Home vs. Home Office

The Family Helps Out

For work-at-home parents, kids and family are an integral part of the total equation. Roberts sees the spouse as an "anchor" who can help keep the family steady while the working parent meets deadlines. That's a panacea, to be sure, but only if spouses openly communicate, even outline, needs and expectations in both business and family life, says Roberts, author of How To Raise A Family & A Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide To Home Business (Brookhaven Press).

As for the kids, "they're the great equalizer," Roberts says. "You can pratically count on them to throw subtle and not-so-subtle reality checks whenever your work life is getting out of hand."

In almost one decade spent working on from home, Agro has learned a few pointers of his own. If a client drops by, a child is sick and can't go to school, or chaos breaks out, he adheres to a solution that works for himself, his family and his clients: He avoids clients who can't accept homebased working parents. And if his wife is working too much, Agro is quick to take a break or close down for the day. "You have to show your face around rooms other than your office," he says. "Don't let business take away your free time."

After all, he works from home to be there for his family. Sometimes his family is there for his business as well. "Mary is a great sounding board," Agro says. "When you work for yourself at home, it's nice to have a second opinion you can trust."


Top Tips For Finding Balance

Want to create balance between your home office and the family that shares your home? Here are some tips from people who do it, or at least try to, every business day:

Create rules. From observing business hours to respecting a closed office door, your kids-and you-need boundaries.

Listen. If your spouse, partner or kids hint-or outright complain-that you're working too much, take heed. A home office can become a magnet for the at-home worker. And while the kids could just be nagging out of boredom, complaints could indicate disillusionment regarding this work-at-home gig.

Power down. On weekends, during dinner and at other traditional leisure times, shut down the computer, turn off the phone's ringer and leave the office. Your spouse and kids will appreciate the time you spend with them; you will, too. You can always warm the computer back up later.

Set business hours. Whether it's 9 to 5 or 8 to 6, a work/family schedule creates regularity in the family routine and lets everyone know when the office is off-limits. Include breaks during the day when the kids get home from school; that way, you stay involved in their lives, and they don't need to bug you while you're working.

Hold regular family business meetings. Like any manager, a work- at-home parent must be on the same page with the rest of the team, monitoring progress and brainstorming new directions. This also helps the family stay focused on what the home office is (a place of business) and is not (a playroom, a children's grievance room, a retreat for the family).

Involve your kids. Whether it's stuffing envelopes, collating papers or just talking about what mommy or daddy do for a living, get the kids into the office once in a while. They'll enjoy seeing what you do and have a better appreciation for what work is all about. Also, show them your finished product-a magazine article, a Web site or a check that came in the mail.

Get help. Whether it's a nanny or preschool for an infant or toddler, or a mother's helper for older kids when they get home from school each day, supplemental help lets work-at-home parents focus on work-for at least a few uninterrupted hours each workday. Otherwise, work is a frustrating and emotionally draining task and becomes a waste of valuable time. Use this time to do project work that can't be interrupted; reserve rote tasks of business (i.e., administrative, paperwork, invoicing, etc.) for later.

Celebrate business successes and gains with your family. Celebration helps your spouse understand there are rewards in supporting your efforts, and shows kids they reap some benefit from cooperating with Mom's or Dad's needs. This can go a long way in creating a healthy balance.

Cut loose. If you've got the time, take the kids or spouse/partner and get out of the office (especially if you're coming off a long, difficult and time-consuming project).

Pursue your passion, instead of doing a job. Interruptions are easier to tolerate and work is less stressful if it's something you enjoy.


Jeffrey D. Zbar, the "ChiefHomeOfficer.com," has worked from home since the 1980s. He's a contributing editor to Entrepreneur's HomeOffice.com, and author of Office Know-HowZand Your Profitable Home Business Made E-Z (on CD-Rom from E-Z Products). Married with three young children, Zbar lives in suburban Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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