As employers become more relaxed about flexible working practices, many more people are finding that they can work from home. For some jobs, a phone line, laptop and internet connection is all that’s needed, so the option to commute from your bedroom to your workspace instead of a long journey in a car or on a train is very appealing.
Working where you live can be beneficial for both employee and employer. If you focus, you can get more done. There are less likely to be distractions from colleagues and you can get on with the task in hand. You will spend less money – no daily breakfast coffee or sandwich from Pret, and you may save on the commute. You also get to spend more time with your family (or flatmates!). If an average commute is two hours a day, that’s 10 hours a week you get to spend doing something more constructive. The bottom line is that working from home makes you more productive. Rescue Time’s research in 2009 may have only been a small sample, but gives us a good idea of the levels of productivity that can be achieved by not being in an office.
Of course it’s not all sweetness and light. There are downsides too. The lines between work and home can get blurred and it can be difficult to switch off. You may also find that you get a bit lonely and there is a danger you will fall into the laziness trap. From an employer’s point of view it can be frustrating if you don’t feel your staff are pulling their weight at home, and that they are not instantly available for a meeting. But there are things you can do to make sure working from home works well for both you and your employer. I work from home three days a week and my husband works from home permanently so I am very familiar with the pitfalls. Here’s my top tips for how to work at home effectively:
1) Have a separate work area. If at all possible, a separate room is the way to go. Somewhere where work is work, so that your home life remains separate to your job, is a good idea. In my case, my husband works in the spare bedroom and I have a desk in the living room. We don’t speak for most of the day – we work for different companies and when we are working, we are working.
2) Don’t turn the telly on. Ever. It is tempting. Hours of fun with Homes Under the Hammer and This Morning may seem like a good idea, but believe me it’s not. You may think you can work effectively with the TV on in the background, but it is a distraction. You are not a student, you are being paid to work. The radio or some quiet music is a better option.
3) Make time for lunch. We all know it’s important to take breaks when you’re working. Having a lunch break is a good start. It doesn’t have to be a whole hour, but twenty minutes away from your computer screen is a good idea. Make sure your colleagues know when you are away from your desk and when you will be back. If you can, set your phone to do not disturb.
4) Make sure your colleagues know when you are available and when you aren’t. People who work from home often feel guilty and are concerned that their boss and colleagues are suspicious that they’re not working hard enough, and as a result work much longer hours than they would if they were in the office. Your colleagues may not be keen on you working from home, particularly if it’s not a common occurrence at your firm. They may resent the flexibility you have and be suspicious that you are actually sat in your nightie in front of Trisha scoffing shortbread biscuits instead of actually working. Make it clear that you will be working from x o clock to y o clock and will be taking a half an hour for lunch at a particular time.
5) Have a decent chair. Back pain will make you unproductive and resentful.
6) If you have children, make sure you make proper arrangements for child care. Many employers now will insist that you send them to nursery or a childminder while you are working, which is fair enough. But a few lucky people have employers that are a bit more flexible and allow them to work slightly odd hours in order to be there for their children – so they may allow you to work in the evenings instead of 9 – 5 for example. Whatever your arrangements, make sure your employer is aware and happy with them.
7) Get dressed. I have made this mistake. Got out of bed, read emails on my Blackberry and then logged straight in on my laptop to start replying to messages. Before I knew it, it was lunch time and I hadn’t had a shower or got dressed. Even more embarrassing is when you have to open the door to the postman still in your dressing gown. You would never go into the office in your PJs so take some time to get yourself groomed and dressed.
8) If you are sick, you are sick. Let your boss know. Turn your out of office on and go to bed.
9) Don’t take advantage. Don’t assume that just because you are at home you can swan off to pick the kids up from school or go to the hairdressers in the middle of the afternoon. You wouldn’t do that if you were sat in the office would you? Ask your bosses permission to finish early or start late. You are still employed, just in a different environment. Of course different rules may apply if you are freelance and paid for a piece of work rather than hours worked – in that case it’s up to you when you work and when you don’t. If you don’t finish the work you don’t get paid.
10) Use technology. Email and remote access to computers are a fantastic way to keep on top of things, but don’t forget the phone. Many of us would much rather write an email than speak to someone but you could be missing a trick. Hearing a friendly voice will stave off loneliness, and help you to build relationships with your colleagues. By not being in the office, you may miss out on the banter so it’s important that other people realise you are still part of the team.