by Dr Catherine Armstrong
Many employers are now offering their staff the opportunity to work from home, partly to suit employees who need to make flexible working arrangements and partly because desk space is so valuable and over-subscribed. There are many advantages to the employee working from home. You can manage your own time and are not restricted by the traditional office hours of 9am to 5pm. In these difficult economic times any money saved by not travelling to and from work will be an advantage to your personal or family budget.
However, before taking on regular home working you need to be sure that you are the sort of person who will flourish under those conditions and that you have the support of those in your household. Otherwise you might find yourself craving a return to the office. Here are some things to think about when deciding whether to work from home.
Too many distractions?
Some people find it very difficult to work in a large open plan office with the chatter of colleagues around them, whereas others find it just as hard to work in an office alone. If you are the sort of person who finds it difficult to concentrate, you need to make sure that working from home is actually ‘working' and not making hot drinks, doing the washing up, answering the phone, surfing the web etc!
Without a boss or colleagues directly looking over your shoulder it can be hard to stay focussed on your work. It is important to remain motivated and disciplined. Set yourself small achievable goals for each day you are at home. If you finish your tasks early then reward yourself with a break. Find out whether you work better early in the morning or late at night and maximise your time of peak concentration.
Support from those you live with
Connected to the first point above, you need to make sure that anyone that you live with (housemates, partners, children or parents) respects the fact that you have to get on with your work while you are in the house. Some people who do not have the opportunity to work from home imagine it is an easier life. They may see your working day as flexible or less serious and try to distract you. You need to let them know that just because you are at home, this is not a day off. Treat it the same as any other working day, be disciplined and get into a routine. Do not allow other people's needs to come first during the short time that you are working. But equally allow yourself breaks in which you can address the needs of family and friends. If necessary use signals such as a closed door to signal to those you live with that you are working and mustn't be disturbed.
It is important to make sure you have all the equipment you need at home to complete your work. This will probably include a computer (desktop or laptop) that is online, perhaps a telephone and fax and a printer. If you need special software packages or network connections to your main office make sure those are established and working too. If you have to spend a lot of money on equipment perhaps your company or institution will help you out with the cost.
You also need to set up a designated work-space at home. Ideally this will be a separate room where you can shut yourself away and concentrate, with everything you need at your fingertips. It help to know that your papers will not have been disturbed the next time you come to use them. However, if your house is simply not big enough to have a separate room, use a dining room table or a spare bedroom: somewhere as quiet and private as possible. This will help you psychologically as well as practically. If you go to your work space at a given time to begin work you will find it easier to concentrate than if you get your laptop out while sitting on the sofa and watching daytime TV!
Not everyone suits regular home working. For most people a day or two at home is a treat, but doing it on a regular basis can become stressful if it is not for you. You need to be able to work independently, to know that you have the inner drive to sit down and get your task done. But also you need to have the confidence that you can accomplish your tasks on your own. If you are calling or emailing your main office every five minutes to ask your colleagues or your boss for advice or assistance, then you are probably better off working alongside them at a desk in the main office. Equally if you are a creative person who constantly needs to bounce ideas off others then home working may not be for you, although some sorts of brainstorming can be done successfully electronically.
Prioritise and delegate
To work from home effectively you have to be very organised and a good time manager. Even if you are able to overcome the external distractions within the home mentioned above, you still have to be able to fulfil your work tasks without the support of others around you. You need to be able to organise your working day without having a boss watching over you and asking whether your task has been completed. You still might have to work to tight deadlines but at home you will feel less pressure from the hectic office environment, so you need to know how and when to prioritise the tasks you have been given. It is important to have this skill on your CV.
You may also need to feel that you can delegate work to others, even if they are not sitting next to you. The isolation and separation that comes from working from home can be especially challenging to your practices if you are used to working in a tight-knit team. So, don't fall into the trap of thinking you must do everything yourself. It is still possible to be a team player while working from home.