It Is Rewarding to Work at Home, If You Know the Tricks of the Trade


August 06, 1991|By DANIEL S. GREENBERG

WASHINGTON — A new wave of business retrenchments has spawned the customary batch of advisory articles on working solo at home as an escape from the perils of commuting, office politics and psychiatric eruptions at corporate headquarters.

From the perspective of a veteran home-worker, the advice is pretty good, as far as it goes -- which is usually no further than such matters as buying versus scrounging or leasing office equipment, the inscrutabilities of insurance, finding customers,

getting them to pay and other practicalities.

Anyone who can't scale these foothills of self-employment deserves to return to the corporate chain gangs. However, what often tends to be left out of the advice columns is a more arcane and serious subject: the unforeseen human factors that arise from working at home, whether as consultant, designer, caterer, bookkeeper or whatever.

Newcomers to this form of livelihood will quickly encounter uncharted problems. Among them is the discovery that they have more voluntarily idle friends and acquaintances than they ever realized. This leisure class seems to have eluded the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Layabouts is what they were called in the old days, and they're ever keen for recruits to join their happily unemployed circles for lunches, movies, ball games. The social opportunities are boundless.

Beyond their interest in companionship and collective entertainments, do-nothings regard homebound industry as an affront to homebound idleness. For many of them, it may be assumed that their dedication to full-time leisure is a subject of contention in their own households. One suspects that in self-defense, they seek strength in numbers. The fledgling home-worker must fend them off.

Start gently and, if necessary, intensify the refusals to join in. Keep in mind their situation: namely, that prolonged voluntary indolence can dull the senses and make inexplicable a declination to cards at 3 p.m. The explanation, ''I've got to work,'' evokes incredulity.

Also to be dealt with is the tendency of friends and neighbors to regard the home-worker as an available daytime resource for coping with unexpected problems of one sort or another. From feeding the gerbils to letting in the plumber, it will only take a minute.

For the novice home-worker, emphatic rejection of these appeals is especially important, because of the escalation danger. Agree to sign for a package and next comes an apologetic plea to pick up someone's ancient aunt at the airport.

Harried workers, tied to a business office schedule, understandably cannot find time to tend to the ceaseless demands of modern life. Surely, an occasional bit of assistance can be provided by someone who is fortunate to spend the working day at home. With a regular job, who can manage the dry cleaning, driver's license renewal, oil changes, eye examinations, visiting cousins and dog vaccinations?

The bell-ringing intrusions of door-to-door salesmen are a notorious bane of the home-worker seeking to concentrate on making a living. They will not be dissuaded by ''no salesmen'' signs. Ignoring the bell or temporarily disconnecting it is an imperfect solution, though it's a tactic employed by some.

The more practical approach is to open the door and induce an unwanted bell ringer to depart voluntarily and rapidly. Research shows that for this purpose, few salesman go into their pitch when greeted with, ''Oh, we were expecting the police any minute now.'' Or a priest or doctor.

The intricacies of working at home are many and complex. But the odds for success can be increased with perseverance, attention to detail and a willingness to benefit from the experience of others.

For example, veterans of the solo home office will attest that the surest way to get a telephone call returned is to step out of the house for a minute. And a guaranteed method for speeding an express delivery to the door is to take a bathroom break.

A further bit of advice: When despairing over the rigors of working at home, consider the alternatives.

Daniel S. Greenberg publishes Science & Government Report newsletter, at home.

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