Move Your Office to Work From Home – 5 Part Series

I thought I should summarize my 5 part series on working from home. We had visitors stay with us the past few days and this subject came up with this couple. The husband happily works at home and the other may be still working at her past job if she was allowed to work at home. They conceded that they would love to move away to a new location (closer to nature) but since their situation is so good, including being able to spend more time with the family, they really have no reason to leave.  Lucky for that employer that now get to retain their valuable employee until retirement. This was one of the reasons I had included at why, in many situations, allowing employees to work from home benefits all parties involved.

  • Part 1: My Story I was given a fixed term (14 month) opportunity to work from home a few years back when our twins were born. My employer did not want to consider this arrangement long term but this short lived opportunity showed me some of the benefits, and pitfalls, of working away from the office.
  • Part 2: Inefficiencies of the Office The traditional office building can be very inefficient. When I need to get my work done I like shutting out the outside world and getting down to it. There are so many potential distractions in an office that I found it very difficult to be as productive as I could be.  When I worked from home I was able to easily avoid these distractions and as a result my work was completed in a fraction of the time.
  • Part 3: Advantages and Disadvantages from an Employers point of View  From a reduced office size to retaining good employees there are many things to consider before agreeing to a work from home arrangement.
  • Part 4: Advantages and Disadvantages from an Employees point of View  Working from home sounds great, and it can be, but there are things to consider before requesting this from your employer.
  • Part 5: Salary restructure suggestion  Why do we fix the amount of hours employees have to work? Everyone works at different speeds and I think salary should be tied to getting the work done and not hours spent doing it.

Many companies are getting the picture that they need to be a little more innovative in the way they treat employees. My previous employer was very good in many ways but they were also slow in adopting new ideas to make employees feel a vital part of the team. They could have implemented a few programs that would have prevented the loss of some valuable and very talented employees that they spent a lot of time and money to train and develop. I don’t know if I was the most valuable but I certainly would be still working for that company if I could do my job from outside the office.

Benefits of Working From Home – Salary Restructure Suggestion

This is the final instalment of my work from home series.  Other blogs in this series are: my story , inefficiency of the officerisk and rewards from the employer’s point of view, and risks and rewards from an employee’s point of view.

Employers hire employees to get a job done.  If the most important thing is getting the job done why then do for many task oriented jobs do they set a time limit to get that job done? 

When I had a normal career I was paid a salary to do the work outlined in my job description.  It was up to me to get my work done in a timely matter and I was evaluated based on my performance of getting my work done.  I was a good worker and I was efficient.  I could do quality work in less time it took the majority of my coworkers.  There were some workers that would need more than the 40 hours given to complete the tasks stated in their job description and they would often stay late or work on weekends. There were some that needed all 40 hours given and then there were others, like myself most of the time, who could get their job done just as well, if not better, in less than the 40 hours given.  Due to the way the office was run, I had to be in the office for at least 40 hours a week regardless of how much time I needed to complete my tasks.  I remember many a Friday afternoon just staring at the clock thinking that this system really needs to be improved.

When a company decides to hire an employee they have certain tasks in mind that need to be done.  The employer will then put a value on those tasks and then hire someone to do the job.  After that, for some reason, employers will set a finite amount of time to complete that task.  My point would be as long as the required task is getting done, and getting done well, what does it matter how many hours a week someone takes to complete those tasks?  If it took me 25 hours a week to do the exact same job as someone who needs 40 hours why should I have to spend the same amount of time in the office?  The job gets done, the employee gets paid.  All should be fine.    

I realize that this is a simplistic way at looking at something that has evolved over many years but I still think it should be considered.  This is not a radical idea and many companies already work this way (this is how outsourcing usually works) but for the majority this requires a cultural change of how to run an office.  This notion of being paid for completed work instead of hours worked really became clear when I worked from home.  I got permission to work from home because I needed to spend a lot of my days with my family.  This meant I had to get my work done quickly and I could not slack off.  Like always I worked efficiently to get my work done but in this case I did not have to pretend to work the rest of the allocated 40 hours in the week. I am not saying I always got my work done fast as there were a lot of variables.  Some weeks I had to work 60 hours to get things done and some weeks I could do it in 15.  To me it did not matter.  The company paid me, not for working a set number of hours, but to get all my work done.

There it is; the way I feel office employees should work.  There should be a lot of time spent on defining the job position, and time spent on evaluation and then it should be up to the employee to get that job done no matter when they work or how long it takes them.  This is the way it works when you work from home in most cases.  You set the hours, you get the work done, or else you will be judged accordingly.  This system has built in incentives to do the best job possible and incentives to be the most efficient you can be.  Free time is such a valuable asset that you will work very hard for the chance to get more of it.  It worked well for me when I worked from home.  During this time I was the most productive in my career plus I worked the least amount of hours in my life.  On both sides of the equation, as long as it is done right, it just makes a lot of sense.

Benefits of Working From Home – Part Four – Employee Risks and Rewards

This is part 4 of a 5-part series on working from home.  Part one  presented my story when I did my office job from our basement, part 2 discusses the inefficiency of the office, and part 3 looked at the risk and rewards from the employers point of view.

The past blog in this series looked at the risks and rewards of letting employees work from home from the eyes of an employer.  This time I will look at this from the employee’s perspective.  I liked working from home and there were a lot more positives than negatives from my point of view.  For many people they much prefer getting out of the house and working in an office.  Here are some risks and rewards to consider before you make the move.

