I have been working on a contract for around 6 months now. I telecommute from my home office, and am very settled with a wife and kids. I constantly am looking for new work, and often hear of opportunities for contracts all over the country.

Since nearly none of these offer a telecommute option, and most of them are between 3 and 12 month offers, how should I handle such offers? Do you accept, decline, or make some compromise?

Also, (to those of you in similar situations) how do I juggle overtime, travel, and quality family time?

  • I'm struggling to see how this question could be answered definitively. It would seem to invite debate, though I'm also interested in seeing some of that debate, so I can't see fit to do anything other than make this comment at the moment. – Osteoboon May 22 '13 at 5:10

It may very well be possible to negotiate the terms of the contract, depending on the type of work and your specific experience with that work.

For instance, if the contract requires very specialized skills, skills that you happen to possess that are in high demand, you may have more room to negotiate. You could approach these organizations with an introductory letter, which outlines your skills and how you can help the organization. Close the letter with a desire to meet via Google Groups or other video chat and discuss further.

If you have a lot to offer, you could first see if your skills would be a good fit, and then -- unless they bring up the terms first -- mention that you're available to meet once a week/month, etc and can meet daily via a hangout.

This process is sort of like a sales process. You may hear a lot of no's, but you may also gain some networking contacts or perhaps obtain referrals to other organizations that hire remote contractors.

If the terms require that you be on-site, and you're willing to take one of these positions, make it clear in your contract that you'll bill for travel-related expenses in order to get you to and from work on the weekends so you'll have time for family.

Additionally, since we live in a world where we're all connected, you can also use technology to keep in touch with your family, perhaps even keeping a persistent video chat running while you're making dinner, relaxing, or just lounging around your quarters.

Lastly, all contract work I've ever done has been remote. There are contracts out there that don't require you to work on-site, so if the on-site requirements take up too much of your time away from your family, then the answer may be to keep looking for something that fits your needs.

  • Great answer (+1)! I am going to keep this open for now to get some more responses. – Phil May 22 '13 at 1:40

So much depends upon individual circumstances that a general answer is not really possible. The first thing you need to do is make sure that you and your wife are on the same page regarding travel. This is a family matter and since your work and family life are by no means separate, this sort of decision needs to start there. Major restrictions can include things like kids in school or your wife's job. There are times when you may need to go to customer sites and having basic groundrules in place first are important.

Secondly you need to be willing to play things by ear. Before my kids were in school (my wife also works from home), the following things we did come to mind:

  1. I accepted a 10 month contract a 6 hr drive away. We'd drive the whole family back and forth. First big contract of my business. My oldest was about 2 years old at the time.

  2. A week after my second kid was born, my largest customer called me up and noted their technical contact on the project was quitting and they needed some on-site time to help everyone get up to speed. So after talking with my wife, we drove, the next week, the entire family 2000 miles over the weekend to my customer's site, and yes the entire family included a 2-week-old. It wasn't that bad. we'd just stop, feed the baby, change drivers every 3 hours of driving. A little planning and the trip worked wonderfully.

Now, both of these were positive experiences that probably can't be done as well now that the kids are in school. Many parents think that's crazy. But it worked.

I try to target 1-2 weeks of travel time a year. Most years it is lower than that. A few years it is higher.

So first you want to start by looking at it from the household/family level. You also want to look at it on the business level. The big thing is that there are many times when personal face time is important with customers, but it may not require being there all the time.

Typically if there is a big project the most valuable times are at the beginning and at the end, so instead of spending a year on site, you can probably get by with a week or two at the beginning and a week or two at the end. This can become important when it comes to getting to know how your client does business (and so what they want and need out of the project) and being able to wrap things up, solve any last minute issues, get final feedback, and so forth.

Where this does not work so well is in contract to hire gigs. There the company ultimately wants an employee and the contract is sort of like dating before getting married. They would want you on site. If you can't travel, or you don't want to give up freelancing, don't pursue these.

So despite the fact that no definite answer is possible because so much depends on circumstance, this should give you at least a starting point to think about what is possible, what you can do, and how you can make things work for your customer, yourself, and your family.

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