Traffic jams, expensive rents and competition for housing — or a cheap home near the sea in a laidback Far North town? For graphic designer Iain Spanhake and his wife, Hannah, there was no contest.
They moved from Auckland to Mangonui last August when the cost of living in the big city made them realise something had to change.
"Finding a decent place to live was becoming more and more difficult," Spanhake says. "It was pretty crazy, the number of people looking."
The couple paid $260 for one room in a Three Kings flat. Now they pay the same amount for a two-bedroom house with a deck on which Spanhake can set up his laptop and look out towards Mangonui Harbour.
"My family is up here and the fact that we could work from home made it seem like a viable option. I had a couple of agencies I was already working for and they were happy for me to communicate with them via email and video conferencing."
He agreed to travel to Auckland for monthly meetings with clients. The rest of the work is done on the internet. Hannah works part time at the Mangonui Fish Shop and from home doing social media marketing.
Spanhake says working from home is not only providing a better lifestyle but it's a more enjoyable working environment.
"I like it, I don't have someone looking over my shoulder every five minutes. I can do it on my own terms. It's a nicer feel, a bit more freedom. The downside is that you have to be quite focused and organised and have a lot of motivation to keep yourself in check."
He'll always be at his desk from 9am until 5pm in case his clients need to get in touch. "If they need to message me I'm there. I know from first-hand experience that it can be quite annoying when you can't get hold of a contractor."
He says there hasn't been much of a pay cut. He can pull in about $800 a week working on set contracts for clients. "It's a promised amount I'm getting, almost like a wage. Without that, which I've worked without before, the pay is very much up and down."
Those who work from home often say they have better work-life balance, says associate professor Dennis Viehland, Massey Uni. Photo / Doug Sherring
A report this week showed Auckland is one of the world's most traffic-clogged cities. TomTom's survey showed a 66 per cent congestion rating contributes to 38 minutes of delay for every hour spent in the car in the city's morning peak traffic. Wellington is even worse.
With those sorts of statistics, Spanhake's choice is likely to become increasingly tempting.
The number of Kiwis working from home is steadily increasing, reaching almost a quarter of a million in the latest Census.
Improving technology and broadband speeds mean employees from all sectors are increasingly able to work just as effectively from their kitchen tables as their office desks.
"The more people we can take off the roads at peak periods the better," says associate professor Dennis Viehland, from Massey University.
As well as freeing up the roads every morning and evening, he says those who work from home often say they have a much better balance of work and home life, even if they're doing just as many hours as they were in the office.
"They're no longer in the office eight hours a day, then coming home and doing more in the evenings and weekends. Instead, they're balancing work and life across all their lifestyle choices. You might have a father working at home, who is out visiting clients, picks up his daughter from school, brings her home and has some play time, then in the evening catches up on email. Even though he's worked as many, or more, hours he feels he has a better work-life balance."
Remote working pays off for employers too, he says, especially if they are able to structure their expectations for their staff in terms of deliverable goals rather than a set number of hours.
An AUT study, the Trans-Tasman Telework Survey, showed that productivity was perceived to be higher the more telework someone did. Of those respondents who worked remotely, 70 per cent said their managers trusted them to be productive.
"Across the board, managers reported better work outcomes for people who telework," the report said. "There seems to be a view that the ability to telework creates a happy worker, which in turn yields productive outcomes."
Viehland says positions that can be done remotely will continue to increase. "It's the knowledge age, we're mostly knowledge workers - work is defined by where we are, not where the work is. Teachers, truck drivers, factory workers, construction workers ... the idea of them ever engaging in remote work is very slim but they're an increasingly smaller part of the workforce."
Self-discipline is required, he says, and people need to be realistic about whether they'll be able to handle the isolation of working alone at home.
"If you're the type who likes water-cooler conversation, or a chat in the lunchroom, you aren't as suited to telework. It's not that you have to be non-social but you can't be the social light of the office and feel that telework is going to suit you."
Simon Lord, of Franchise New Zealand, agrees it's important to have realistic expectations of what working from home will be like.
"Flexibility works both ways — just as you can enjoy taking a break when you want to, so you get interrupted when you don't want it."
With more than 20 years' experience of a home office, Lord recommends setting up a specific area to work in, somewhere you can be comfortable and won't be disturbed.
"There's no rule saying you can't set up your laptop by a roaring fire in winter, or work in the glorious sun on a late spring afternoon, but having a permanent workspace helps you mentally separate your work from your home life, as well as being more efficient. If your work spreads through the house, your family will probably resent it and you may feel you can never escape it."