Risks

  • Becoming an Outsider:  When you are working from home, and doing a good job, you may be forgotten by others working in the office.  It may become harder to gain recognition and to move up the corporate latter.  Out of sight and out of mind
  • Social Benefits:  While you can save a lot of time in the day by not chatting with fellow employees you will lose some of the benefits of socializing.  This could be losing touch with the goings on in the company or simply not making as many friends.  I met my wife when we started working together.
  • Office Fun:  Can be boring working by yourself
  • Isolation:  Hard to feel part of the team and teamwork is an important part of getting work done.  You may lose some of the needed support to improve at your job.
  • Potential distractions:  You need to have your own personal work space without distractions.  When I worked from home I had to lock myself away from my wife and three kids.  Sometimes it meant cranking up the music so I could not hear the chaos that was going on upstairs. 
  • Need to be able to keep to your schedule:  Without someone watching over you it is easy to always put off working.  I had a made up my schedule based on what works best for me and I kept to it.
  • Family may become dependent on you always being at home:  You have to make sure work is also high on your priority list and gets done when it should.

Rewards

  • Save Money:  Do the math.  Every time you can walk downstairs to work instead of driving saves you time and money.  If you live in a large city the money saved on fuel costs plus wear and tear on your vehicle can be significant. 
  • You set your hours:  This will depend on your employer but in the ideal situation they will allow you to work whenever you can as long as you get your work done and are available during certain hours to solve emergencies.  This can allow you to get a lot more done during the week.  I created free time from work to take my daughter swimming, or to the zoo midweek. These places can be cheaper and less busy compared to weekends.
  • Time saved in a day:  I wrote a whole blog on just how much time you can free up in a week when you work from home (click here).
  • Mobility:  I never took my work on the road but I could have.  If you are careful or have understanding bosses you may be able to take your home office on location.  As long as you can stay focused there is no reason why you cannot do an office job from anywhere in the world.  I would have loved to try and take my work to Central America or Asia, but that just was not going happen in my work and family situation.
  • Lack of distractions:  6am on a Saturday morning may not be everyone’s favourite time to work but there are simply no regular distractions that occur in the office and work can get done much, much faster.  By setting your hours to non traditional times you can get your work done in a fraction of the time it takes in a busy office.

Every employee is different and everyone will have their own motives for working from home.  If you are comfortable in your current position and feel like you have gained trust from your employer than I would fully recommend taking the first step in seeing if your employer will allow you to work at home.

In the final installment in this series I will discuss getting away from salary based on hours worked and have employees pay strictly on work getting accomplished.

Acting on Life Long Business Dreams

Lisa in High School. photo by Sean O'Connell

Lisa was a photographer when we first met and she continues to be one today.  I met my future wife over 20 years ago when she was hired at the same photography store and from our first meeting her passion for photography was evident.  She was heading towards photography school and she was never far from her camera.  Lisa has never stopped taking photos and every step of our life together can be chronicled by her photographic artwork.  Even though photography has been a big part of her life she has not accomplished all the things that teenager heading to photography school hoped to accomplish.  It is time for Lisa to get serious about making money from her photographic talents.

Lisa wants to make a living as a photographer.  She wanted to 20 years ago and she wants to now.  Lisa has accomplished so many other things that there is no regret with this dream being shelved for as long as it has but as time goes on there has been some concern that it may never happen.  Lisa has worked as a graphic artist and product photographer for pre-press and printing companies so she has been in a similar industry but the perfect time to go out on her own never seemed to come.  I am at least partially to blame as my career has always come first.  I had to finish schooling so Lisa worked.  I had to move to a larger city to start my career so Lisa followed.  We wanted a family and Lisa wanted to try being a full time mom.  Once our family was complete we looked in the mirror and realized that we were not living the life we wanted so we blew it up and started over.  Now well over a year through the process of rebuilding our desired family lifestyle it finally has hit us that we have to include Lisa’s photography dream.

Lisa's first photo ever, of her Grandpa.

When we started our lifestyle overhaul our goal was to build a business where both Lisa and I could be equal partners and work together towards our common goal.  We wanted to share all business and family responsibilities to avoid the disconnect we had when we lived separate working lives.  At first we dismissed a photography business as that was Lisa’s thing and not something we could be equal partners in.  Lisa was the photographer and she would dominate the production of the business.  During one of my long nature walks I actually let myself walk through what a photography business would entail.  Lisa is an artistic person and she is at her best when she is creating art.  She loves taking photographs but that is only one part of being a professional photographer.  There is a lot of business management, customer service, and marketing involved.  Like many artistic people this is the stuff that has discouraged Lisa from going off on her own as a professional.  However, as a partner, these are the kind of things that I like doing.  I returned home from my walk, and I brought up this all too simple idea of working together on her business dream.  After some nervous pondering we have decided to go full steam ahead with Pedersen Arts!!

I never thought I had much of an ego but somehow it was large enough to blind me from coming up with this business structure for photography before.  I have been trying to help Lisa become a professional photographer for many years now as I know it is what she wants to do but I never thought about becoming an equal partner in her dream.  Photography is her dream and running a business is mine so why not combine these dreams to one venture.  This move really fits with what we are trying to accomplish with our lifestyle overhaul.

Today we are officially announcing Pedersen Arts.  Come check out our website at PedersenArts.com and let us know what you think.  As we launch this new chapter in our lifestyle overhaul we will continue to use FamilyNavigation.com to discuss challenges and rewards of making these monumental decisions.  We want to put everything we have into this business but it also has to fit into our family lifestyle.  This will be an ongoing challenge but it also has the potential to be very rewarding and a lot of fun.

Benefits of Working From Home – Part Three – Employer Risks and Rewards

This is part 3 of a 5-part series on working from home.  Part one  presented my story when I did my office job from our basement and part 2 discusses the inefficiency of the office.

