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Having Your Cake (And Eating It Too)

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As attitudes and expectations change in workplaces, many professionals are opting to work from home. But blurred boundaries between work and familial responsibilities can cause strife

Follow these easy steps on how to work from home effectively:

Is everyday in your life ‘Take your children to work day’? Are there bits of Lego and jigsaw puzzles under your desk? Are the kettle and coffee percolator the most used appliances in your house?
If you answered yes, yes and yes again, then you’re obviously a ‘work-from-home’ parent, which sounds wonderful at first. After all, who can deny the brilliant prospect of having your family headaches and job headaches in one convenient location, a sort of one-stop, no-waiting, aggravation center?
Of course, while many of you would jump with joy if you were offered just such as assignment, not everyone would be happy working at home.  A professional water-skier could find it frustrating, as would an astronaut or soldier. There are others who can’t imagine a workplace without the buzz of being surrounded by colleagues with only the doorbell and vegetable vendor for company.
While there are several benefits of working from home, it may not always be so easy to achieve the perfect balance.
But workplaces are changing, as are attitudes and expectations from employees. Toiling from dawn to dusk glued to your chair, leaving only when your workaholic boss decides to call it a day is no longer the norm. Today, several professionals across industries work from home; data entry jobs, document coding, freelance writers, translators, telemarketers and virtual assistants for example. As one HR head of a consultancy group says, “Increasingly, companies are willing to allow employees to come in part time or work from home as long as pre-set targets are met.” But this is easier said than done.
Take the example of Sunny Kohli, a research analyst who has opted to work from home to help out his wife whose job takes her overseas for weeks at a time. “It was a Friday afternoon and I needed to send off some reports that evening,” he recalls. His two under-ten sons kept calling him. “Dad, will you come and play with us?". Kohli thought this was the ideal opportunity for teaching him the importance of responsibility, and said, “Not now, someone’s waiting for this report.” A little while later, his son tried again, and Kohli yelled back, all pacifism forgotten, “No, I told you, I’m working.”
A few minutes later, he heard both kids fighting, pillows being hurled at each other. “It sounded like it was getting out of hand, so I went to break it up.” And found himself joining the impromptu wrestling match that followed. Their plan had worked. Kohli burnt the midnight oil and sent the report in the next morning, but shrugs, “The pillow fight was a whole lot more fun than the project I was working on.”
But what plagues most ‘work from home’ parents is being unable to set proper boundaries for their families and letting others understand the importance of respecting the fact that the parent needs a certain amount of time and space while he or she works. So how does a ‘work from home’ go about getting work done when everyone from the postman and the guard downstairs to a bored friend and irate mother-in-law wants to have a word?
Experts say the first thing you should do is explain to friends and family what exactly you’re doing and that it’s important to you. “When I first started freelancing, most of my friends thought writing was just a hobby, and I would eventually find a ‘real 9-5 job’,” says Shehnaz Malloo. It hurt her that everyone except her husband was blind to the fact ‘this’ was the job she intended to do till the words ran dry.
The final straw, she said came when a group of friends phoned to invite her for a girlie day out because she “wasn’t doing anything, anyway”. Malloo says her husband then had a sit down with the worst offenders from among their family and friends and explained that she was working from home because it worked better for her but that didn’t take away from the fact that it was a job like any other. With deliverables, accountability and deadlines, even if there wasn’t a boss breathing down her neck. Things are better now, she says, but people still have a hard time understanding that ‘work from home’ doesn’t mean leisurely mornings with the newspapers and endless cups of coffee.
Carlos Almeida a photographer believes it’s important to set aside a place for work to minimize distractions. While it may seem obvious to most people, it’s important have a separate space for your home office, ideally a separate room with a door you can firmly close, says Almeida who once suffered a mini heart attack when one of his kids flung open the door to the ‘dark room’ as he prepared prints.
Set your boundaries. If you stick to your schedule, your children will adjust more easily to it, too. Let your family know your working hours. Close your office door or draw the curtain to your work area and if you’ve got an open office with lots of foot traffic, consider moving your work station to a quieter area. “If nothing else is tenable, work during your children’s nap or quiet time,” says Mridul Shah who stays in a joint family and shifted her art studio home when her mother-in-law fell ill.   
Latika Joshi, a marketing consultant who works from home says it’s very important to convince clients that you’re a thorough professional, hard to do if you have kids wailing in the background when you’re in the midst of a conference call. She advises ‘work from home’ parents to firmly close the door to distractions and hire reliable help to care for the kids during the work day.    
The tricky part is to stop working when you’re done.  Anu Vaid, senior manager with a healthcare company quit her stressful job to take on what she thought a calmer assignment in research, but found the number of hours she was putting in increased. “I’ve cut down on the time I spent commuting. But the downside of working at home is that it’s very easy to work too late,” she complains. She says her New Year resolution is not to spend all her waking hours glued to her computer. “I’ve decided to preset my day’s priorities, and the minute they’re done, I just shut the computer,” she laughs, cuddling her toddler.
On a lighter note, working from home does has some unique advantages. If you want to wear your favorite Bermuda shorts with little pink hearts who is to know? In fact, you needn’t bother shaving or shampooing your hair or doing your nails. Aaah liberation!
In the traditional office setting, the perks might include use of a company car, an expense account and an assistant.  Home perks, however, can be and usually are much more varied, and include favorite soap opera viewing privileges, haircuts mid afternoon and a siesta thrown in occasionally. Malloo says she often takes bubble baths at the end of the day to unwind and gain a bit of perspective. “There’s only so long that you can run on empty before you need a moment to recharge,” she says languidly. That’s when most of us, poor mortals, are shoving are way though the evening rush hour to get home.   
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