Monday, November 14, 2011

Face Time

Last Wednesday my husband called me from work with a dire warning: "It's going to be a bad weekend."

In all honesty, I didn't take it too well.  My husband's aunt and uncle were coming in for the weekend. We had Braden's parent teacher conference Friday evening.  We had dinner plans.  We had a date night.  I've seen these "bad weekends" before, and at times they have entailed conference calls that start on a Saturday morning and last in excess of 6 hours.  Where my husband has to switch phones mid-way through because the battery on the cordless phone is dying.

I just wasn't up for it this weekend.

On Friday, my husband decided to work from home.  In part it was because the rest of his team was out of the office that day, and because he wanted to ensure he would be home for Braden's school conference.  But the primary reason was that he didn't think he could afford to take 1.5 hours out of his day to commute.  He couldn't spare a moment not sitting at his computer.  He was that busy.

So he stayed home.  He worked.  He went from call to call.  He was stressed.

But me?  I was loving this!

My husband working from home meant that during Casey's morning nap, I could go to the grocery store by myself.  ALL BY MYSELF.  I could have even gone to the gym if I wanted.  (I didn't, but that is beside the point).  It meant that I didn't have to drag Casey with me when I picked Braden up from school.  It meant that when Braden had to go to the bathroom, I could plop Casey in Daddy's office for two minutes, rather than wrestle him away from a stream of urine.  It meant that I didn't have to strain my shoulder in an attempt to open a can of pasta sauce.  It meant that when 4 pm came around and I was feeling weary and bored, I could hear my husband's voice in the room next to me, and it just made me feel better.  It meant that my husband was not wasting 1.5 hours of his day in a car, not working, and not spending time with his family.

Why can't he do this ALL the time?  How nice would that be?

I tried the whole work from home thing once.  After Braden was born, and I was negotiating my part time schedule with Dickstein, I asked to work one day a week from home.  At a 60% schedule, this would have meant I would be in the office two days a week, and working from home the third day.  I assured the partners that I would be in the office if it was at all necessary, but all else being equal, I wanted to work that one day from home.

Why?  There were several reasons.  The first was practical.  I was still breastfeeding.  It was a hell of a lot easier to feed Braden directly than drag the hospital grade pump to work, pump three times for thirty minutes each, store the milk in the communal fridge, clean pump parts, and drag it all back home again.

The other reason was that frankly, I wasn't all that comfortable leaving my five month old son with our nanny, who at that point, was a relative stranger.  It wasn't that there was anything wrong with her, but I wanted to be here to monitor things, at least at the beginning.  I wanted to hear her sing my son songs and read him books and know that he was being cared for the way I wanted.

The last reason was efficiency.  I figured that in a given day, I would be awake for 17 hours or so. There was a lot to fit into those 17 hours - working, eating, exercising, spending time with Braden, feeding Braden, catching up on Real Housewives episodes.  If I could avoid spending 1.5 of those hours in the car, doing nothing more than going from point A to B, it would make things a bit easier.

My request for working this day from home did not go over so well.  I was told that while it would be granted, the partners weren't happy about it, and they encouraged me to spend as much time in the office as possible.  That basically meant:  "You have our permission to work one day from home, but you don't have our blessing.  So tread carefully."

I was a bit surprised that I had push back on this request, but I was so grateful to have a reduced schedule in the first place, I tried not to dwell on it.  My first week back to work went as planned - two days in the office, one day at home.  But that day at home I was filled with guilt.  What were people thinking about me?  Were they worried I wasn't working?  Were they judging me?  Were they walking by my office and seeing my door closed and shaking their heads in disgust?

By week 2, I was in the office 3 days a week.

There is still such a stigma surrounding "working from home," and I'm not sure why.  Of course, there is something to be said for being in the office and interacting with coworkers.  But a large portion of the time, all else being equal, it isn't necessary.  With technology these days, my husband's office phone rings through his computer.  He can PDF a document in two minutes from our own copy machine.   His computer screen at home looks exactly like his computer screen at work.  And trust me, he is working.  And then some.

But more than that, it means something for our family.  For my kids to be able to pop in and see their dad in daylight hours.  For him to eat with us on his lunch break.  For me to hear his voice and know that he's here, that I'm not alone, and that he won't be stuck at the office until midnight because he can't seem to break away from the computer for the 45 minutes it would take him to drive home.

And because of that?  My husband made the parent teacher conference.  He made dinner.  And he was back online by 8pm.

Law firms need to get over this face time thing.  It would make for much happier associates.  Much happier moms.  And much happier wives.


  1. It's such an alien concept to law firms. The old chestnut of people having to be seen to be thought of as busy. I worked for a firm where the head of the team would make excuses to ring you at 9am and then throughout the day to make sure you were working and to email asking for a quick response, for no reason other than to check productivity.

    Your post is great because where I work now, I can work form home with no grief and with full support. The mantra is "if there's no reason why not, then yes" and senior staff are told to consider every request in that vein.

    But from a personal view, I now know what it means to my wife to be be able to do all of those things when I work form home. I'm sure it makes me a better lawyer having those five minutes when my toddler wants to sit on my knee and manhandle the keyboard yelling "work".

    Maybe law firms might one day creep into the real world...we can dream!

  2. It's like this because law firms are still run by a bunch of old men who barely know how to send emails, let alone log on to a computer at home.

  3. @ Transplant - it sounds like you've got a great set up. I'm jealous! And there's nothing better than a work break where you get to have your toddler on your lap messing around with your keyboard. :)

  4. Both my J.D. and I work at home. Sometimes it sucks. But mostly it rules.

    However, my mom is fond of asking us both when we plan to get a "real" job. Anytime either of us is in a bad mood at all, she says, "Of COURSE you are! You're TRAPPED in that house all day! It would drive ANYONE to DEPRESSION."

    Yeah, lady, not as quickly as a 1.5 hour commute.

  5. PS: I wanted to add that I have a friend who works for a NY firm. She's allowed to work at home one day a week, but her webcam must be on 100% of the time so that they can SPY on her! She has to sit there in full work attire, full face of makeup, and daren't even get up to use the bathroom, lest they think she's shirking and take away her privileges.

    Talk about Big Brother is watching!


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