecommuting, or telework, which allows you to work from home while staying connected with the office via phone and computer. Over the next few weeks I am going to explore many aspects of telecommuting including: whether or not you are a good candidate for telecommuting, the pros and cons of telecommuting, the top telecommuting careers and employers, the best way to find a job/career that allows you to work from home, talking to your current employer about becoming a telecommuter, job sharing options, and resources available to telecommuters.
Is Telecommuting Right for You?
As attractive as working from home sounds, not everyone is cut out for it. Take the following into consideration:
§ Are you comfortable working on your own for long periods of time with little face-to-face time with others? Or, are you a person who is motivated by the daily interaction with others in order to thrive in a work environment? It is not unusual to prefer the office setting with its structure, consistency, people, and separation from the home environment. Many people need to be out of their houses to feel like they are “at work,” and need the social interaction with co-workers to break up the day.
§ How comfortable are you with using social media and communicating electronically? It today’s world it seems that everyone is “plugged in” and using popular networks like Facebook and Twitter. Companies have their own websites and social media pages that ensure they are able to reach the largest customer base possible. Today’s telecommuters are internet and computer savvy, and use a variety of electronic resources to do their jobs. They can effectively communicate their ideas in writing, and keep up-to-date on the latest trends to understand if/how they can help them in their jobs.
§ Do you have a workspace? It does not have to be a fancy office, but it should be your own space, preferably with a door you can close, that you can dedicate to work time. When you are there, you are at work. Sitting on the couch with your laptop just is not going to cut it. By having a workspace you are able to separate yourself from everyday home distractions and focus on what you are doing. There will always be a certain degree of distractions at home that are different from those in an office setting, but where you are going to work each day should not be one of them.
§ Are you easily distracted? Working from home takes extreme discipline and flexibility. You should be able to dedicate a certain number of hours each day for work, and then stick to them. Keep in mind that they may not be “normal” working hours, depending on where you live and where your company is headquartered. It can be tempting to take care of everyday chores that “will only take a few minutes” like laundry, dishes, or basic cleaning, but you will easily get off track and slow your productivity. You need to be able to schedule the everyday activities around your work and be vigilant in adhering to the schedule.
Can you think of any other considerations?
Comment by Kelly Gump on July 28, 2011 at 2:17pm
Telecommuting has been a dream for me for the past 8 years. I knew I wanted to be a stay at home mom but I had also worked very hard to earn a Masters degree right before I got married and I knew I did not want to waste that. People always wonder where I find my opportunities and I tell them it is not hard..they are out there, but you have to LOOK. You also need to be willing, if you find a job you like, to ask if it can be done remotely. Sometimes employers will bend and make changes for the best candidate.
I think one other consideration is “are you able to turn work off?” Since work is at home and I can take it with me on my laptop…I need to know when to NOT work. It is too easy to just “check in” and then get sucked into work.
Even with that one issue….I would not trade this set up I have for anything! I know my Masters degree has also opened many doors for me since much of the contract work I do requires that level of education. Squeezing in those finals a week before my wedding was the best career move I ever made.
Comment by Donna Huneycutt on July 18, 2011 at 12:56pm
I will second what Lauren says. The time, energy and money saved by avoiding a commute and business dress every day are wonderful, and for someone seeking a portable career, telecommuting is a no-brainer. We actually had someone who worked for is in Italy on a database who was able to log in from home after she moved stateside and fix database bugs while the end users in Italy slept!
What I have found in the seven years of working from home, and in managing people working from home, is that a very robust child care plan needs to be in place for any children living at home in order to provide the same professionalism and focus that you would deliver in an office. Whether that means a nonworking spouse is minding them, or a nanny, or a grandparent, or day care, you have to have a plan. In my opinion it’s impossible to do mind your children at the same time that you are giving 100% to your job.
Military spouses in particular need reliable and flexible child care in order to work because the active duty spouse is so often unavailable to fill the gaps. (Come to think of it, single parents do too).
Comment by Lauren Weiner on July 18, 2011 at 8:04am
I *love* telecommuting. For this non-fashionista, the best part is being able to work in sweat pants and a t-shirt when I’m home alone all day. But it does take a very different set of skills than navigating an office environment, and not everyone can do it.
We had a wonderful employee on one of our Europe-based contracts. She was one of our top performers, and our clients absolutely loved her. When she PCSed back to the States, we brought her on in a senior company support role, working from her home office. None of our other company employees were geographically close. Within a couple of months, it became clear to everyone– her most of all– that she was not comfortable in a virtual setting. She needed the day-to-day interactions of colleagues in an office. We tried a number of different things to try to recreate the office setting remotely, with phone calls and check-ins, with work from a Starbucks instead of from her home office, etc… but nothing worked as well as keeping her in an office setting.
I end up getting loads more done from my home office than I ever did in my more traditionally set jobs… but that certainly isn’t true for everyone. I think you have to have the right personality, but you also have to completely love what you’re doing. When I first PCSed to Europe, I had thoughts of writing a book– which seems to be a common thought among the spouses overseas, for some reason– but I couldn’t get motivated to do it, and I’d end up whiling away the days that I had set aside to research and write. While it sounded fun, and I’d often thought about writing as a career option before, it just didn’t end up exciting me in the way that my current job does. So, even if one telecommuting position doesn’t make sense, another might if it really lights a fire under you.