Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The AbsentMinded Executive and Working From Home

a.k.a. why I list my occupation as "Professional Mother and Personal Assistant".

Remember "The AbsentMinded Professor"? The old Disney movie which introduced the world to "flubber"?

There are days I feel like Betsy.

Chris and Professor Brainard are quite a bit alike. Both brilliant, both with seemingly unlimited attention spans. Both incredibly talented at forgetting the mundane little details that make life work.

Sometime a while back I just gave up and took over the little details, like the grocery shopping, trip planning, doctors appointments, parent-teacher conferences, etc.

Oh, and of course the banking.

If I had a dollar for every time I stopped in LocalBranchofChris'sEmployer to do a deposit and heard, "oh I see you have an employee account, what do you do?" I'd have a nice new pretty shotgun by now.

Me: "Oh, I don't work for MajorBank, my husband does."
Teller: "Oh, what does he do?"
Me: "He's a systems architect and he works from home."
Teller: "Oh that would be awesome! You mean he doesn't even have to go in to work?"
Me: "Yes, but..."

So yesterday Chris went to pick up his inter-office mail from LocalBranch and did a little banking while he was there. He left some paperwork on the counter (see, absent minded) which a teller gave to the Assistant Manager. Assistant Manager used the name to look up Chris's employee profile in order to get a phone number and gave Chris a call. I was already out putting diesel in the truck so I got drafted to pick up the paperwork.

So I go to Local Branch and request the Assistant Manager, who instead of just handing over the paperwork decides to strike up a conversation. He's about my age, late 20's, with a proper clean starched white shirt, tie, the whole thing. He'd also obviously taken a good look at the employee profile.

AM: "So your husband works from home? That's great."
Me: "Yeah, it can be."
AM: "So what does he do, wake up and eat his cereal while working in his underwear."
Me: "Something like that..."
AM: (Practically drooling over the thought "That would be so much better..."
Me: (Can't bear to think of yet another person roped in by work-from-home) "Except for the 12 hour days of course."
AM: "Really?"
Me: "Yes, because his team is spread between two coasts. The day starts when the guys on the east coast log in at 8 (note: six our time right now, 5 our time during the summer) and ends when the west-coasters log out at 6 (7 our time right now, 6 during the summer)."
AM: "....."

Note from Chris: Some of the oddity in hours is because Arizona doesnt use daylight savings time; so we're the same as pacific during summer, and mountain during winter. Usually my day starts at more like 7, and ends around 6... I usually don't have to start emailing or get on the phone in the first hour or two of the east coasters workday... Though every so often, the east coasters forget it's a three hour time difference during the summer, and I start getting calls and emails around 5...

Also, I'm not officially on-call, but I'm also the senior high level technical resource for my division, so sometimes I end up on late night calls trying to deal with emergencies etc...

This young, bright employee had fallen for the basic fallacy of the "ideal" work situation, the designated homeworker.

It's understandable of course. When most people think of working from home, they take the concept of the 8 hour job and move it to their house. Same hours, no commute.


Unfortunately that couldn't be further from the truth. Working from home is SO different from regular shift work as to be a different creature entirely.

I don't care if you just work your 8 hours from home and actually keep it 9-5, it's still incredibly different.

Let's take yesterday for example.

6:00 am Ding. Ding. Ding. Emails are already hitting the Blackberry. Better than any alarm.
8:00 am First omg the world is going to end fire needs to be put out.
9:00 am - 4:00pm Mandatory meetings interspersed with calls from team members and random people from other departments. More fires.
4:00 pm Call from concerned party, "have you seen this piece of bullshit Other Department is pulling? No? Okay, time to have another meeting..."
4:30 pm Finally pick up mail from LocalBranch only to forget it. End of "formal" workday.
6:00 pm Dinner with MajorVendor to go over new products.
8:30 pm Finally make it home, check bloody work email.

When you're a salaried homeworker, there's no such thing as "don't bring your work home" because it's already bloody there. There's no firm boundaries, no end of work day, no guarantee that damn work line won't ring at 9:00pm with another damn emergency.

Not that there aren't benefits. No commute. No rush hour. No suits (unless going to a meeting).

I went with my best friend to the Renaissance Festival for half-price day Monday and didn't have to find a babysitter. That's a huge bonus.

But there are drawbacks as well. Always being available. Interrupted dinners.

Oh, and of course the sharing of the workload with the wife.

Chris doesn't have an easily encapsulated one person job. No high level executive does. Every executive job I know of is at least a two person job.

What do I mean by that?

Chris works 12 hour days sometimes, and when he doesn't his hours are so erratic as to be completely unpredictable.

There's no asking him to drop by the grocery store or the bank, no asking him to pick up the kids, or make dinner, or do the laundry. That's all on me.

So what? That's just a normal stay-at-home mom's workload.

True enough. Running the household is my job to the exclusion of all others.

However, living with an executive, particularly a work-from-home executive, just adds to the workload.

Between the:
*Making and remaking of the coffee
*Making lunch
*Occasionally answering the phone
*Always answering the "honey, am I free on..."
*Keeping the house suitably quiet and work friendly
*Keeping track of dinners, offsite meetings, appointments...
*Oh, and not getting pissed when plans change for whatever reason, and being flexible enough to deal...
*And, of course, dealing with the fact that at any given moment his work will interfere with our life

Then there's the stuff that because of his work Chris can't be expected to do, like auto maintenance, keeping fuel in the vehicles, handling doctors and teachers, doing minor repairs, PACKING UP AN ENTIRE 3 BEDROOM HOUSE IN ORDER TO MOVE...

Chris's job means my full time job is EVERYTHING ELSE THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.

This is true for every high level executive, or anyone who works erratic 60 hour weeks. They do not have the time or the flexibility to run their entire lives for themselves. Even if their method of dealing with the excess is to use delivery services, laundry services, or concierge services, their lives become a two-person job.

As far as I'm concerned I do everything a personal assistant does, except that instead of getting paid I split my husband's paycheck. As he constantly tells people, I make it possible for him to do this job.

I tried to explain this to starry-eyed Assistant Manager. I think I may have gotten through to him, thank god.

Living with a work-from-home executive isn't exactly glamorous or easy. However I wouldn't trade our job for anything, or the lifestyle for anything.

It's not the dream job most people think it is, but it works for us.