When my husband and I started considering building a family, I knew that the academic position I had enjoyed for 2 years without children would not be sustainable. In my line of work (veterinary radiology), I am fortunate to have many options, from academia to private practice to telemedicine.
For me, telemedicine turned out to be ideal, as it would allow me to work exclusively from home, move to a town closer to our parents and lacking a veterinary college, and have a more flexible schedule. No commute, working in your pajamas, and low overhead are great benefits of working from home. For me, it has been the perfect way to balance motherhood and career.
With both children, I have been able to breastfeed without pumping, and I can pop out and see them whenever I want. I can also use a treadmill desk and modify my work environment as I see fit. I have even done formal presentations via Skype wearing a silk blouse, pearl necklace, and sweat pants! As a working mother, working from home may seem like the ideal situation. However, working from home has its own challenges to consider.
Challenges to Navigate When Working From Home
Boundaries: When your office is at home, it can be difficult to separate work life and family life. Although your office door may close, you may still be drawn to family obligations. Even if you have a trusted family member or nanny caring for your child, it can be difficult to hear your baby crying in the next room and keep your mind on work.
My 3 year old also likes to come in and “help” me work on occasion. Although this has resulted in some funny voice dictation (“There is appropriate gray matter/white matter definition no you cannot type right now…”), it is not conducive to productivity. Conversely, when you receive an email or text message from work during story time with your children, it can be difficult not to experience guilt if you cannot respond immediately to the work crisis.
I’ve found that a locking office door and noise canceling headphones can help block out distractions while you are working. Many of my colleagues have also instituted “email blackouts” during family time, including automatic out-of-office messages indicating that they will not be available during certain hours.
Using the “Pomodoro method” detailed in the Mindful Return program may also be helpful to encourage productivity, while allowing for periodic breaks as needed to address at-home issues. My supervisor also swears by regular meditation practice to develop the ability to recover more easily from mental distractions when they occur.
Social isolation: You may not realize how many of your social interactions occur through work. I chose the work-from-home lifestyle, because it allows our family to live more remotely and operate a livestock sanctuary. This also means that days may go by without adult human interaction aside from my husband! Making friends as adults can be difficult even in the best of situations, and the isolation of working from home can make it even more challenging. This issue may be particularly acute for extroverts.
In addition, some things are truly better in person. Although teleconferences can be used to get business done, most of us find that subtle nuances of body language and communication can be lost without in-person contact. Misunderstandings between coworkers can easily arise when email and IM are the primary means of communication.
Depending on your personality and type of work, shared work sites may be a good solution. Working part-time from home is another possibility. For instance, although my primary employment is teleradiology, I do occasional ultrasound examinations in a local clinic, allowing me to interact with other professionals and keep my ultrasound skills current. You may also concentrate on building other opportunities for social engagement, such as book clubs, exercise groups, or mommy meet-ups.
Worth It Despite the Challenges? You Bet.
With telecommuting becoming more acceptable and prevalent in multiple fields, you may be considering working from home. Even when I’m stressed about the pile of laundry outside my office door, distracted by adorable sticky toddler fingers aimed at my keyboard, or feeling guilty about leaving my work phone downstairs during bedtime, I am still grateful that I have this opportunity. Although it’s not for everyone, I wouldn’t want to work any other way!
Erica Fields is a veterinary radiologist and mother to 2 wonderful little girls. She lives with her husband and daughters on a farm and livestock sanctuary in North Carolina, and has worked from home full time for 5 years.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.