Establishing Work-From-Home Rules for The Family

Some things go together easily. Peanut butter and jelly? Sure. Rings and diamonds? Definitely. High heels and a killer dress? Anytime. But sometimes things that you hope would work together well don’t always gel as smoothly as you would like. One of those tricky pairings—home and work. Working from home seems like the best of both worlds, where you can make money and achieve professional success without leaving the house or even getting out of your pajamas. Whether you are hoping to avoid the stress of a long commute or are trying to balance being a new mom with continuing in your chosen profession, working from home can be a great way to keep all the parts of your life in balance.

But if you have a family, you have probably already discovered that working from home poses special challenges. Your family, whether you have a husband, a wife, a baby, or a whole brood of kids, will have to get used to the idea that even though you are not leaving the house every morning to head to the office, you are still going to work every day. As anyone who has ever worked from home with a family will tell you, family members will always assume that you are available to help with appointments, errands, or any other daytime tasks as soon as they hear that you work from home. To keep your home office running smoothly and avoid running into unpleasant standoffs with family members and friends, it’s best to set firm ground rules for your family members, to help them respect your work from home arrangement and allow you to get some work done.

1. Create a separate space. It can be hard to enforce the rule that kids (or even spouses) not interrupt your work hours if they can’t tell where work ends and home begins. By creating a space in your home, even if it is just a desk in the corner of a room set apart with a folding screen, that is designated for work and work only, you help them maintain boundaries during appropriate times.

Any self-employed professional will tell you that as soon as you hang up that shingle, relatives will come knocking, looking for a free taste of whatever service you offer. It may be tempting to offer your cousin a free web design, or give your brother-in-law a free home theater installation, but before you spend all your time and supplies on free services, evaluate your relative and determine whether there is anything he can offer in return. It may feel unfamily-like to ask for cash, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with bartering your services for his, and the exposure can help both of you.

3. It may sound petty, but if you are constantly asked to take time out of your daytime schedule to attend appointments, make airport runs, or pick up sick kids from school, it may be worth your while to keep track of the amount of time spent on these tasks, and then ask the person you just helped out to help you make up for that time later. It may mean asking him to pick up some supplies for you, help you install a new printer, or even babysitting the evenings so you can catch up on business.

4. If you are working from home with a baby, you obviously cannot ask the baby to refrain from contacting you during business hours. What you can do, however, to maintain a professional business atmosphere, is to work hard on establishing a regular sleep pattern for your little one. Once you know that she naps every day from noon to one, you can schedule conference calls and even meetings during that time without worrying about the unprofessional sound of a baby crying in the background.

5. One big problem about working from home is having your home life take over your work schedule. The other big issue, lesser known but just as important, is the danger of your work carrying over into every moment of your day. That’s when your spouse and kids will start to resent your new work schedule. Find yourself sitting at your desk way past closing time? Running back for a few more phone calls in the evening? You can get overwhelmed by work easily if you don’t set strict boundaries for yourself and your family.

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