by Lynn Rees Lambert
Was there ever a more urgent complication than a sick child (not deathly ill, just I’ve-got-a-tummy-ache unwell) who presents his problem at the very moment parents are about to head out the door for another day on the job?
And so begins the quandary: Who can stay home? Who is less busy today? Is grand- mother available, given that she lives nearby and doesn’t have an appointment or a so- cial commitment?
Attention turns to the child. “Just how sick are you?”
Oh, to have the luxury to say, “Let me get you back to bed. I’m right here for you.” More and more, parents are able to do just that—stay home and work. Put it down to a combination of finding your passion and going for it, coupled with a new normal in employment trends. With part-time, contract and freelance arrangements gaining ground in the workplace, there are new options for home-based work. At the same time, individuals and couples are stepping into the world of entrepreneurship and running businesses from their dining room tables. Could be an office in the smallest bedroom or a corner of the family room. Wherever the ideas and productivity happen, it is at home. This wouldn’t be possible, of course, without the massive technological change that has tilted the workforce and our lives.
Take Lara Wellman, at www.thebizstudio.ca, for example. With a background in public relations and communications, the Ottawa business and marketing coach has created her own livelihood “helping business owners build businesses that work well with their personal lives.” Not only does Lara believe parents can create a business that will fit the lifestyle they’re looking to have, she shows them how. “I work with entrepreneurs empowering them with the knowledge and tools to make powerful choices, set intentional goals and then actively work towards them.”
She does it all—she’s on Facebook, she blogs, she podcasts and she tweets. She helps people take the big step into ditching the commute, along with the jacket, tie, dress and heels. Why? “Flex- ibility,” says the mother of three. “It’s not necessarily less work to go this route, but it allows you to work around family life.” For instance, not only can Lara put her 10-year-old and her seven- year-old twins on the bus, “I spend half the summers with them, plus March Break and Christmas. Entrepreneurship has been key for me and how I parent.”
Graphic designers Eric Jean-Louis and Vivian Cheng can relate. The creative duo went into business together in 2005, the year she graduated from university and they got married. Eric was still working full-time as a graphic designer for a design firm in Ottawa, Vivian explains. “I was a bit burned out from university, and the idea of being my own boss was appealing.”
In 2007, they set up Blend Creations (blendcreations.com), a full-time business partnership that provides graphic design, illustration and photography solutions that run the gamut from pamphlets to web design. “Our son had just turned one, and having us both work for ourselves from home made sense as it gave us the flexibility of spending more time together as a family,” says Vivian.
So far, it has worked out fabulously. Vivian lists the pros, including a flexible schedule that allows them to arrange their time to suit their needs. “We still had our son in daycare part-time when he was younger, which allowed us to get concentrated blocks of work done. When he started school, drop-offs and pick-ups were easily worked into our schedule. Arranging for daycare for PD Days has never been necessary.”
Also tilting the balance on the pro side is no commute. Since Eric and Vivian both work from home, they were able to get rid of their car. Vivian calls this decision “a huge lifestyle change in an environmental-impact sort of way, forcing us to walk and cycle more.” There are also financial savings: no costs for maintaining and fuelling a vehicle.
And don’t forget the clothing demands. Working from home eliminates the need to invest in weekday business attire. “We try to make an effort not to sit all day in our pyjamas,” Vivian mentions.
The biggest con, she notes, would have to be income unpredictability when you’re self-employed, especially when you’re a couple running a home-based business together. “The banks have more hesitation when financing mortgages and other investments, but it is possible. My recommendation would be to make sure you save for those rainy days as they can and do happen.”
Given the risks, especially the unpredictable money flow, why do it?
Often it comes down to a desire to have more control over your own life, Lara says. For couples that embrace entrepreneurship, she adds, there’s potential to share responsibilities as well as to bring personal strengths to the fore. And if certain aspects of the business aren’t your strong suit, there’s help available. Virtual assistants can do payroll or handle social media, from Facebook posts to editing, and a business coach can help you stay on track when you’re feeling a bit lost or out of control.
Megan O’Neill is an Ottawa Core Belief Engineering (CBE) therapist and counsellor at meganoneill.ca. She says whether you’re launching a business as an individual or couple, serious discussion is required before liftoff. Communication between spouses is key, Megan stresses. “You’ve got to determine your individual beliefs.” You’ve also got to identify how much security you need. In a marriage, “if there’s a weakness going in, the relationship will be challenged” during the highs and low of starting a business. Between the money issues and increased time together, “it’s not for the faint of heart,” Megan says.
Vivian would agree. “You’d better really like your spouse since you’re to- gether a lot.” It helps to have some separation of space, she says, but the separation of work and home is lot more blurry. The electronic tether—crucial to gaining online visibility for a new business—can create some tension too.
The call or message you’ve been waiting days for likely as not will turn up during the one wedding you’re attending this year. Do you ignore it? Take it and risk the annoyance or wrath of family members?
“It’s difficult to get away from work sometimes when it’s just in the other room,” she admits.
There’s also an isolation factor. “When we get busy, it can be easy to get bogged down and not surface out of the work/home bubble,” Vivian says. “It helps to have some sort of schedule to get out and at least walk around the neighbourhood, if not actually go to the gym or some other activity that you enjoy.”
In Vivian and Eric’s case, it has worked out for the best. Husband and wife run a successful business out of their home, work in the same office, and spend time together as a family. It’s also pretty nice to be able to duck out to see a new movie on the day of its release.
Work can wait. At home. On their schedule. ◆