The art of working from home
Working from home is becoming increasingly common. In many respects, the digital economy has revolutionised the traditional workplace as digital devices make it possible to work practically anywhere. All you need is an internet connection and your virtual desk is flooded with data, information and contacts without the need to physically acquire them from a specific place. As a result, a growing army of workers can be seen working (or so it appears) from the most diverse locations such as trains, bars, parks or at home.
In some countries such as Great Britain, so-called teleworking is actively encouraged by businesses as a way of reducing employee travelling time and subsequent fuel consumption.
In other instances, working at home becomes a necessity when cost cutting is the priority or when the worker does not have a “real” job and is forced to stay at home.
Here, we take a serious and not-so-serious look at the pros and cons of working from home and the key attributes teleworkers need to have or to develop in order to maximise the advantages and ensure teleworking does not turn sour for them or for their families.
We believe that the art of working also applies to working from home because it involves the art of managing more freedom and flexibility…
Let’s begin with a few half-serious considerations on the advantages, large or small, of working from home:
- you are free to work in a place you like, in cosy, comfortable surroundings you are familiar with and which reflect your style and personality (unlike the many drab, unloved workplaces we are compelled to work in). Studies have shown that a pleasant, comfortable place of work will have a favourable impact on our creativity and productivity levels;
- the coffee’s great and bears no comparison to the horrid machine coffee found in offices plus you can drink from a proper cup putting an end to plastic ones…,
- the canteen is open all hours and the food is more natural. You can eat whatever you please without having to wait for the set time or resort to dubious snacks when you’re feeling peckish;
- the bathroom is all yours and has none of those disturbing little signs telling you what you can and cannot do and serving as a reminder that common sense and civil manners are not to be taken for granted;
- you can change your workstation and sit anywhere you like on a chair, on a sofa, on the floor, on a stool, whatever you find more comfortable and natural;
- breaks can be highly creative: a music track, a quick glimpse of a TV programme, a phone call, a shower, a nap or nipping outdoors for a breath of fresh air;
- you save time by not getting caught up in traffic or on the underground to get to work;
- flexible hours and no clocking in gives you greater freedom to organise your time;
- you are free to dress comfortably and informally; no uniforms and no need to break the bank on outfits for work;
- you have greater freedom to decide your priorities and how long to spend on them.
It goes without saying that there are also disadvantages:
- (social networks aside) you may feel lonely;
- distractions abound: housework, Facebook, hobbies awaiting your attentions, relatives to talk to, children to take care of….
- there’s nobody to monitor your progress or organise your work, so you may run the risk of getting lost in the planning process and working too much or too little;
- if you’re not comfortable in your home, you may end up feeling claustrophobic;
- you probably don’t have any of the wonderful diversions ranging from billiards to pinball machines offered by alternative modern workplaces, such as co-working offices.
Seriously though, it is not for everyone and requires certain capabilities.
A successful work-from-home career entails sound management of:
- your time;
- your responsibilities;
- your freedom;
- your workplace.
If you can manage these areas effectively, you can then add them, for example, to your CV as skills or mention them during an interview. Therefore, you would be able to say that you have good planning and time management skills, concentration and focus as well as the ability to prioritise and to work flexible hours.
However, if you aren’t totally satisfied with your at-home working capabilities or you are thinking of starting out and are concerned about the relative advantages and disadvantages, here is some advice:
- organise your work effectively during the day (which may simply mean drawing up a list of priorities). Decide how many hours to work and keep track of whether you meet your target. This is one of the trickiest aspects of remote work because it demonstrates how good you are at handling your sense of freedom. Imagine, for instance, that you decide to work eight hours a day. It may be wise to go swimming from 9 to 11 in the morning when the pool is less crowded but you should realise that you will have to work until nine o’clock in the evening when the rest of the world is resting to make up for lost time…. Alternatively, if you can afford to take Tuesday off to go to the seaside, you will have to work through Sunday when everyone else is on the beach. So the advice is: make the most of your freedom. Don’t feel guilty if you decide against working regular hours, but always remember to make up the time at other times of the day/week and to keep to your target number of hours;
- respect your workplace, don’t be tempted to let it get too untidy just because there is nobody there to make you toe the line. Tidiness and efficiency go together;
- even though less formal attire than if you were working outside the home is acceptable, don’t allow yourself to dress down too much. Even though you are at home, you are in your place of work and it has been proved that dressing with care will boost your confidence and authoritativeness;
- build a few pleasant rituals into your routine to make the most of the freedom you have at home (such as a phone call to a friend, a coffee at the bar downstairs, etc.) but also to break up the day which you are spending in isolation;
- always stay in touch with your professional network to avoid being too isolated: loneliness will make times of frustration more difficult to stand and impoverish your thoughts.