Working from home, is it for you? The pros and cons of home-working
So many people are attracted to the idea of working from home. It has an idealisticness about it, the notion of freedom from the tyranny of the alarm clock, and the commuter travel. I have worked from home for many years now, and also recruit and manage other homeworkers in various roles - and whilst I would never want to work in any other way now, I have a sound take on the realities of the situation from both sides.
Recent technological and communications advances have opened up home working to so many more people, in the past decade. Policy changes in employment, promoting flexible working and retention of good employees who have caring or parenting commitments, along with reductions in travel pollution costs, mean that even large corporations are having to look realistically at home-based working as an option. Some commentators are even talking about a 'work from home generation', who have never had to go to a special building in the center of town, just to get their internet to work and to communicate with colleagues! But home-based working is often equally attractive to those who have spent years or decades in the traditional centralized workplace
So why might it be good for you? Well, if like millions around the world you live in the suburbs and commute to the city, you probably spent several weeks of every year of your life either glued to a stranger's armpit on a cattle-truck train, or bumper to bumper on an overcrowded highway. You can rarely work, or even do anything enjoyable like reading, and you arrive to start work already tired and stressed in many cases. Getting those hours back, morning and evening, means a later start to the day, time to exercise, relax, or be with your partner and kids. Although many people do inevitably find the work expanding to fill those hours, especially if they work for themselves.
Working from home inevitably means more flexibility, even if you are tied to contractual hours - its easy to get your washing done, take deliveries and do lots of other things that are normally impossible when you're not at home. And most employment contracts will generally offer greater flexibility for homeworkers to attend local appointments or family commitments.
You'll save money too - not just on your commuting costs, which might be substantial on their own, but think about what you spend on lunches and coffees at work in a month, and also the clothes you need for the office. Even when you offset some changed costs like insuring your work equipment at home and having the heating on for longer, the savings are very worthwhile.
Also for the right person, home working means greater productivity. Assuming you get your working environment right - which means freedom from interruptions and distractions - you can avoid the gossip, noise and office politics, and just get into the zone and work. Then you can enjoy the rest of your life far more!
So why doesnt everyone love working from home and thrive in that environment? Well, some people are drawn to the idea and then can't actually handle the reality of it.
Communications are a huge factor - it is easy to become isolated, and there is a significant responsibility for a manager to promote dialogue, in a multi-channel way - its easy to hide behind emails and IM's when what's really needed is a proper chat on the phone or in videoconference. It takes a sensitive and empathetic manager to pick up on how people really are, when you are not face to face working - spotting who is overloaded, unwell or fed up is much less obvious when body language isn't easy to rely on. The main thing is to foster good habits of frequent communication - to provide corporate IM and conferencing tools and encourage their regular use, not just for mission-critical business communications, also for the water-cooler chitchat that is part of office life.
Getting the right mindset and environment for homeworking is vital too. You still need a dedicated 'office' someplace, even if it's just a corner of the kitchen table - the ideal being a door you can close at the end of the day of course. And how does the rest of your household really feel, about your co-opting of the guest-room or den? Frank and realistic assessment of options and impact of everyone affected is needed, if you are going to make it work.
You need to create and protect your working environment - your neighbours or parents wouldnt drop on you unannounced at the office and expect to be entertained and made coffee at all hours, so make the groundrules clear upfront. And if you have a young family, working from home offers great flexibility and time management efficiencies, as well as ways to respond to the inevitable emergencies... however it is NOT a substitute for regular childcare.
Some people literally cannot manage the lack of face to face interaction and stimulation, and prefer to log on in a teleworking center or internet cafe... at least if your work is mobile and flexible, you can try different environments, especially if you need creative stimulation and just feel stalled and stuck. You probably can't use your regular phone though, and guess what - laptops are hard to use on the beach - so you need to think carefully about how and where you work.
If you are trying to convince an employer to trial a homeworking arrangement, you will need to be super-productive and accountable. At the office, everyone can see who at least looks busy - at home it's less obvious. I have managed people - not for long! - who raised the big question 'what are they DOING all day?'. If your work is creative or woolly-edged and it's not obvious to an employe exactly how you are spending the time they are paying your for, you might find it helpful even for your own satisfaction to journal your daily accomplishments or where your attention has been. Then you can account for yourself if asked, or at a periodic review, if ever needed to justify your commitment.
Once the right match between homeworker and manager is in place, the benefits for both sides are just awesome. Don't assume homeworking is an simple way to manage costs for the employer, or a easy dream lifestyle for the employee - get real, explore the issues, and do your best to make it work.
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