Story by Kellie Gunderman | BSF Staff
What They Never Told You About Working From Home
Being a military spouse comes with its joys, but there are some challenges, too. One of the most public of those challenges come in the form of a search for employment. The results of the 2017 Military Family Lifestyle Survey told us all we need to know. Childcare is too expensive. Our service members are away far too often, leaving us to take care of the house, kids and fur babies alone. Even our own communities don’t understand our struggles and local businesses are fearful of hiring us for reasons we have all come to know far too well.
And so, we are all led to believe that working from home is the way to go. Say, “hello,” to creating our own schedules, tax deductions, and flexibility and say, “bye-bye,” to micromanaging, commutes and pants! Right!? Working from home is the dream for so many of us military spouses, but is it right for all of us?
My name is Kellie. I have been a military spouse for fifteen years, I have been working from home for six of those years and I am here to tell you that it’s not the perfect, beautiful bubble we all imagine it to be. Let’s walk through a few things no one wants to tell you about working from home.
When I began working from home, I loved it… at first. Then, I began to realize that I was completely alone. I had no co-workers to chit-chat with over coffee in the morning, to take lunch breaks with or to collaborate with when I needed some creative inspiration. I always thought of myself as someone who could do it alone, but this quickly taught me I was wrong. I needed people, but there was no one around. This can be such a dangerous mistake to make when you are a military spouse because, during deployments, the loneliness of the day never ends. Sure, my son would come home from school, but I did not have any adult interaction and I fell into a very dark place until I identified the missing piece that I needed to fill.
SOLUTION: I stopped freelancing and accepted a job with Blue Star Families. My team is located coast-to-coast, but we are all military spouses and we have a really firm understanding of what the rest of us are going through. We have a video conference every single morning to collaborate, discuss ongoing projects and just check-in with each other. Our organization also just began hosting a virtual “happy hour.” Another great option is to join a local “work club” that consists of other professionals, who work from home but need a community.
It’s not surprising that working from home requires a sense of self-discipline and time management skills like you’ve never known before. This may not be a problem if those are skill sets you already possess or if you have the ability to learn them quickly, but if you are someone who distracts easily or can’t get organized, this could become a huge problem.
SOLUTION: If you are having trouble managing your tasks while working from home, seeking out professional development webinars to help you learn organization and time management skills could be a game changer for you. If that doesn’t work, you may want to explore moving the party back into the office where you can work with others to stay on point. (Like I said: Working from home is not for everyone.)
Working from home can really affect your work-life balance. When you work in an office, you leave at a certain time. The computer gets shut down, the lights are turned off and the door locks behind you. But when your work is always staring at you or you can hear your email sounding off down the hall, it makes life just a bit more difficult. Also, if you’re someone that has a touch of the evil workaholic syndrome, this is going to create more obstacles for you in your personal life than you were betting on. The idea of work-life balance is no joke. You need time to yourself and time to devote to your children, health, and home.
SOLUTION: Do not set up your office space in your main living area. (I made this mistake early on and rectified it soon after). Designate a space in your home (preferably a space with a door) that is only for work. This is not where you do homework with the kids, pay bills or search for recipes on Pinterest. Then, make a promise to yourself and your loved ones that you are setting office hours and sticking to them. Creating boundaries for your work is key to a healthy relationship with your work-from-home status.
This one is a bit of a hybrid, consisting of self-discipline and no balance. But, it gets it’s own little paragraph here because it’s the most common complaint I hear from military spouses that work from home. That’s right! It’s the dreaded weight gain. Why is this such a concern? Working from home puts you in a seated position all day with easy access to all of your delicious treats only a few steps away in the kitchen. Now, when I began working from home I immediately joined a gym right down the street. I created a workout plan and thought to myself, “This is going to be great! I can get my workout in and get my work done and everything will be dandy!” Wrong. When you work from home, stepping away from the computer for even a coffee refill can be a daunting task on its own. I followed my advice above and set office hours, and I stuck to them (well, most of the time) but I just couldn’t get away from my computer mid-day to get in my workout. I had no self-discipline when it came to my health and well-being, and I was seriously lacking in the work-life balance department.
SOLUTION: I began packing my lunch. That’s right! I was ten feet away from my kitchen all day, but I still packed my lunch in a cute little pink lunchbox with an ice pack. I only traveled to the kitchen if I needed the microwave. I also got dressed… every, single morning. I treated my home office as if it were not in my home, and after a few days, I could feel it in my bones that my body was responding in a positive way. I also designated three days a week that I would do my workout before even checking my email, and I set an alarm for mid-day to walk my dogs.
At the end of the day, working from home can be a fantastic way for a military spouse to maintain a flexible career. But before accepting that work-from-home position or deciding to go all-out in the freelance department, be sure to take it all for a test drive and make sure it’s the right fit for you.