In my opinion companies should consider having their employees work from home.  This is not to say that all employees should work from home or should work from home all the time.  Many, probably most, jobs are not practical to do from a home office but for desk jobs where employees spend most of their time behind a computer there can be some real benefits obtained from allowing them to work at least some of the time out of the office.  There are many rewards and risks of these arangements and these should be evaluated before the decision can be made.  I have listed some of the benefits and potential pitfalls of letting your employees work from home from an employers point of view.

Risks

  • Supervision:  Can the employee work without supervision?  Are they skilled enough to get the work done and know where to to go for help? There has to be a high level of confidence on both sides before you can proceed.
  • Fractured support network:  If something goes wrong it may take longer for the problem to be fixed.  This may require changes to the support system to assure that issues do not go unresolved or are not fixed in a timely matter.  A key example is IT support.  If something goes wrong with the network, the computer, or anything else it may require the employee to go into the office instead of tech support being onsite.  In my case this never became an issue as I had very little go wrong and I lived close to the office.
  • Increased costs:  This will depend on the job and what equipment is needed.  In my case I never vacated my original office and I just set up a second office in my home.  My laptop was the only thing I carried between the two offices.  I only worked in the office two afternoons a week but the company still thought it best that they keep my office intact and give me new equipment (which I returned when I moved back full time) for my home office.  In my case the increased cost was minimal and was not much of a concern.
  • Trust that work gets done:  You have to be able to trust the employee to get the required work done as if they were still in the office.  You will not want to let your employee work from home if there is not a way of monitoring work getting done.  My work was transparent enough that my performance would not be able to slip without it being easily noticed by my supervisors.
  • Potential Animosity:   You may have to be selective as to which employees you can let work from home and which ones cannot.  The positions that need to stay may be jealous and divisions may occur and morale may drop.

Rewards

  • Low cost reward:  Many employees will value working from home.  I know that if my employer allowed me to work from home indefinitely I would probably still be their employee.  Lifestyle decisions are important to people and if people are happy with their work environment they are not likely to look for other work.  Retaining good employees is a major benefit of letting people work from home.
  • Increases morale:  I was proud to be trusted with working from home.  It created a stronger sense of ownership and perhaps more reason to have pride in my work. 
  • Increase in productivity:  I wrote about this phenomenon in the blog Inefficiency of working in the office instead of working from home. 
  • Free up some office space:  Maybe you have two employees who work half time in the office and half time at home and now can share one desk in the office.  Office space is expensive and having home based employees may be a better option then having to expand the office.  

There are so many different industries that would require their own criteria as to the risks and rewards of letting employees work from home.  In my case I felt that the rewards greatly outweighed the risks from the employer’s point of view.  The 14 months I worked from home was successful for both sides.  While it was agreed that it worked well, the company was reluctant to set further precedence for a permanent work at home compant.  It was a very large company and it would have been a large process to implement a company wide policy.  I argued that it would be a great step to retain good employees (something that they were not doing a vey good job of) but they did not want to deal with the hundreds of interested employees.  Now only if I was running the company…

Benefits of Working From Home: Part Two – Inefficiency of the Office

This is part 2 of a 5-part series on working from home.  Part one looked at my story when I did my office job from our basement.

Working in a professional office can be very inefficient.  When I moved from the office to work at home it was a real eye opener to discover that I could free up so much time for my personal life and not sacrifice my work performance.  I worked from home when our twins were infants and every extra moment I could free up was valuable.  Since I was given such a rare opportunity by the company I worked for I wanted to prove that I could do just as good a job working from home on my schedule.  The following list shows just how more efficient I was able to be when I set my own hours and worked in our basement.

  1. Commuting:  I will start with the obvious one first.  No more fighting rush hour traffic.  I had one of the shortest commutes in our office as I lived no more than a 15 minutes away from home which is only 30 minutes a day saving.  This small savings is still 2.5 hours a week, and given 48 working weeks a year, 120 hours annually of time spent on the way to and from work.  Most people in cities spend much more time than 15 minutes to get to work.  Do the math.  This can result in a lot of time freed up for exercising, reading a book, or spending time with your family.
  2. Getting ready for work: When I worked in the office I started at 7am.  With a 15 minute commute I would wake up somewhere between 5:30 and 6am.  On average I would say it took me an hour to shower, get dressed, have breakfast, check e-mail and sports scores, and then leave for work.  While most of these tasks have to be done anyway I still estimate that I eliminated at least 20-30 minutes a day by starting work in my pyjamas instead of a shirt and tie.
  3. Working your prime hours:  I am sure that at certain times a day you are more awake and your brain is functioning at a higher level than at other times.  Everyone is different but I am sure that during an 8 hour shift at work you are not as productive each and every hour.  I am a morning person.  I need about 30 minutes in the morning after waking up to get revved up but after that I am at my most alert from then through the next 3-4 hours.  After a break, preferably with a brisk walk, I could work at just below peak; say 80-90% for a couple of hours.  After around 2pm (depending on when I woke up) my productivity really starts to diminish.  Knowing this and trying to work around my responsibilities at home I would wake up before the family, splash some water on my face, grab a glass of water, and get to work right away.   I would have a snack or two at my desk so I could go a while without stopping for breakfast.  I was a machine and I would get so much done in the first few hours.  The core tasks that had to be completed were all done before 9am (4 hours into my day).  The rest of the day I would help out with the family, maybe take my oldest daughter swimming, while looking out for important calls and e-mails.  I would sit down for another hour or two of semi productive work before calling it a day.  I did this 7 days a week if necessary to get all my work done.  
  4. Work distraction free:  This is perhaps the biggest and most underrated savings from working from home and working different hours than everyone else.  I worked in a department of around 30 people in an office of over 500 people.  I had to keep in contact with so many people within the office, other offices within the company, and a very large vendor community always wanting to sell me more things.  While my employers agreed for me to work my wacky schedule from home the largest concern was that lines of communication would slow down and emergencies would not be dealt with as soon as they needed to.  What happened was exactly the opposite.  By removing myself from the office and from regular working hours I was able to filter out all the non emergency issues and push them off to the following day where I could quickly answer the questions before they got to work.  My voicemail message stated that I was working out of the office and all questions will be dealt with in a timely matter.  If they had something that could not wait I gave a contact number for the home office.  Most people did not like the idea of disturbing me at home so they simply left a message.  When my office phone rang I knew that it was something I needed to look after right away.  Since I was not doing any other work at that moment it could have my full attention until it was resolved.  I would browse e-mail throughout the day to look for things that needed attention.  This schedule divided my day up so well.  When I needed to work I could work in complete peace without any distractions.  In the office I could turn off e-mail, forward all calls to voicemail and shut the door but I could only get away with that for so long before someone would beat down my door to solve their ‘emergency’.  Working mornings and weekends distraction free was so valuable and it literally took away hours from the time needed to get my work done.
  5. Motivation:  I consider myself a hard worker but even then it is hard to motivate yourself especially during non prime hours.  When I set my own hours, however, I was not restricted by the time on the clock but by the tasks needing to be completed.  It is hard to get excited after lunch when you see you still have almost 4 hours to kill till you can go home, but when you work from home and you can take your daughter swimming once you get these 10 tasks completed, you are motivated to get down to work.  During the time I worked from home I was far more motivated to get work done and the quality of work does tend to be higher when you are motivated. 

