The Way We Work
November 7, 2012 by Amy Sept

Summer vacations were something Angela Irizarry treasured growing up, a gift she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to give her son. Working for a call center when he was a baby allowed Angela to stay at home with him, but when the recession led to tight times for both her and her fiancé, she took a higher-paying position as an assistant property manager at a student housing community.

“I missed spending time with my son,” she admitted. “It ate at me, every summer, that he didn’t get a summer vacation, because that was something I looked forward to every year growing up.”

Deciding to leave her job earlier this year to work online, doing social media marketing, has turned that around. “I stepped out of my comfort zone to do what I love,” Angela said, noting that her decision has given her much more time to spend with her family. “I’ve never been happier. I’ve never been less stressed. It’s very liberating.”

High levels of work-family stress are causing many people to look for more flexible solutions—and often, that solution is the life of an independent worker. A recent survey by professional staffing company Mom Corps found that 52 percent of employees would start their own business in order to get the flexibility they’re looking for.

“As professionals come to terms with the idea of flexibility, they are gaining confidence in seeking their preferred work environment and shaping their careers accordingly,” said Allison O’Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps.

The Sandwich Generation: Looking For Balance

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, more than 87 percent of American families have at least one working parent.

“It’s impossible to parent-shift,” observed C. C. Chapman, founder of Digital Dads, in The Working Parent’s Guide to Working from Home (or Anywhere Else). “While the right tools make it easy to work on your terms, it’s tough to do the same with parenting.”

For people in what is known as “the sandwich generation,” flextime isn’t just about being available for their kids. According to a survey by the Families and Work Institute, one in five working adults is also currently caring for an older relative—and slightly less than half of those adults also have at least one child under the age of 18.

“There really aren’t any easy solutions to this work/family conflict,” Chuck Ross wrote in a recent blog post for the AARP.

“Yes, enlightened employers who understand that our need to leave early to sit in on Dad’s next kidney appointment is just as valid as a coworker’s desire to attend a son’s soccer game would be great,” he noted. “In the short term, though, it’s up to each of us to truly understand the limits of what we can and can’t do, and not beat ourselves up when we fall short of our own or someone else’s idea of ideal.”

Scheduling Work Around Family

Before she left her job, Angela juggled both her property management job and her freelancing work. When she finally made the leap, the shift was practically seamless. “There was no downtime at all,” she said. “I started applying to jobs and I started getting them…making just as much as I was when I was doing the 9-to-5, commuting 40 minutes each way.”

Now, Angela says she can put money away into savings and has the freedom to flex her schedule around her family. “[My fiancé] does maintenance in property management, and his busy season is in the winter–shoveling or salting the walkways—whereas mine [as an assistant property manager] was in the summer,” she explained.

“The window of opportunity for us to do anything was very, very small. We would have to plan everything so far in advance. [Freelancing] gives me the freedom to do more things with my family, and not worry about things like: Is someone going to get fired if we take this vacation?”

Resources for Flexibility Seekers

  • To coincide with the recent 2012 Workflex Conference, the Families and Work Institute recently launched The Workflex Employee Toolkit. This resource provides advice for employees on how to ask for a more flexible schedule, and information about how you can make it work for you.
  • Targeted to moms and dads, Chapman’s free ebook takes an honest look at balancing commitments like deadlines and business travel with family time and good communication.

Has flexible work helped you create better work-family balance? Share your stories and advice in the comments section below.

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the Managing Editor of the oDesk blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. A writer and social media pro, she owns Nimbyist Communications and often works remotely with non-profits, tech companies and small business owners.

  • Christine B. Briones

    I worked in the call center industry as a customer service agent for approximately 5 years. I am very good at my work and got promoted to the QA position. But then on June last year I got married and had a baby. The new responsibilities overwhelmed me. At some level it affected my performance and attendance at work and I felt I’m not doing well as a wife and mom. Then I made a great decision to leave my valued job. But because I want to contribute to our family’s expenses, I made a move to try working online and that’s how I became a VA. I have never been fulfilled this way before. My family’s quality of life has improved and we have more leisure time. Odesk is one of my stepping stones for becoming a successful online worker.

