Past-Prez Says

Is the Grass Greener on the Other Side of the Work-From-Home Fence?

Rozalyn Werner-Arcé, CAE

As the Executive Director of a small, virtual association, I often hear comments like, “You’re so lucky! I’d love to do that!” I used to say similar things myself. It is true that there are many great things about working from home – the best part being not having to commute. I look back now and wonder how I ever travelled from Oshawa to Mississauga every day for nearly 10 years! But is the grass greener on the other side of the fence?

There are certainly challenges to working from home. Isolation is a common theme among many of us who work from home offices. It is easy to feel lonely and disconnected, even from other staff, especially during dark, winter days. I mean really, who wants to go out when it is -10°C and the wind is howling.

As someone who has worked from a home office for three years, I cannot emphasize enough how vital it is to stay connected to your staff and networks. If you are feeling isolated, imagine how your employees are feeling? Texting and phone calls are great for quick messaging and problem solving. Emails help get things in writing, but where is the warmth of human connection? Even skype doesn’t allow you to really look into someone’s eyes or watch their body language to pick up on nuances. It is so important to have regular meetings with staff, whether face-to-face or virtually. Every six to eight weeks, my team gathers at a library or community centre where we have a full day meeting. The face-to-face connection has helped our relationships grow stronger, allowed us to better understand each other’s strengths, and ensured we are all on the same track. Frankly, these meetings also remind me that the responder to my emails is actually a person who has a life outside of the office.

It is important to stay connected to your external networks too. That is where my membership in CSAE pays off. As much as possible, I make a point of attending events, PDX workshops, and of course, the Winter and Summer Summits. It has been a great way to meet new people, some of whom have turned into dear friends, and to extend my professional network. If I ever have a situation where I need a sounding board, advice or referral, there are always people at the other end of an email or phone who will gladly lend a hand.

If you’re considering working from home, make sure you have good tech support. Honestly, I haven’t quite figured this one out yet. The internet doesn’t always work, and occasionally my printer mysteriously loses my IP address and won’t print. This can be quite frustrating, but if I’m honest, this kind of stuff was also a problem when I worked in the office of a small association. The upside is that now I can curse as much as I want and don’t have to apologize to anyone afterwards.

So what else does it take to be successful in working at home? Dedicate space in your home for an office. Have a proper desk, comfortable office chair and preferably a door that can be closed at the end of the day. Being highly motivated, self-directed and having the ability to focus are also key. Otherwise, you may find your closets calling out begging to be cleaned…if you listen. It’s great to be able to slip out to the grocery store mid-day, just make sure you are able to return to the office and get back at it.

Have a plan and be clear about your expectations. Ensure staff know what is to be done and hold them accountable. You don’t want to be wondering what they are doing all day long, and you certainly don’t want your board of directors wondering either.

So, would I go back to working in an office? If the right opportunity came along, I’d certainly consider it. But for right now, I am appreciating the green grass on this side of the work-from-home fence.

Rozalyn Werner-Arcé, CAE, is the Executive Director of Therapeutic Recreation Ontario. Rozalyn is a past president of the CSAE Trillium.