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When a Family Pays For the Home Office

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                   SoHo NEWS & TIPS
Helping You Make the Most of Your Small Office/Home Office


I'm glad that many of you found last week's issue helpful!
This week will touch on how to balance work and family when 
you work out of a home office. It can be difficult, but it 
is possible with a little thing called compromise.


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When a Family Pays For the Home Office 
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal. 

I'm on the verge of losing access to my home 
office. So says my wife, Amy.

She walked into my office the other day to find me 
sitting at my desk, as usual, and made this promise: 
"The next time you're off on a business trip, I'm 
putting a lock on this door and I'm keeping the 
only key. You'll only be allowed in here when I let 
you in."

She was serious.

The problem, as she sees it: This happened at 8 
p.m., a time of night when most people are home 
with their families -- but a time when I am 
routinely at my desk. That frustrates Amy, who has 
been dogging me for months to better separate work 
and family. I've tried, but not very successfully. 
Amy has reached the point where she's ready to 
impose her own solution: the door lock.

So, after nearly two years working from home, I'm 
finally confronting what might be the biggest 
challenge home-office workers face: learning to 
separate the office from the home.

* * *

I've never considered myself a workaholic, mainly 
because it seems like such a negative term. I enjoy 
what I do so much that most days it really doesn't 
seem like "work."

Amy laughed at me when I said that.

"That shocks me," she said. "I guess you're in 
deep denial. The fact that you're writing this 
column in a car -- on the way to a family vacation 
-- that isn't a clue?"

Maybe it is. But when you work from home and don't 
have a traditional office you drive to each morning, 
every place becomes your workspace: car, airplane, 
airport, bed, couch, hotel room, backyard patio 
and, of course, the home office itself.

As a result, your work knows no traditional time 
clock. There's always a little something more you 
can do. And with a home office in particular, when 
your desk is just steps away, it's hard to close 
the door at quitting time and walk away from the 
job until tomorrow. Every time there's a lull in 
my day, or night, the room draws me in.

Amy empathizes with my plight -- up to a point. 
And I've clearly crossed that point.

"I've asked you for a long time to balance work 
and family," she said when I interviewed her about 
this issue. "But you haven't been able to do that. 
When you worked in a normal office environment, 
you had to come home at some point, even though 
you often would write from home at night. Now, 
you're always home and you're always at work. And 
that's more upsetting because it's like you never 
come home. There's no separation anymore."

That was her calm moment. Often she's angry and 
frustrated. She has taken to calling my home 
office "The Cave" because, she says, "it's like 
you're hibernating in there. You basically only 
come out to eat and use the bathroom and then 
you're back in there for hours."

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I don't disagree with her -- either about the 
hours I spend in my office or the effect it has on 
our family.

In fact, my home office has become a habit, and my 
response to it has become almost Pavlovian: If I'm 
at home, then I must be in my home office, working 
on something -- whether it's an article for the 
newspaper, my weekly column or a chapter for a 
book. Sometimes I find myself in there just because 
I think I need to be in there, even if I have no 
work to do at the moment.

As with any habit, the first step is admitting you 
have a problem. Only then can you address it. And 
the question I'm now addressing is how to create a 
home-office balance that keeps me as involved with 
the family as they -- and I -- want, while also 
giving me the sense of productivity I seek.

* * *

If Amy had her way, we'd create that balance by 
shuttering my home office permanently and renting 
a small office space away from the house. I'd have 
a physical place to drive to every day. That way, 
she says, "you'd create the actual separation of 
having to lock the office door and come home at 
night to your family."

We did consider that possibility briefly, but that 
solution comes at a big cost when you factor in 
rent, insurance and utilities. Ultimately, it isn't 
practical financially. Of course, Amy's solution -- 
locking me out of my home office -- isn't practical 
either (at least not from my perspective). As a 
journalist for a morning newspaper, there are simply 
times I must be on the phone with editors and 
sources at nontraditional office hours. That's just 
the price of admission for a career I enjoy. I 
can't start negotiating with Amy every time I want 
to get into my office.

Even if those solutions were workable, though, 
they overlook a more fundamental calculus: Many of 
us bring the job home regardless of whether we work 
in a traditional office or a home office. True, a
home office can make the balancing act more 
challenging, because its proximity to your non-
office life makes it easy to answer that siren 

But I also know plenty of people in traditional 
offices who place family so far down the list of 
priorities that they spend their weekends at the 
kitchen table with a laptop, or hushing their kids 
because they are on the phone with colleagues.

Ultimately, then, it's really not an issue of 
physical places, but of mental spaces. Success 
balancing the family-job divide comes down to 
personal priorities. Amy has been saying for a 
long time that my priorities, as measured by my 
actions, are out of whack. It's hard to deny that.

I have a longtime friend I've admired for years 
because of his ability to put family above job. In 
fact, I called him recently on a Sunday morning -- 
when I was in my home office working, no less -- 
and he was playing a board game with his daughter. 
He said we'd have to talk later. The thing is, he 
works like a fiend, often from his home office and 
frequently at odd hours.

He concedes there are sacrifices (a lower-profile 
job than he might have had, and less sleep, to 
cite two), but he creates the balance Amy wants me 
to find in my home-office life.

So that's my goal now, to be more like my friend 
so that Amy doesn't feel a need to lock me out of 
my own office just to get me to interact more 
frequently with the family outside of dinnertime.

I asked her how we could accomplish that -- without
the door lock. She said she honestly doesn't care 
how many hours I work, so long as I do it outside 
of family time. Thus, our plan: Once the family is 
home each night, I'll leave The Cave until everyone 
is in bed. At that point I'm free to go back into 

"We've got to retrain you," Amy says, "to have a 
life outside your home office."


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So what did you think about this issue? Drop me a line and let 
me know at mailto:mandi@gophercentral.com 

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