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Doing good works

Aug 02, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsSmall and Medium Business

Using telework to effect real social change

Last week I told you about Staffcentrix, the company that trains military spouses to launch virtual assistant businesses (see editorial link below). But there’s more to say about its co-founder, Michael Haaren. Specifically his push to strengthen – and arguably, realign – American families through telework.

“Telework is key to the restoration of the American family,” says Haaren, who was raised by a lawyer-entrepreneur father and a Marine-mathematician mother in a log cabin in rural Virginia.

“Lengthening commutes and work weeks, gridlock and abbreviated weekends filled with frantic errands leave a sad wake of time-starved parents and parent-starved children,” Haaren says. “The overcrowded suburban-sprawl lifestyle exacerbates our already-excessive consumerism and materialism. It leaves us with little inner life – which itself requires a good measure of quiet, calm and solitude – with less to draw on as we strive to evolve, and less to share with our partners, friends, companions and children. 

“Telework isn’t about some cube-dwellers being let out from time to time by a benevolent Fortune 50 company to work a few hours at home. It’s about the individual being able to work from home, from a sailboat or a tree house. When I think of telework, the children are nearby. Children benefit tremendously from seeing mom or dad doing entrepreneurial things. They learn to understand the value of a dollar.”

Sure, Haaren’s vision leans right. That’s the point – that technology is driving real social change in unexpected places, in both the blue and red states. Business Week, for instance, ran an article recently about “mompreneurs.” Did you know 430,000 people earn a living off eBay? A recent Georgetown University study predicts that by 2008, the virtual assistants, or virtual outsourcing industry, will grow to $130 billion.  

Haaren’s vision is tempered with a heavy dose of reality, particularly when training military spouses to launch virtual assistant businesses. In one two-hour session, the student’s service-member spouse is invited in to help work through the support issues involved in starting a home business. 

“We found that couples, families and home-based businesses can quickly come to grief when the entrepreneur is alone, committed to her project, and the spouse and kids don’t understand or support it,” Haaren says. “The new business is her new baby, with significant psychological and emotional implications for the family. Money is going out before it comes in, she alternates between excitement and black discouragement as the marketplace reacts (or doesn’t) to the venture.”

The course helps couples examine goals and priorities, discuss where they want to go, and make sure the business they’re planning helps take them there. It also helps them develop reasonable expectations and goals for the new home environment, so they can sustain a healthy relationship. 

Any mompreneurs or virtual assistants – men or women, of course – want to share their experiences? Please write me at