A dummy’s guide to home office survival

Guest blogger: Julie Kendrick 

Last week, I was relieved to finally make good progress on a major assignment. For one idyllic moment, the only sound in the house was the click of my fingers on the keyboard. Of course, it wasn’t long before the phone rang — and All Hell decided it would be a good time to Break Loose. The dogs, the kids, UPS delivery person, the knocking-door neighbor, the whistling teakettle — everyone seems to know when someone important is calling Julie, who could use A Little Quiet Around Here, for Crying Out Loud. I apologized to my caller, explaining that I work from home and sometimes things get out of hand, which is a huge understatement. I started working from home when my oldest child was an infant, and sometimes, I’ve succeeded beautifully. Other times, not so much. Here are my four simple rules for maintaining order in the home office, all of which I’ve arrived at the hard way.

#1 What happens in Vegas (I mean, um home), stays in Vegas. Back when I was an office dweller, I remember two sales guys complaining about a colleague who worked from home. They referred to her contemptuously as “Banana Bread.” Once, during a conference call, she had asked the men to pause for a moment while she took her banana bread out of the oven. It seemed perfectly normal to me, but it bothered my coworkers – a lot. I realized that these two, who were not exactly kings of multi-tasking, were uncomfortable with the idea of switching work and domesticity so easily. Was she working on the Chrysler account — the most important sales opportunity in the history of time — or was she baking bread? The idea that she could do both things at once didn’t compute for them. So, I learned to keep a business-only tone in all communications. I might be folding laundry during a conference call, but I try to convey the impression that I’m standing at attention, pencil at the ready. Nowadays, not even a wayward bird flapping in the kitchen can shake me during a call (true story).

#2 While juggling responsibilities, use the word “meeting.” If I have to leave at 2:15 p.m. every day to pick up my kids from school, I’ll tell an interviewee, “Gosh, I’m sorry, could we do it a half hour sooner; I have a meeting at 2.” If I promised to wrangle first-graders for my children’s school assembly, I’ll let someone know that “I’m packed earlier in the day, but my afternoon is wide open.” Everything, even real life, is a meeting. Nobody wants to hear about the chiropractor appointment or the Pilates class. It’s either Work or Not Work, and there’s no need to get into any more detail.

#3 Define your emergencies. A freelancer friend who got frustrated with the constant kiddie interruptions did what any savvy manager might do: she held a training session with her tots, discussing What Is An Emergency (smoke, blood, police cars) and How to Interrupt Mommy (walk in quietly and lay a small hand on her forearm). The very next day, she was on the phone with a customer when she felt the hand on the forearm. Her four-year-old whispered, “If smoke is coming out of the kitchen, is that a ‘mergency?” She’d put some eggs on to boil, then gotten the call and walked away from the stove. She now had a kitchen full of sulfurous, roasted eggs, but her son had acted admirably, so she figured it was a win-win.

#4 Use the mute button with care. I’ve gotten very adept at switching from “That’s an interesting point, Phil, can you say a little more about why you started the company?” to [MUTE BUTTON ENGAGED] “You will never see the inside of a mall again if you don’t turn down that TV while I’m on the phone!” to [MUTE BUTTON DEACTIVATED] “And did you say that happened in 1996?”

I’ve mishit the mute button only once, while telling my sobbing one-year-old “I love you, honey.” My client didn’t love that, but what can you do?

Lately, with my kids a little older, I find that I use the mute button more for the dogs’ barking than for their shrieks and wails, but I still keep quiet about what’s going on at home. And sure, I’d love to get together to discuss that project with you. My afternoon is packed, but I’m wide open in the morning.

Julie Kendrick PhotoJulie Kendrick is a Minneapolis-based copywriter who develops interactive content for General Mills, Jennie-O and other brands. She writes for local publications including The Line, Minnesota Parent, Edible Twin Cities and MIX. Read more of her blog at kendrickworks.blogspot.com

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  • Holly

    I loved this post. Great points! I’m glad I have gotten the “banana bread” one right along with saying I have an “appointment.” I don’t know how you juggle writing with having children at home too. Maybe that’s a topic for another post!


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