    • Amy Sept

      Hi Christine: It sounds like you and Angela have a lot in common! I know it can be scary to change careers, especially when you love what you do. Judging by your blog, it looks like you made the right decision for you and your family.

      I’m glad to read that you’re doing so well as a VA, and that oDesk has been part of your success. Thank you for sharing your story! ~ Amy

      • Ann Cowan

        Hi Amy, I’m new to oDesk and coming up to speed with quite a few acronyms. What does Christine mean when she says that she became a “VA”? I too have an extensive background in customer support and account/client management and wondered how that sort of work might translate to oDesk. Thanks for any support you can give this newbie! Ann

        • Amy Sept

          Hi Ann, I apologize for taking so long to respond to your comment!

          Christine’s referring to being a ‘virtual assistant’, someone who can help a business remotely in a variety of ways. We published a post on the oDesk blog not long ago that may help you get a sense of what virtual assistants contribute:

          Good luck! ~ Amy

        • http://N/A Ann Cowan

          Thanks Amy! The article by Nick Loper on seven key tasks with which a VA can assist is excellent. It gave me lots of ideas. Not only do I have lots of experience in customer service but also in writing content, proofreading and research.

          Here is a quite different question. I’m 59 and my husband is 79 and he will be retiring at the end of June. Do you have any advice on work-family balance in that scenario? I understand some newly retired spouses can drive the other one “around the bend”! I will probably be working for at least another 10-15 years. ~ Ann

  • Shajedulps

    Hello Amy, nice post. It’s true that working at home as a freelancer is a great job and most of people like it. As a contractor i also love to work on oDesk.

    • Amy Sept

      Hi Shajedul: Thank you for your comment, I’m glad you’ve had such a great experience freelancing through oDesk! ~ Amy

  • surveyspencer

    Great post, Amy.

    As a stay at home Dad, this topic definitely hits home. Managing my remote team via Odesk is much easier than an offline staff –but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. One of my goals for this year is to spend less time in front of my laptop and more time with my two boys.

    PS-Do you accept posts from Odesk users? I’ve been using Odesk for 3+ years and would love to contribute a piece to help people find freelancers for their business.

    • Amy Sept

      Hi surveyspencer, what a wonderful goal! Any quick advice for strategies that have worked for you so far? With regards to contributing to the blog, please connect with to discuss. Thank you for your comment! ~ Amy

      • surveyspencer

        One early mistake I made was hiring someone I’ve never worked with for a large job with many moving pieces. Now I like to break large projects into small chunks and hire someone to do the first chunk. That will give you an idea of whether or not they’re capable of tackling the entire project.

        • Amy Sept

          Hi surveyspencer – Test jobs are a great way to test someone’s skills/capabilities and also whether they fit with your work style. Thanks for the tip!

  • April

    Balancing between family and work is tough. You want to be with your family but your work is eating up most of your time.

    “I stepped out of my comfort zone to do what I love” – This line struck me the most.

    If time comes that I’ll be having a family of my own, I’m sure I’ll be applying this as well.

    Thank you for the great post, Amy!

    • Amy Sept

      Hi April, I’m glad the post resonated with you! As Jocelyn noted in her comment, finding a time management system that fits your needs can make a significant difference—whether you need to juggle time with family or ensure there’s time for personal priorities. Good luck, and thanks for your comment! ~ Amy

      • Muhammad Farhad

        Hi….! Amy. Good guide line…I can follow your work and attitude….

  • jocelynpantaleon02

    Many think that working from home is a lot easier than working in a regular office with regular office hours because there is no traveling-to-work involved and there is flexibility in the working schedule. However, just like any other jobs out there, time management is still essential to have a balanced and quality family time.

    Thank you so much Amy for this great insight :) I really enjoy reading your posts. God bless you and your efforts.

    • Amy Sept

      Hi Jocelyn, thank you for your thoughts – you are so right! Without discipline, it’s really easy for the balance to become skewed one way or the other. I’m glad you enjoy my posts and really appreciate your feedback. ~ Amy