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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 10/08/2012

Parents take workplace flexibility by the horns

So much for workplace flexibility issues muscling their way into the presidential campaign. Despite a concerted effort by family advocates to get the presidential candidates to talk about the issue in the most recent debate, the phrases “family leave” and “earned sick days” were not uttered.

Good thing parents tend to be resourceful types. A new census report released Thursday suggests that some parents are not waiting around for policies to catch up with modern life.

The number of people who transitioned into home-based word and telecommuting has spiked in the last decade, according to the report [pdf].

The report noted increases across the spectrum in home-based work, from one day a week to a few days to exclusive home-based employment. More than 4 million workers now work at least one day a week from home, which represents close to 10 percent of all workers. The largest increase occurred in the latter half of the decade, as technology advances spurred on the trend.

Federal and state government workers were among the groups that took advantage of this option in higher percentages. So too were higher-income workers, meaning telecommuting is still an option off limits to most.

The rise in full-time home-based employment was also significant, with about 6.6 percent of all workers doing so in 2010. About half of them were self-employed and women made up a larger proportion.

The census did not break down how many of these workers chose to home working for family reasons, but anecdotal evidence suggests that children are often a driving force behind choosing home-based work options, especially among workers with maximum choice.

“While it would in theory be nice to have an office to go to when I do work, I have come to appreciate working in my pajamas, and the lack of a commute,” one of those workers, Shannon Forchheimer, told me.

Forchheimer took a well-traveled path when she left her law firm position in 2011 after the birth of her second child. She also launched a blog, about the abrupt change and the anxiety it wrought, “But I do have a law degree.”

“I left the workplace because it just became too much to balance work and family. I certainly left my job somewhat reluctantly — feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of being able to make it all work once I had my second son. I think my experience is typical — so many women want to scale back, but can’t because of workplace demands (particularly in the legal industry), and then once they are out of the workforce, it is very hard to find part-time options. Which causes a résumé gap, which makes it hard to reenter the workforce, etc. What you are left with is a plethora of educated, experienced women with no way to utilize their skills.”

What to do? Politicians and CEOs certainly don’t seem to be examining the issue.

“Parents are having to take the bull by the horns and create their own path,” Forchheimer said.

She is now helping to launch an office for a company that matches lawyers with home-based freelance assignments. Montage was founded in California in 2009 and has since opened a branch in New York and doubled its original home-based workforce to 50 lawyers.

She said the work is much more flexible that a typical firm’s. “I can pick and choose when I am busy. If I have a busy week at my son’s school, I can decline work that week.”

Forchheimer also used quotes around “office” when she wrote me about it. It’s not bricks and mortar. The D.C. branch will be virtual. She and the other attorneys will be working from home.

Have you changed your physical work routine since having kids? Has it affected your career? Your family life? How?

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 10/08/2012

Tags:  Politics, Work-life Balance

 
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