When I worked from home, a home with three young kids and an overwhelmed mother of newborn twins, I was able to get my work done so efficiently I spend a good portion of the day being a part of our family life.  By cutting out time preparing for work, the distractions that occur in the office, working during the times I was the most mentally alert, and being highly motivated to get my job done quickly and professionally, I was able to complete my job in much less time than when I was in the office.  My employer only wanted this to be temporary and my time at home would only last 14 months but when I returned to the office it was so frustrating to be placed back with all the same inefficiencies I dealt with before.  It was harder this time since it was so obvious to me that I could do my job better in less time if I just worked from home.  Six months later I quit my job and I now work from home for myself.

Benefits of Working From Home – Part One – My Story

More and more employers are allowing their employees to work from home.  In certain work situations working from home can provide financial and other benefits for both the employer and employee.  Of course many, if not most,  jobs are best to be done at a specific workplace but for many, especially backstage office employees, working from home should be seriously looked at.  This instalment looks at my story when I took my office job home with me.  In follow-up blogs over the coming weeks I will look at the ineffientcy of a typical office, plus the risks and rewards for both the employee and employer of letting staff work from home.  My last entry will discuss changing salary structures to focus more on tasks completed than hours worked.


A few years back I wrangled my way into working from home.  Essentially I gave my employer an ultimatum.  Let me work from home or find a replacement for me for 9 months.  You see we were expecting twins and I was entitled, since I work in Canada, to take parental leave.  Parental leave was not our best option but we decided that it was better than the alternative of working away from home leaving my wife alone with 3 young kids.  My position was not easily replaceable so we worked out an arrangement with my employer.  When the twins were born I was allowed to work from home for 14 months.

To make them feel like I did not lose all connection they requested I come into the office two afternoons a week and to make sure that I was available during the day if I had to put out some fires.  Other than that I could work whenever I wanted as long as the work got done.  My home responsibilities included doing the cooking, cleaning, supporting an overwhelmed breastfeeding mother, and most importantly, having fun with our oldest daughter who was feeling left out with the two new arrivals.  This meant I worked before she got up, at her nap time, and in the evenings 7 days a week.  It was an exhausting 14 months but I am very proud I made it work.  I was nervous that the craziness that was happening at home would overwhelm my work responsibilities but they rarely did.  Once I got into a workable routine it became obvious just how more efficient I could be working from home.

Sticking to a schedule was vital  and it was also important I got done what I needed to do as efficiently as possible.  I had to prioritize what was important and cut out tasks that had very little value.  I streamlined the communication process as I did not have time for too many meetings and long winded conference calls.  I took the ones that were essential to get the job done and I politely refused everything else.

Everyone I dealt with on a daily basis worked different core hours than I was working and surprisingly it worked very well.  While everyone was working Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm I got most of my work done earlier in the morning, later in the evenings, and on weekends.  When I worked during those hours there were little to no interruptions of phones ringing or e-mails coming in.  I would plow through my tasks in no time and send out all my communications asking for specific answers in return.  I would then monitor e-mail and phone throughout the day and only respond to the emergencies.  Any non urgent requests  would be ignored or dealt with later.  This opened up most of the day to spend with my family, take my daughter swimming, or go grocery shopping.  You can save a lot of time going shopping at 10am instead of 5pm with everyone else coming home from work.

My job required working with a lot of different people, including many who had more impressive job titles than I did.  These are people who like to think they deserve to have answers instantly.   I was worried that these demands would force my schedule into the middle of the day and I would have to choose between work and family commitments.  The fact that I was out of sight seemed to lower the amount of problems that were sent my way or at least diminished the urgency.  I got very few complaints about being away from the office and in fact I got more complements on the quality of my work.

