Monday, June 11, 2012

Perks of working from home

There are parts of all jobs that suck.  I think finding a job where the parts that do suck are manageable is really important to finding career happiness.  For me, part of that is recognizing the parts that don't suck.  I don't love working from home- spending so much time with my cat makes me feel like a crazy cat lady.  But taking editing contracts for foreign scientists and writing curricula from home are the jobs I keep getting. I used to have really fun coworkers and went to work in a very interesting neighborhood and I'd like to have all that again (but get paid more to work less).  Until that job comes to my door, there are some really great things about working from home.

1) I set my own hours.  Even working on an hourly contract, I just put the hours in where they fit for me.  Today is too beautiful and I gotta take a long walk?  Fine.  My sweetie is gone for the evening, I'll put some hours in.
2) No commute.  I quickly realized that my 20 hr a week bank job takes at least 25 hours of my week, including a 30 min drive on both ends.  No commute give me that time back for whatever I feel like.
3) No dress code.  Yeah, I am one of those freelancers that works in my PJs.  At least until I feel like a mid-morning shower.  For the bank job, it takes me almost an hour to go through the ritual of showering, and putting on make-up, and getting dressed, and packing a lunch.... Add another 5 hours a week to that 20 hour a week job.
4) No workplace drama.  Yes, I miss my coworkers, in no small part because it's good to have a cohort you can share those stressful experiences with.  Can you believe the department chair did that?  Who took the last of the free seminar food? As another off-site worker told me, "There is no one at the office that I don't like."
5) I set the play list.  My old lab had the best taste in music, don't get me wrong.  But sometimes when we would turn the music up too loud the department chair would just turn off our radio.  As I was blasting some sweet tunes this morning, I was relishing that no one was going to turn them off for me.
6) Contracts are low commitment.  All that phobia about what might suck about a job (terrible coworkers, awful work, tedious tasks) seems more manageable when it's only for a few days or a few weeks.  It also means I've done a lot of different things in the last year.
7) All I need to work is an internet connection.  I could work from Starbucks, or the library.  I'm currently planning to go to my parent's house for a week and work there.  My client doesn't care- they just want to see the work done.  (I have mixed feelings about combining working and vacations- it makes work more fun, but it is much less like a vacation when you are looking for 40 hours to get some work done).
8)  I'm at my house.  I don't live in a super trendy neighborhood with fun shops and restaurants, but my office is the same place I cook, it's where my garden is, it's where my mail gets delivered and I sign for packages.  We need to schedule a repair guy, no big.  I want to get some laundry started, cool, I'll take a break.  Especially for a dual career family, it's nice to have someone who is/can be at home.
9) Time worked = Dollars earned.  Science is frustrating because hard work is not always tied to success.  For a pretty simple definition of success (financial reward), I just put in the time and out comes the money.  It's easier to feel detached about doing the work when you get the pay-off that way.
10) I like to talk to editors by email.  I'm not sure if it's because editors make their money from writing, or they understand that our relationship is based predominantly on written communication, but they clearly go out of their way to be polite and professional.  When you see your coworkers/collaborators all the time, it's ok to send brief, unfriendly emails "Here's the figure you wanted."  It's hard to interpret that as passive-aggressive if you just shared a laugh over coffee.  My editors don't have that luxury, and they seem to put a lot of context into their email. ("Great questions," "I appreciate you asking about that...," "Thanks for pointing out those problems.")  I always found it hard to take criticism in person, even though that is a big part of professional work.  "The figure is unintelligible.  Please make it better by doing the following...."  It's a lot easier to write the email that says, "Great, I will incorporate those suggestions," than to try and say it while not pulling a face.
11) My editors understand the challenge of being a contractor.  They treat me like I am doing them a real favor to be on their team, and try to make all the other stuff (getting paid, understanding the task, understanding deadlines and expectations) as clear as possible so that the only hard part of the job is the job itself.  Of course, this just shows I am working with some really great editors right now.
12) I enjoy this work.  At the moment, I don't have any single employer to fill my time, I am compiling most of my work from a variety of sources.  Basically, I get to find projects I like and work on them.  I can't say every one has been as much fun as a pony ride, but I also can't think of any that have been as miserable as a day in the cold room that ended in colossal failure. 
13) Comparatively, I can make a lot of money (compared to doing the same work in grad school).  I make money now for editing scientific manuscripts and designing courses.  These are activities that I actually would have scheduled to do outside of my normal working hours as a grad student.  In fact, the course I designed and taught as a grad students occurred almost exclusively outside the normal work day.  I'm currently editing a 6 page paper for 354RMB (or about $50), and working on a contract with a pay rate of $45/hour.  All this for work I would have done outside of my real work.  Nice!
14) This job doesn't have things I disliked about other jobs.  Examples include brutal protocols that needed to be repeated ad nauseum, and then rehashed in yet another painful lab meeting.  Or irate customers.  Or fickle equipment that is prone to failure.  Actually, I would say that I like how much more of this job is in my control compared to being a grad student or working at the bank.

Yes, I am giving myself a pep-talk about how much fun I'm having at this job, but in the interest of fairness (and for the benefit of others who might be wondering about the lifestyle), there are some fundamental ways that being a contract laborer is different (and arguably less ideal).  The downside:
1) It's all me.  I find my own contracts, I set my own hours, if the work doesn't get done, it's my bad. No pressure.  And when the contracts as short, it's hard not to feel like each on is an interview to see if they consider giving you another. 
2) I'm a LOT more involved in my own taxes.  I have a small business license to cover this work, which means that I pay business taxes.  I also have no withholdings in my paychecks- so what seems like a lot of money now is going to feel like a lot less come April.  I am also buying my own health insurance and retirement plan.
3) Invoicing feels much more tedious than just filling out an hours sheet, or better yet, being salaried.  The form takes a little more time to fill out, but it takes some of my clients 45 days to cut me a check.  That's a big lag between doing work and getting paid.  This is annoying for me, but manageable because I don't provide the primary income at our house.  If I did, I'm not sure I could swing this career step.
This list of perks is still much longer, and looking over them, we can say that I like to be in control of my day to day.  Interesting insight.

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