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Wisdom for Those Opting for Stay-at-Home Work


So you're taking the leap--goodbye to commuting, to time clocks and supervisors, to gossip around the water cooler, to dressing for success. From now on, you're going to work at home.

Hello to freedom, lounging by the pool, hitting the gym at down times, taking time off whenever you please.

Before making your move, you might want to peruse "The Work-at-Home Balancing Act" by Sandy Anderson of Oceanside (Avon, $12, 240 pages), a guide to the pleasures--and pitfalls.

Right off, Anderson tells readers that she and husband Bob have had few regrets in the nine years since they left well-paid jobs to go into home-based real estate sales.

But the author, who has both an MBA and a doctorate in psychology, cautions that making the corporate break can be "overwhelming and frightening" to the unprepared. She cites such challenges as coping with isolation, maintaining motivation and dealing with the impact on family life.

Anderson reports that 40 million American workers are now home-based, including 10 million telecommuters linked electronically to mother offices. Some of the 100 men and women she interviewed simply opted out of the rat race; others were victims of corporate downsizing.

Is working at home right for you?

Anderson warns that "distractions are everywhere when you work at home"--household chores, TV, that novel you've been dying to read.

Furthermore, if telecommuting, you may be positioning yourself outside the corporate loop--easy prey for jealous co-workers who "may try to sabotage your arrangement by scheduling meetings behind your back or not passing along crucial information."

Among the pluses: less time wasted on office power struggles and office gossip; more time for family, friends and personal pursuits; big wardrobe savings (every day is dress-down Friday); fewer costly lunches; reduced car expenses.

The economic equation changes if there are young children at home, though. Anderson found that the overwhelming majority of home workers opt for full-time or part-time paid care. Food for thought: With an unsupervised infant, a home worker can expect to put in only 1 1/2 hours of working time daily. Not until the children are in school is an eight-hour day realistic.

In any case, the home worker with children must establish rules (no interrupting during work hours, no answering the business phone).

However, Anderson observes, children of those who work at home get "a true understanding of what it means to work . . . work isn't some mysterious unknown duty that their parent leaves the house to perform five days a week."

Other snippets of advice from Anderson:

* "Don't stock the refrigerator with junk food." One hazard of at-home work is weight gain.

* "Home office space is a lot like money--the more you have, the more you use." Whatever the space, it's vital "to mark off the limits of your office" and to consider family traffic patterns and noise when carving out your space.

* Nuisance and social callers can steal precious hours. (One man's strategy was to record a ringing telephone and play the tape when wishing to dismiss a caller).

Some good work-at-home careers for the '90s? Personal investment planner, computer consultant, desktop publisher, freelance writer, interior designer, party coordinator, auditor-bookkeeper, tax preparer.

"Dismiss your internal judge," says Anderson. "Pretend you can do anything," or learn anything.

As Anderson says, home-based work is "not all peaches and cream." But, she adds, it's likely that most of us will be doing it one day, "so what are you waiting for?"

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