My second instalment in this series will look in detail just how much inefficiency there is at an office and how working from home can improve on that.  It was a real eye-opener to me to realize just how much more I could accomplish just by being removed from the office.

Economic Sacrifices for Sustainable Living

A while back while hiking in a beautiful forest I came to a realization that there is a parallel between the process our family took to overhaul our lifestyle and what we feel needs to happen to make our society sustainable with respect to the environment.  I hesitated in putting this thought out in a blog because it sounds pretty high and mighty of me to first assume I know what is best for society, and second, to think that the simple formula adopted by one stressed out family will actually work on such a large scale.  I decided to proceed anyway because I thought it was interesting to see how making these types of decisions starts when you really do some searching and decide what is truly important.

A couple years back we were floundering around in our success.  We were not rich by any scale but we had more than we needed to live comfortably and to raise our family.  I had a successful career and there was a path I could take for long term financial stability and further success.  We had a fantastic family and we owned our home; we were successful.  The problem was this was not the type of lifestyle that suited us did not fit our personalities.  We were not as happy as we should be and it was slowly getting worse.  My job was getting repetitive and all the political game-playing that comes with working for a large company was getting more and more frustrating.  We lived in the city where the traffic, hurried pace of the people, and even things like air quality we becoming harder to ignore.  Now with children even our normal suburban street seemed less desirable and even somewhat unsafe and we were starting to question if this was a place where we wanted to raise kids.  For many this life is fantastic but to us, while it was sustainable from a financial point of view, when you factor in all these other issues that were affecting our attitude and mood we recognized that this was not a path we wanted to take.  You can find more details in this transition in the Our Transition section of FamilyNavigation.com and learn how we feel these fundamental changes have improved our life even though we have worsened our financial certainty.

After many conversations we realized that our health and overall enjoyment of life were more important than having the biggest house on the block, driving luxury cars, and even owning a high def. TV.  After sorting out our priorities in life we decided that family happiness had to come first.  Everything has not gone exactly how we thought it would but we would not go back even if we could.  Our life is still busy with three young kids but we are healthier, endure less daily stress, and are enjoying the simple things in life.  We are living in a smaller, tighter nit, community with much less traffic and citizens who will pause from their lives to smile and say hello.  We are reconnecting with nature, enjoying quality time with our kids, and doing simple things like growing a garden, and baking bread, which has added quality to our lives.  We recognized that even though we have to maintain a certain level of financial security it was more important to do so while living an enjoyable and less stressful life.

Choosing a life that makes you happy seems like a logical decision to make but in our society these types of decisions are rare.  It was amazing to is just how many people who were far better off financially then we were kept constantly complaining and worrying about money.  It seemed that the more money people made the more pressure it brought with it.  Money can have a factor in happiness but in our society the perception is that wealth greatly out ways all other factors that need to be considered.  When we put a greater focus on some of the other factors it became clear that we need to move and start over.  Lately I cannot help to think that our society as a whole could benefit from this type of analysis.

You can get a good idea of what is important to your society by following politics (not all the time as that can be depressing).  There are many and many political issues that are important in our society but it would come as no surprise that the number one issue by a landslide is the economy.  There are other important issues, like the environment, which get consideration but it is the economy that rules them all.  We would like our politicians to fix a lot of the other problems, like this ‘little’ issue called global warming, but it is career suicide for a politician if they do something that will make a positive impact on the environment if it is perceived to have a negative impact on the economy.  Fix all the other problems but make sure I can still buy all the stuff I want to.  It is almost impossible to make any progress if decision makers fear to harm the economy.

We tried, oh how we tried, to make a lifestyle transition by keeping my job and gradually move to a more happy and sustainable lifestyle.  The problem we had is that it meant we had to either be really patient or work far beyond our capacity.  With a full time career and three young kids at home to try and start a business on the side proved to be just too much of a challenge.  The only choice was to realize that we could not ignore the other important factors in our life for just one factor.  In the three or four years leading up to the eventual change there was many times where we said to each other that there was 10,000 reasons to make a change and only one reason, financial certainty, not to.  Money is important but we cannot let all our decisions be dictated by it.

What would we accomplish if we told our politicians that our society is ready to take a leap of faith and will put up with a little short term economic pain in order to really try and improve the environmental sustainability of the planet?  I know this decision would scare the hell out of me because it would take us down a path that is uncertain.   Terrifying as this would be, if you look into the future at likely outcomes I strongly believe that the likely outcome for action on environmental issues greatly outweighs the long term pain we will have if we continue down our current path.  Before we made our leap towards our new life I tried to look into the future 10, 15, 25 years and tried to imagine what our future would be if we continued down the same path and that thought scared me more than acting now and trying something completely different.  I have the same reaction when it comes to the environment.  I am freaked out about making drastic environmental changes that could affect the economy but that freaks me out much less then what the future would be if we stay inactive and continue down the same path.  What if taking a risk really works?  What would happen if decided to make drastic changes and we worked as hard as we could towards the things that are really important to us and in the end we were successful?  There could be a point in the future where I can say that I am living the lifestyle I want and I made some money in the process.  The good news is that if we are determined enough and are crazy enough to take that first leap we may just create a better life for our families.  History is full of people, and societies, who challenged conventional fears and succeeded.  I’m ready to be added to that list.

Is Helicopter Parenting a Big City Phenomenon?

