Working from Home (or Workantile)
The pros and cons of an unorthodox workplace
by Kathleen Schenck
From the December, 2016 issue
Nearly a quarter of the workforce did some or all of their work from home in 2015, up from 19 percent in 2003, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Via interviews and emails, we asked four Ann Arborites to share their experiences working remotely or from home.
Carol Furtado was working from home long before it was a trend. For her, the decision may have been solidified on a beautiful spring day. After graduating from art school at the University of Michigan, Furtado was enjoying a leisurely walk to a not-so-enjoyable desk job on campus involving student records. (When asked if she worked out of the Office of the Registrar, she jokes that she can't remember--that's how unexciting it was.) "I got docked minutes for getting to work late, but it was worth it," she recalls. "And it really pushed me toward what I was aiming at anyway: doing my own work, selling my own things, living within my means."
That was more than forty years ago. After deciding she "couldn't stand the idea of going into a building and working all day," Furtado quit her job to become a full-time fiber artist. She works from a studio behind her modest, window-filled home off W. Liberty, making scarves, hats, and other forms of wearable art.
Furtado enjoys not being under someone's thumb and the flexibility of working at home. She can work hard in the morning, when she feels most alert and can take advantage of the natural light. By two or three o'clock, she says, "I'm wiped out."
Furtado sells her products at craft shows and shops. While she likes working by herself, she worries she may be missing out on shows or exhibits that other artists hear about through word of mouth. Also, she'd like a better idea of commercial pricing of the types of goods she sells. "There is a negative aspect" to working at home, she explains. But she's able to live within her
means doing what she loves. "It's really important to me to be creative."
"Honestly, with two full-time working parents, something had to give," writes Matt Sandstrom, who owns "a small consulting business that works with large automakers."
Sandstrom emails that he "made the decision to work from home because I needed more flexibility to take care of young kids. I still work as much, maybe more, but I can balance the parental roles a bit better now."
Sandstrom, who has a business partner on the west side of the state, meets with automakers on-site one to two days a week. But on days he's at home, his list of "pros" includes: "No commute. Music on all day (except when I take calls). See my kids throughout the day frequently. Can respond to any issues for the house or kids quickly."
And cons? "No team interaction, difficult to hire, delegation can be difficult." When asked how he monitors consulting rates and meets others in his field, Sandstrom writes: "I'm on three boards--Michigan Works! Southeast, Public Policy at the Chamber [of Commerce], and Economic Coordinating Committee for Washtenaw County. Keeps me busy and I meet a lot of professionals this way. When I go to Chamber meetings, I'm not looking for customers, I'm looking for a network of people to help me run my business, stay sane and make meaningful business relationships."
He adds: "And how do we discuss our work? Did I mention coffee shops? They're golden."
"I started working from home after my then girlfriend--now wife--moved to start a degree at University of Michigan," writes creative director Chris Salzman. "I had a meeting with my boss at the time in which I told him I'd either need to find another job or we could work out an arrangement where I could work remotely, with trips back to the main office now and then." Salzman expected the worst. "I was braced for having to hand in my 2 weeks [notice]. He, to my surprise, said yes. That was 7 or 8 years ago."
Relocating to Ann Arbor meant tight quarters for the couple. "We moved out to A2 and I spent about a year working from home in smallish apartments and slowly going stir-crazy," he writes. This led him to seek shelter at the downtown "coworking" space Workantile. Though full membership costs $210 a month, he figures he comes out ahead, because otherwise he'd have to rent a bigger apartment.
With more and more companies hiring freelancers and contract workers, Salzman sees the desire to work together among people who would otherwise work alone as a "movement." "Historically the coworking movement allows you to be your own boss while still having coworkers," he says. He appreciates how coworking allows people to run things by one another. The shared space creates an "instant network" where members can ask questions about health insurance or proposed pay from a recent job quote.
"I wasn't at all confident that I could make it work" emails home health practitioner, writer, and teacher Linda Diane Feldt on her decision to work from home.
"Truthfully, the original reason would be to save money," Feldt writes. "I started out in 1980, and massage and holistic health care were not well known ... I was investing all of my money in training--traveling across country to find the best teachers I could--and had nothing left to rent an office by the month or by the hour."
The seed to work from home may have been planted in childhood. Feldt grew up watching her dad, a professor, bring work home and her mom, who worked in research and program evaluation, use the dining room table as a home office. When Feldt bought her Old West Side home, she had a home office in mind, and she has worked with clients there for over thirty-five years. "I was very motivated to have control over where I worked and lived. I didn't want to be subjected to rent increases, having to move, or what I could and couldn't do at a rental office."
There's one unequivocal pro: "The commute is fabulous!" But Feldt admits that the work-home division gets tricky. "Both a pro and a con--it is a much more personal exposure to my clients. I'm not a great housekeeper so they see that and it also inspired me to do better. I juggle parking so that people park in my driveway and not the street." And in the winter, "I buy more ice melter than I would otherwise."
Feldt also experiences a problem many people face, whether they work from home or not: "I love my work, but I have had trouble not being drawn back into it when I'm having personal time." She elaborates: "I haven't learned very well how to shake the feeling that there is always more to do. Because there always is, and I'm the only one who is responsible. I've learned to live with that and find peace, but it is certainly an ever present issue."
Overall, Feldt is pleased with her choice: she's able to pass on the savings from low overhead to her clients, grab an herb from the garden if a client needs it, and spend time with her dog. When she needs to get some writing done, Feldt seeks the inspiration of the trail while hiking in Arizona or the ambience of a coffee shop like Sweetwaters. "Sometimes I just need that focus or inspiration, or chocolate torte."
[Originally published in December, 2016.]
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