His website, franchise.co.nz, suggests people test the waters with a part-time business if they are thinking of starting up from home.
"If you look for opportunities to earn part-time income on the internet you'll find all sorts of different possibilities, from proof-reading at home to nude modelling. Many of these exist as suggestions or ideas only, whereas a properly developed franchise should have a brand, a customer base, systems and marketing tools to help you get established in a viable business."
Accounting software firm MYOB found this year that 35 per cent of small business owners and employees worked mainly outside the office and another 27 per cent worked outside the office from time to time. MYOB asked how satisfied people were with their work/life balance. The satisfaction was highest, at 61 per cent, among those who worked mainly outside the office. But there are some drawbacks to consider. For a start, you'll have to manage your own tax obligations.
MYOB spokeswoman Sarah Putt says people who are thinking about setting up their own business at home need to get the right advice. She recommends starting with the Inland Revenue website and getting advice from a trusted accountant.
Tauranga mum Tracey Dean answers the phone as she's watching her son Keegan's swimming lesson.
She is Avon's top performing representative in New Zealand and says one of the perks is having the flexibility to get out and spend time with her children, Keegan, 11, and daughter Catelynn, 9, when she wants to.
Dean started selling Avon seven years ago and two years later took on a leadership role, building up a team of representatives. She had a varied career before having children, working in management at dairy company LIC and in banking.
But when her children were born she no longer wanted to be stuck in an office all day. "I didn't want to go back to work full-time. I wanted to be there for them."
Sometimes balancing work and family life can be a struggle, she says. "As the kids have got older it's got harder because they've got more that they want to be doing. When they were little it was kindy then come home, not overly hard to balance."
Dean sets aside time for appointments when the children are at school, and answers emails and returns phone calls at night when they are in bed. "I try not to do too much between 3pm and 7pm."
But it can be easy to get distracted at home, and good time management is important, she says.
Some weeks she will work 10 hours, and others 30 hours. She earned $53,000 last year from the team she manages and also gets at least 24 per cent commission on the Avon product she sells herself. Her team is No1 in the country, selling $1 million of product a year.
"There's a definite opportunity to earn a decent, full-time income. What you put in is what you get out."
Dean says she's put a lot of effort into building her business and has no plans to give it up.
The flexibility also means she can pack up her business and take it on holiday if she needs to. "It's simple but it's not easy."
Enjoyment in the freedom
Home-based child carer Genevieve Bassett with three of her charges, from left, Stella O'Sullivan, Leo Cuevas and Rosa Bailey. Photo / Doug Sherring
Genevieve Bassett stops mid-sentence at the sound of excited young voices in the background.
"Let's get some of that sand off you," she says to her charges.
The children have been playing in the sandpit, she explains.
Bassett works as a Porse home educator, looking after up to four preschool-age children in her Mt Albert home. Her partner works full-time in an office as a business development manager.
Bassett decided to trade a desk job for a life at home looking after her own and other people's children eight years ago when her daughter Darby was two. She swapped an office for visits to Motat, garden exploration and trips to the park.
"I thought it would be great to be able to stay with her and earn some income."
Bassett has a master's degree in social work and earned a primary teaching diploma, thinking that teaching might be a good way to balance home and work life. But early childhood education was an even better fit.
"It all came together. I'm working with a vulnerable age group, who are pre-verbal and learning the basic necessities of life, language skills, verbal skills. It's a very physical time of life."
She built the business slowly, starting with one extra child, then two, then three. "I felt 'Yes, this is what I'd like to continue doing'. Even when my daughter went to school, I felt I was getting value from it myself."
Darby, now 10, is at primary school and son, Max, 13, is at Mt Albert Grammar.
Six children now come and go through the week — the eldest a neighbour's daughter who is four. The youngest is 20 months. Bassett works only four days a week from 8am until 4.30pm. She charges $9 an hour but doesn't charge for public holidays when children are not in her care, as some other childcare centres and teachers do.
The career change hasn't been a big money-maker. She earns significantly less working for herself than in funding administration. Her last full-time job in New Zealand was for lottery grants, before she went to Sydney to work then travelled through Europe and Asia before having her children. "At the end of the year, when I do my tax return, $9 [an hour] sounds a lot but my annual income is less than $30,000."
There's also a bit of wear and tear on the house that has to be dealt with. But she couldn't imagine doing anything else.
"I love being outside, being very active. It brings out the creative side of myself. It's very rewarding and I enjoy the freedom of being self-employed."