A little while back we looked at the phenomena of helicopter parenting and coddled kids.  After writing that blog I started to think about our decision to leave a larger city and move to a smaller town.  We decided to make the move as a step towards living a slower paced life and to create a relaxed environment for our kids in a more natural setting.  The highly structured child rearing philosophy was well supported in the city and we were being mildly influenced away from the more relaxed unstructured lifestyle we once knew. Now a year after moving away from the big city to a smaller town we are much more comfortable in the family lifestyle we have created.  So the question is:  Are parents who live in a larger city more likely to coddle their kids, schedule most of their free time, and become helicopter parents?  While you will find both parenting styles everywhere I seem to think that the answer is yes.  Here are some of the reasons why I believe you find less helicopter parents in smaller towns:

  • Higher incomes for families in cities.  Most smaller towns have a lower per-capita income then the larger cities which is why most people live in cities in the first place.  If a family has more disposable income then it makes sense for them to want to spend it on their kids.  City kids seem to accumulate more stuff to keep them busy and the parents will spend more on their education (private schools or tutors) and recreational activities.
  • More programs for kids in cities.  In larger cities there is simply a greater variety of structured activities for kids to participate in.
  • Higher perceived risk to child’s safety in a larger city.   Helicopter parenting is a result of not wanting anything bad to happen to our kids and in cities there is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that it is not safe for kids to go off and play on their own.  While media saturation also has increased the paranoia towards kid’s safety in smaller towns it does not seem to be at the same level.
  • Smaller towns are usually closer to nature.  In our new town we are within walking distance to parks, beaches, and other trails where similar spots required considerable driving when we lived in the city.  The close proximity to natural settings provides incentives get out and have unstructured play in a natural setting instead of all their free time being tied up in structured activities.
  • Parents in larger cities live in a faster paced world on the job and this can translate to the home.  We have a real laid back and casual attitude on life and while we were able to maintain much of this outlook in the city it was not always easy.  I had to drive in busy traffic to get to a demanding fast paced job and then travel in the same traffic before returning to home life.  As time went on it was getting harder and harder not to let the pace of my surroundings dictate the pace at home.
  • Higher competition in larger cities.  This observation is even harder to quantify and it is more of a gut feeling I have.  The faster paced lifestyle seems to bring out a more competitive spirit in people and this includes competing with other parents with giving their kids the best they can.  More parenting peers mean more peer pressure?

These are all generalizations of course but I think there is some merit to these observations.  The next question is does a smaller town create a more relaxed and less structured family life or are more relaxed parents simply drawn to smaller town living.  It is probably a little bit of both.   People who live in smaller towns and bigger cities all want the best for their kids and to keep them safe.  These desires of parents will never change but the methods of how to do this is evolving everywhere; just maybe at a faster pace in the cities.

The Long Term Effects of Helicopter Parenting

Lisa and I recently watched a documentary called ‘Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids’ which examines the phenomena of Helicopter Parenting.  Helicopter Parents is a term used to describe parents who constantly hover over their children to solve problems that may occur in their lives and make sure they stay safe.  The documentary describes these parents as ‘over involved, over protective, and over indulgent’.  This is a one sided documentary which has the position that we should back away from our children’s  lives more, let them experience the realities of the world head on, and allow them to make mistakes.  In this blog I decided to summarize some of the points made in the show and to bring some of our opinions to the discussion.  I have also let this documentary inspire some other future blogs which will look some of these ideas in more detail.  In Canada you can watch this documentary following this link.

  • Lisa and I have been all about simplifying family life and not spending money on kids just because we can.  One of the initial scenes brings us to a $4000 birthday party for a one-year old.  They ask parents to think about modest parties they had as a child and then compare it to these loving parents who think this extravagance is a necessary step of giving their child the best up bringing they can.  Lisa and I are very cautious to not shower our kids with stuff but what would we do if we had the means to do so?  One of the reasons that kids are given so much stuff is that the average person has far more buying power than in past generations.  Parents today say they want to give their child the best and that is a characteristic which has not changed and will never change.  What has changed is the amount of goods available and the ability to for the average person to obtain it.
  • As a parent I want nothing more then for my child to be safe but what steps should we be taking to ensure their safety?  One of the subjects I am often fascinated with is comparing actual risk with perceived risk due to the media saturation today.  When I hear stories of abduction, drug abuse, gang violence, and other risks as a parent it makes me want to do everything in my power to protect my kids.  As media saturation has increased and we have the resources to hear more stories of kids in danger we have the perception that our world is getting less safe and we need to take more steps to protect our kids.  As a result of this paranoia are we creating too much of a protective bubble around our kids and not allowing them experience the world around them?  I will gather some more of my thoughts on this and write a follow up blog soon.
  • How important of a message is it to teach kids that we trust them and conversely how much harm are we doing to their confidence long term if we constantly watch over them to make sure they do not do anything that may bring them harm?  How can kids learn from their mistakes if they are never allowed to make mistakes in the first place?  We are nearing the day that tracking devices can be placed in kids so parents can follow their every move.  A great safety net in case of a missing child but a huge evasion of privacy and a lack of trust.  We want nothing more than our kids to be safe but maintaining the trust they have in us is also vital.  This is quite a dilemma.
  • I found that the study showing the role of social play with a childs brain development to be fascinating.  Lisa and I strongly believe that kids need a lot of free play in a non controlled environment.   Not only do we believe that kids benefit from unstructured play where they make the rules but we also believe that kids need to do a lot of this play in natural settings.  We will still enrol our kids in a limited amount of organized sports and we will also set aside a lot of time where our kids can just be kids.  We do believe that too much structured time can be detrimental to development not that activity is bad just that there needs to be enough time for unstructured play.
  • Be wary of marketers. When I was in high school I was fascinated, and freaked out about, of the notion of propaganda.   Propaganda was taught in school as a method used by politicians to sway people to think their way and World War II and the Cold War were usually the backdrops that propaganda was used.  The amount of marketing propaganda today is incredible and parents worried about the future of their kids are very susceptible to be influenced.  How important is it to step back and question claims that a certain purchase, or structured class, is the best for kids.
  • I’m sorry if I offend anyone but formal graduation ceremonies for preschoolers are ridiculous.
  • It is amazing how many of these hyper parenting decisions play to our competitive nature.  We do not want our kids to be left behind so we must have our child compete with other kids to be the best.  We live in a competitive world but every aspect of life does not have to be a competition.
  • I was a modestly successful student.  I graduated with good but not outstanding marks.  I had some pressure to succeed but it came mostly from the system and not my parents.  I cannot imagine how the addition of pressure from my parents to excel would have helped in any way.  When I was in University after almost every single final exam period I would get a cold or some other illness.  I needed my parents for support during this stressful time and I did not need them to raise expectations further.  I paid for University on my own so if I failed it would be my own time and money I was wasting, not someone else’s.
  • I had to laugh when the documentary looked at the parent’s involvement with University as I was purposely left on my own during this period of my life.  I remember giving my parents a tour of the University grounds when I graduated.  I sure hope this documentary is exaggerating the amount of hand holding parents still do at the university and working age.  At this age we are talking about adults and if they cannot do things for themselves then they have to learn quickly.
  • Is the world changing to fit the coddled child and will the more independent child we want to raise have a harder time with this type of world?  Will the workforce change and cater to the spoiled or will children who were raised as independent thinkers have the leg up even if they do not graduate with as good of marks?
  • How prepared will the coddled child be for the ups and downs of the real world?  They are groomed to be the best but this does not always lead to success.  Will they know the value of money and will they have the skills to be able to prioritize what is really important and make sacrifices to their standard of living when necessary.

