Deb Shinder
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Women At Work

By Deb Shinder

    
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Working@Home

Kathy Schultz runs a medical transcription service out of her guest bedroom. She cleared almost $19,000 in 1997. That's about two thirds what she made the year before, working in a doctor's office, and didn't include insurance or vacation pay or other traditional benefits. What it did include was the freedom to work whenever and however she wished, to dress the way she wanted (or not at all!), and to be close by when her two preschool children needed mommy. And the money she saved on parking fees, clothes, lunches and babysitters helps to offset some of the difference.

Now that she's had a taste of working at home, Kathy wouldn't have it any other way. "I like being my own boss," she says. "Sure, I have clients to answer to, but I can schedule my day to accomodate my personal life, instead of the other way around. And money is a great motivator. When I was on salary, I got paid the same whether I did my best or not. Now putting extra effort into it pays off."

Kathy has learned valuable lessons in time management and business practices of enthusiasm but no real sense of direction. The first month, I only brought in $600, and all of that went back into the business. But I read all the books and magazine articles I could (on business ownership) during my spare time. Not having to commute, I actually had some spare time! By the six-month mark, I was making a profit. Last month, I made nearly $2000 after expenses."

Andrea Brockway is still a corporate employee, but she gave up her key to the lady's room last year to telecommute. At first, she was a little nervous about the idea. But her department was experimenting with the idea as a way of saving money. Andrea, despite her skittishness, volunteered. She hated the daily drive and the rush-hour traffic, and her job, which consisted mostly of computer research and compiling reports, was well suited for the project..

Now she's glad she took the plunge. "I get way more done now than I ever did at the office," she tells me. "I don't have to deal with a dozen interruptions or take time out for socializing. I don't have to worry about hurting someone's feelings if I turn down a lunch offer to work through and finish a report. I'm out of the political games. Maybe that will keep me from advancing in the company, but I'm really more interested in doing what I'm doing now than being promoted to management."

Andrea admitted that she sometimes gets a little lonely at home with her computer, but she's able to join in impromptu meetings and give presentations via videoconferencing, and she does spend one day "on site" each week to attend scheduled staff meetings and sign paperwork and take care of those few tasks that can't be done over the phone or modem..

Andrea and three other telecommuting colleagues now share an office on the occasions when they report "in person." Thanks to the overhead expenses the computer was able to cut out, they all received increases in salary. "I can't believe they pay me $5000 a year extra to stay home," Andrea says with a big smile..

Lori York works at home, too, but she's not getting paid for it. At least, not in dollars. Lori decided two years ago, when her twins were born, to change careers. Now she's a full-time mother. "I think it's important to be the one who raises my babies, " she says. "But I just want to scream when someone says something like 'now that you're not working.' I work harder now than I ever did at a so-called 'real job.' Taking care of kids, keeping a house clean, all the little chores that my husband and I used to share, but that he feels comfortable now handing off to me -- it is hard work."

Lori's husband is a rising young executive in a large nationally- known company. Her job as executive wife also includes planning, hostessing and attending dinner parties, acting as his social secretary, and networking with other corporate wives. And a few months ago, her father died. She now helps care for an aging mother and is handling the legal details of dissolving her father's estate. Lori has no desire, and certainly no time, for a "real" job..

Some women, however, aren't cut out for the stay-at-home lifestyle. Beverly Smith (who asked that her real name not be used) gave it up after less than a year. "I thought it would be great. I always wanted to be a writer, and my husband was doing well in his job and supportive of me quitting my job to follow my dream."

"The dream turned out to be a nightmare. I hated the isolation, and I found every excuse in the world not to write. I got less done on my novel in the nine months I was off work than I'd done while I was working a full-time job. My house wasn't any cleaner, either. I don't know where the days went. I would stay in bed until ten or eleven, because I didn't 'have' to get up. Then I'd turn on the TV, and end up watching stupid soap operas or game shows, and suddenly the day was over and I hadn't gotten anything done. I guess I just don't have enough self-discipline for this. I actually LIKE knowing there's somewhere I'm supposed to be at a certain time. I like having other people around to make demands on me -- I work better under pressure, and without it I just don't work at all."

Working at home works out well for some women, but not as well for others. The good news is that today, more than ever, there are opportunities to choose..

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DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER is a writer, editor and community college instructor who lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth TX metropolitan area with her husband, Thomas W. Shinder, M.D. and her teenage son, Kristoffer.

For comments to the writer mail to:shinder@dallas.net



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