'Telecommuting' offers Westminster mom a way to keep her children and her job

WORKING AT HOME

November 08, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

Cathy Markey always thought it would be nice to have a couch in her Baltimore office. The idea of lying down for a few minutes sounded so appealing after her exhausting morning routine of getting her two children up, taking them to day care and catching the Metro to work.

Now Ms. Markey has a bed in her office and she never uses it. But there's one big difference in her life. Her office is in a spare room in her comfortable Westminster home.

Equipped with a computer, a modem and a fax, Ms. Markey does her work as a production editor for the North Charles Street Design Organization from her home office.

She's a telecommuter -- one of the 7.6 million Americans who work at least part time from their homes.

Ms. Markey, 31, said she didn't even know the term existed until last spring when she read an article in the New York Times about the boom in home-based employment.

"I said, 'Oh, my God, that's me!' and they called it 'telecommuting,' " Ms. Markey said. "It made it sound real official."

Ms. Markey didn't set out to become a trendsetter. In fact, the first step on the road to telecommuting was giving notice to her employer of three years. The North Charles Street Design Organization creates marketing and recruiting materials for colleges and universities.

The Markeys' day care arrangements had fallen through, and an exhaustive search to find another provider had been unsuccessful. The family trimmed its budget to get by on one income.

When Ms. Markey explained her dilemma to company president Bernice Thieblot, the two came up with the telecommuting arrangement.

Now, Ms. Markey works 21 hours a week from home and is able to raise her two children, Patrick, 2, and Alison, 18 months.

"I get to see how the kids develop every day and know that I influence how they develop," Ms. Markey said.

Ms. Thieblot said Ms. Markey's telecommuting arrangement has worked "splendidly."

"I think it has as much to do with Cathy as with anything," Ms. Thieblot said. "She's an extremely competent person with a lot of personal integrity, and that's why we didn't want to lose her."

Although she's become comfortable with the arrangement after a year, adjusting to telecommuting took some time, Ms. Markey said.

"At the beginning I felt a lot of pressure to prove that it could work," she said.

Initially, Ms. Markey said, some of her co-workers resented her arrangement.

"They naturally thought, 'This person is getting a great deal; she gets to work at home.' "

Ms. Markey points out that telecommuting does have its downsides. She makes less money now, and since she does most of her work between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., when the children are asleep, she rarely sees her husband during the week.

But the sacrifices are worth the time she spends with her children.

Last week, for example, Ms. Markey had to deliver some work to Western Maryland College, and the errand became an opportunity to take her children for a walk on a beautiful fall day.

"On the way, they found a huge pile of leaves to play in and I jumped in with them," Ms. Markey said. "You don't have time for stuff like that when you come home from the office."

In addition to giving her time with her children, working at home has increased her productivity. But Ms. Markey admits that she misses the camaraderie of her office, not to mention the lunches.

"We were right down the street from Lexington Market," she said.

Although telecommuting has worked for her, Ms. Markey cautions that it's not for everybody. She credits her husband and her colleagues with supporting the arrangement.

Ms. Markey said she hopes more companies will consider the telecommuting option for their employees. Many families she knows are stressed to the limit, trying to juggle the demands of career and children.

"I just wish other people could have the chance do what I'm doing," Ms. Markey said. "For me and our company, it works."

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