Braless and Bonbons: Combating Work-From-Home Stereotypes

Photo credit: Rosevita, MorgueFile

It happened last winter.

An appliance had gone out, and the warranty repair guy had once again shown up unannounced, without an appointment, and let himself in the back door — after already being informed that was an unacceptable violation of my household’s privacy during the course of a previous, similar incident.

His excuse upon being confronted? “Oh, I figured you’d be home.”

Myths and stereotypes about home-based workers abound, including the apparently widespread belief that we are magically available to all people at all times, and since we don’t have “real jobs,” the usual rules about boundaries and respect for our schedules must no longer apply. In consequence, we face the potential for  both serious privacy and security violations, like the incident above, and well-meant but no less irritating trespasses on our patience from friends, family members, neighbors, and the surrounding community.

While we do realize that much of the outside working world thinks the statement “I work from home” is a code phrase for “I like to sit around in my underwear and eat candy all day,” home-based workers are a diverse lot. Munching chocolates in lingerie on occasion is perfectly plausible for somebody like me, for example, since I do not have to worry about holding face-to-face meetings most days, but the same is not true for my in-laws, whose yard is perpetually filled with customers, truckers, and delivery personnel; for the family friends who manage an RV park and live on site; or for any number of other home-based professionals, designers, teachers, and craftspeople.

Managing successful home-based careers requires us to meet deadlines, complete projects, schmooze with colleagues and clients, attend industry networking events, take classes, research markets, and, yes, stick to functioning schedules designed for our unique situations. I have specific days and dates for certain tasks (completing payroll, depositing taxes), and certain times of day when I tend to plan certain types of work (mornings for checking messages and reading industry news, afternoons for going over accounts, evenings for contracts). Of course, there are also professional activities, volunteer work, routine chores, family obligations to contend with, as in any household with more traditional employment situations.

The assumption that it is somehow acceptable to ignore the boundaries and scheduling parameters set by home-based and remote workers not only disrespects the professional contributions of those workers but also puts their safety at risk. We have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy and security in our own homes. When we say, “I cannot attend this charity event/school activity/party/whatever; I have a deadline,” that means we will not be attending. When we say, “No, I cannot

address all your questions right now,  but why don’t you make an appointment? I have a 10 a.m. time slot free tomorrow,” that is not an invitation to pop over and interrupt dinner prep. And when we say, “Please do not come into my house again without permission, did you not see that my dog almost bit you?” what we really mean is, “What an unbelievably unprofessional and creepy person you are! I will never hire you again.”

Do you have trouble convincing the people around you to respect your personal and professional boundaries? What stereotypes have you encountered?

Kate

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