Friday, 27 February 2015

Work from home woes

Picture this-
X: “Where do you work?”
Moi: “I work as an independent consultant”
X: “Oh, from home?”
Moi: “Yes, most of the time”
X: “Oh, IT?”
Moi: “No, in human resources.”
X: “Oh, recruitment?”
Moi: “Errr…. Not always.”
X: Stops the conversation short with a quizzical look, wondering what on earth I do.

I stepped out of full time work in the corporate world twice in my career. And during both stints, I have had this conversation with all sorts of X s. And it has never been any different.

Self-employed, part – time, consultant, freelancer, contract, retainer, work from home - Not many people recognize that each of these modes of employment is fairly different.  It often makes me feel like those in the flexi work space (not just women) are orphaned children of the corporate world. I know that’s a strong statement, only because the fight against stereotypes is just as tough. Here are some issues that I have faced from prospective employers, clients and society at large on account of working from home:

Flexi work is an alibi for women on a career break, owing to a life event
When I wanted to get back to full time work after my first independent consulting stint, interviewing with companies was a nightmare. I have always had to justify why I made the decision to opt for a flexible work arrangement so early in my career without a “valid” reason. “Valid” reasons include – marriage, pregnancy & maternity. None were applicable to me at that point in time.

I was once told at an interview that independent consulting work is tantamount to taking a sabbatical! Essentially, I was being told that it was a nice way of covering up gaps in full time work! Consequently, the work experience that I gathered over this period could not be considered as “active work experience” (whatever that is supposed to mean!) Never mind all the personal brand building, the sales, the marketing and the delivery that I did single handedly.

If you are working from home, your job can’t be all that important
I now work in a full time role, mostly out of home. The societal perception of a woman with a baby, who works from home, is rather parochial. There is so much importance attached to working out of an office, some people just do not get the concept of full time employment + work from home. It was tough in the beginning, when everyone from my house help to relatives took my time for granted. Random social engagements would be planned without my consent. When I politely decline, common retorts include - “No one is going to know” or “A few hours off will do no harm”. The worst that I have heard is “If your job was all that important, you would be working in office, not at home!”

It took a great deal of effort and a whole lot of saying no to make this arrangement work.

Offering flexible work arrangements hampers quality
The perception that commitment and flexi work do not go hand in hand is so deeply ingrained in a fairly large section of the corporate world. We are, as a society, driven by the belief that -lack of monitoring would result in low quality output, lack of a formal work space leads to lack of focus and lack of a full time work agreement begets issues in accountability.

 I’m doing you a favour, I cannot pay you at market value
I have had to turn down several projects that offered me as low as 50% of the market rate as consulting fees. That such a deal is a nonstarter is besides the point, the reason for the low offer is what is appalling - “We are “allowing” you to work from home; you must take that into consideration”!  Why is physical presence in an office a determinant of pay? The attitude towards flexi-working seems to be riding on favour rather than according it as a benefit.

What’s your story? Have you faced such stereotypes? How did you handle it? I’d love to know.

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