Telecommuting has become a popular option in recent years for people who want to spend more time with their families or escape the daily stresses of an office job. But the rewards of working from your home can go beyond the obvious.
For the past five years, I’ve worked out of my home, writing books about overcoming information overload, coaching leaders in offices around the world, and consulting with companies interested in creating a learning culture.
These days, I live (and work) in a small rural community where nosy neighbors, who have never known a telecommuter, ask me how much time I actually spend working. I usually reply by saying something like this: “I put in more hours now than I did at any office. They are my hours, though, and I use them as I see fit.” I then explain that I’m motivated to meet tight deadlines, write another chapter, or arrange my travel prior to working with a team in another state by a lust for learning and the piece of mind I gain from putting the paid responsibilities aside to work for our community.
My reward from a job well done is no longer a satisfied boss or even a paycheck–it’s the knowledge that I made a difference where it matters most.
Last month I said to the local high school business teacher, “Sure, I’ll talk with your students about careers in consulting and technology. Let me know what day fits your schedule.” The month before I explained to a learning disabilities parent support group that they might not need to fret over children taking so long to get dressed in the morning–and then shared my secret that I’ve begun my workday in my pajamas. I offered both groups a glimpse into a wider workforce that they hadn’t seen before, one they wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t volunteered to speak with them during the day. When I let them know I earn a respectable salary without the usual trappings of the business world, it released a large burden from their shoulders.
Once flourishing communities are now left bare during the week. Sadly, many telecommuters and work-at-homers stay at home during business hours and insist on living by their old work-only-by-day routine.
For me, the ability to use the hours between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm any way that makes sense to me encourages me to do more–even if it sometimes means that David Letterman keeps me company as I finish a report or email.
The ability to help a community filled with people who leave their homes every morning for another community makes me love my job. If I dressed every day, ate my Cheerios, headed upstairs to my office, and came down again at five o’clock, I’d only gain the time I would have taken to commute and that I saved by no longer schmoozing near the water cooler.
Employers and employees using their unregulated schedule miss an opportunity to make a difference. Information workers have been absent from the community for too long.
Visit with a local school’s vice-principal and ask how you can use your skills to help students learn more about the world. A telecommuter in my community taught a day of science class about ways to keep rivers free from pollution, a woman with her own business taught modern accounting practices in a math class. Take advantage of the fact that you can schedule your own days and put your time to use to gain a new perspective.
Contact the local food bank, shelter, bloodmobile, library, or workforce-development program, and ask them if they could benefit from your skills. Start by offering just a few hours; learn if you like the experience before committing more time. Start somewhere. Start now.
It’s time we give back that knowledge and caring that landed us these jobs. It’s time we help another generation cultivate ideas as wonderful and motivating as telecommuting and working at home.
And readers, please drop me a line when your client or manager says, “You did this and helped the community?”
Marcia L. Conner is managing director of Ageless Learner, an advisory service practice focused on learning across the lifespan. She works out of her home near Staunton, Virginia, 2056 miles from her last office. She is author of Learn More Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter, and Faster (Wiley, 2004) and the forthcoming Creating a Learning Culture (Cambridge, 2004). Contact her at www.marciaconner.com.