We find this subject very interesting and it makes for fascinating debates.  There is going to be many opinions on how much involvement parents should have and how much freedom kids should be given to make their own mistakes.  We have decided to arrange our work schedules so we are there for the kids when they need us however we have also decided not to structure too many activities and make sure our kids are being creative and learning how to make independent decisions.  We want them to not be afraid to make mistakes but to also use us as a resource of what decisions should be avoided.  Is our attitude on this subject the best for our kids?  Have we created a family environment better then the helicopter parent or will our kids get left behind in a competitive and fast paced world?  We have no idea and it may be years before we find out (or we may never really know) if we made the best decisions.  Regardless what path parents take we know that they want the best for their kids.  Like so many things it probably comes down to balance.  Help our kids along when it is really needed and trust them to be independent at the same time.

I will be exploring some of the subjects in this documentary in future entries at FamilyNavigation.com.  Please let us know your thoughts on this subject and if there are any related topics you would like us to discuss further.

Surviving as a One Car Family

Guys like to talk about cars right?  Our love affair with the automobile is a part of the male identity, correct?  Well, not for me.  I never understood the fascination for cars as in my view they are just a method to get around and a necessary evil for the ultimate road-trip.  I don’t like spending money and for all the many options we have to get around, owning a car has to be the most expensive way (other than private jet I guess).  Sure it is convenient, especially for a family, and I am not saying that we do not own a car and use it every day, I just prefer to use it as little as possible.  We are certainly not going to own more than one.

For the past 13 years we have been a one car family.  There was a time when we each had our own car but when we got married we decided we would be best if we shared a car.  Of course it was mainly a financial decision and at the time we thought we would buy a second car as soon as we could afford it.  When that time came however, we never gave it second thought as there was no need for a second car.  In the view of many, sharing a car with your spouse would seem like a huge sacrifice, a loss of individual freedom, and something that they don’t even want to think about.  For us owning a second car has never seemed like it would be money well spent and I think if time was taken to analyse it many families would come to the same conclusion.  When you add up the cost of the vehicle, depreciation, insurance, and maintenance giving up the second car can save you thousands annually.

So how can a family survive with only one car?  I am not talking about giving up a child or going without food, its just a car.  Let’s get organized. A car is very handy to get to work, go shopping for food, make appointments, and to take us to leisure activities.   In our house if someone needs to go out the rest of the family either comes along or we stay home.  This is true for shopping, appointments or leisure.  We do not book any activity where both of us have to be in different places at the same time, unless one of those places is within walking distance.  Work can be challenging because if you are a two income family than you are probably going in different directions.  You have daycare or school for the kids and you may have different working hours.  This can be a challenge but if you think it is impossible to do with only one car than you probably live in the wrong neighbourhood.

When we were starting with our careers we made sure we were settled in our work before we bought a house.  We knew we wanted kids and we decided that my job was going to be the one that would be a longer term commitment.  I found a job I liked and was stable enough that it looked like I would stay there for a while and then we bought a home as close to this job as possible.  We did not buy in the closest neighbourhood as we preferred one a little further away but it was only 6 minutes away from work by car and 45 minutes away on foot.  With transit and cycling options as well I knew I could always get to and from work regardless if Lisa needed the car.  There were people in my office that were buying new homes over 30 minutes away by car in moderate traffic.  In the winter time the hours they spent in traffic on snowy roads were ridiculous.  Our decision to buy a home close to work saved thousands of dollars, month’s worth of wasted time, and a lot a sanity (I decided not to use the environmental angle as that may completely put you off, but that is better too).

I know most people will dismiss this post as nonsense as I do not know your own situation and in your case the sacrifice would be too great.    My suggestion, think it though, do the math, and let yourself dream of what you will do with all the extra money.  If you think it could work then try it out for a while.  Sell one of your cars and go with one car for a year.  If after a year you are dying to own a second car then go buy one, but you may just find, like we did, that you have forgotten all about needing that car and have found that the cost does not justify the tiny bit of convenience it will bring.

