A basketball buddy helped Kyle McFarlane get his work-at-home gig five years ago. He had recently been married and wanted a job with more flexibility. McFarlane wasn’t looking specifically to work at home, but “it worked out that way” when he was hired by Cardinal Health as a sales representative.
A Fortune 500 company with more than 50,000 employees, Cardinal Health sells a wide range of medical products, from gloves and bandages to medical instruments. After three years selling, McFarlane moved into management, overseeing the northwest region of Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. But he continues to work at home, an arrangement with a 15-second commute that enables him to enjoy most meals and breaks with his wife and two small children.
The home office
McFarlane has worked in almost every room of their compact South Hill home, moving his small office to best meet work and family needs. Currently, he is in a cozy, book-lined bedroom in the front eave of the house. A leather chair in the corner beckons as a spot to read while an exercise machine stands at the ready for a quick workout. It doesn’t get much use, McFarlane sheepishly admits, since he still prefers basketball for working up a sweat.
If his office door is open, McFarlane can enjoy the cheerful chatter of his daughter playing in the space just outside. Or, if he needs to concentrate or take a conference call, he can close the door for more privacy. McFarlane expects to move his office one more time, to the basement, when his son, now a toddler, is older and ready to move upstairs.
Since his work requires just the standard computer with Internet, printer, fax and phone, McFarlane didn’t need to make any special modifications, or even spend much on his home office, to be productive. Perhaps his most notable purchase was a wireless router, enabling him to rove the house and yard and stay connected. Now he can sit on the covered patio, keeping an eye on his daughter in the kiddie pool while sending e-mail, fielding calls, writing proposals and filling out spreadsheets.
Self discipline is necessary to make working at home work, he says. It is too easy to get distracted. That’s why he keeps regular hours, working from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. If family life makes him less productive, he’ll log extra hours in the evening, after the kids go to bed, to catch up.
“You have to supervise yourself,” he says, adding that his boss lives in California and their interaction, while frequent, is primarily via telephone and e-mail.
For McFarlane’s children, having daddy home, even though he is working, is just part of normal life. This is both a benefit and challenge. He feels he is a more involved husband and father because he is intimately aware of his family’s day-to-day lives. But this can make the lines between work and home a bit fuzzy at times.
“Kids don’t always understand you are at work,” says McFarlane. “But people in an office will chitchat with a co-worker. I can chitchat with my daughter or wife. It is a different use of break time. I try to work that as much as I can.”