Balanced Family Life Review – Six Months On

One of the first Blogs posted on FamilyNavigation.com was Balanced Family Life – Our View . This was written 3 months prior to quitting my job and moving the family to a smaller town.  We were looking for improvements in our family life and while we are far from completing our journey, I thought I would take the year end to review our successes and to point out things we still need to work on.  When looking back on what we had hoped to accomplish we were a little naive on the length of time it would take to succeed.  The first list looks at what has been successful so far (let’s start with the positive).  The second list looks at the goals we have not been able to achieve as of yet and what we will do to improve on this. We understood that our vision of a balanced lifestyle was going to evolve over a long period of time and the third list includes new challenges that we wish to at least start this year.  All of our goals are long term changes we need to maintain once we accomplish them.

IMGP9776Our Successes

  • Time spent together:  We have arranged our working schedules so one of us can be with the kids at all times plus a few outings a week where the whole family is together.  Instead of one parent spending the majority of each day with the kids, we have equal parenting, working, and some quiet time to ourselves daily.  A side goal is for Lisa and I to get out of the house alone together more often but we can work on that.  As for spending time as a family; this has been a great success.
  • Sharing Responsibilities:  On the same note, Lisa and I share most of the responsibilities around the home.  We both do our share of cooking, cleaning, and most other tasks.  We will help each other when one of us needs a break from chores and family responsibilities.  Working together breaks some of the monotony we would have if each of us had set tasks.  Neither of us particularly enjoys these chores (cooking we find somewhat enjoyable) but they have to get done.
  • IMGP9021Location:  We are very happy in the environment to which we now find ourselves.  Nothing against the city but it is just not for us.  We identified what town would be best for our family and we have chosen very wisely.
  • Keeping on budget:  I think we knew that we would be able to keep on budget as we have always been able to so in the past.  The key to our success is that we take time to establish what the budget is and in this case we know what our limits are to get through this period of low income.  It is not always easy to live on such a modest budget but we enjoy the benefits of doing so.
  • Keeping to our original plan and schedule:  We left our old lifestyle with a 2 year plan and we are exactly where we thought we would be at this point.  We have a lot of work ahead of us but we are confident that if our plan continues to go so well we will be successful.
  • Reduction of environmental stress:  By moving to a smaller town and managing our schedule wisely we have reduced a lot of the environmental stress that was creeping into our lives.  We are sleeping much better than we used to and we do not seem to be irritated as often.  While we still have some work to do in this area (see below) I think that we are on the right track.

What we still need to work on

  • Health:  I was pretty naive thinking that the move and improved attitudes would result in instant improvement of health.  I guess I thought that being surrounded with activities I love, and being happier with our lifestyle would automatically result in healthier habits.  Getting time to exercise has been tough, periods of improved eating habits has been followed by old habits creeping back in, and in result the weight has not come off.  This is my number one goal this year as my overall health has to improve for the rest of the balanced family life plan to succeed.
    • Exercise:  A list of my top 10 favourite ways to exercise would only include outdoor activities.  When we moved in the summer the time I had allocated for exercise was first thing in the morning and in the evening (when the kids are sleeping) plus energetic activities with the kids throughout the day.  When Autumn came and it was dark in the morning and evening the outdoor activities stopped and I failed to replace them with indoor activities.  This has to improve and I have a plan in place to make this happen.
    • Eating better:  I know what it takes to eat better I just really struggle with it long term.  I am getting more help this year as going alone has not worked for me.  My determination is at an all time high and this should with help my long term goal.
    • Weight loss:  I just want to feel more alive.  If I eat better and exercise more I should lose the weight and have more energy to do all the family activities that I have wanted to do for so long.
  • Positive Outlook:  This has improved a lot but there are still times where we let some of the everyday adversity affect us.  I think we are on the right track with this one but again I think I was a bit naive with the speed that this would be fixed.  We have 3 very young kids that demand a lot of our attention and it is near impossible to be at our best all the time.  We still want to feel happy and positive more often but we must realize that this lifestyle, as great as it is, is still challenging and often overwhelming.

New Challenges

  • Increase our environmental conscience:  We are ‘greenies’ at heart and we are probably above average when it comes to our ‘footprint’ on this earth, but it could be a lot better.  I feel that the environmental movement is disorganized and it is really unclear to what steps should be made for real change.  We want to research this and change some of our habits that will have some real effect.  Once we clarify our thoughts on the environment I can see getting involved with these causes.
  • Reduce clutter:  We live a modest lifestyle and yet we have still collected so much stuff (mostly for free or very cheap).  We have been pretty good of passing on this stuff but we have never focussed on getting rid of most of the unnecessary clutter hanging around our house.  We would like to make it a priority and see how much stuff we can really do without.
  • IMGP9806Increase our social calendar:  It is easy to feel isolated with this type of family lifestyle.  We are working at home and spending a lot of time as a family.  While this is something we really want it means very little time with other adults.  I am a social misfit who quite often avoids groups of people but Lisa suffers without a social life away from home.  In all honesty while I may not be confortable all the time in a social setting, I need to do more with the non kid folk.
  • Get involved in the community:  Our new community is much tighter nit than the one we left and that is great.  There is a lot of opportunity to be involved and we want to start the process this year.  With the age of our kids we realize we cannot do too much and fit everything else into our schedule but we can at least start.

I think a review of goals is a very good procedure to do periodically and we will review this list in time to make sure we are on the right track towards our balanced family life.