Working from Home

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by Ben Davies

Are you getting bored of driving to work or seeing the same co-workers everyday?! Wouldn't you much rather be working at home in your pyjamas, with a cup of tea in one hand and typing away with the other hand?! Ok, maybe that's taking it too far, but telework (sometimes called telecommuting) - that is, working for the office, but from home - is becoming an increasingly common and advantageous method of work. The idea is that a paid, contracted, full-time worker (just like any normal office employee) works from their home base, rather than making the costly and time-consuming commute to work everyday. With the catalyst of the Internet to facilitate it, and the chance to cut out the expensive overheads of office space, working from home has never seemed so viable. Not everyone is so keen on it, though, including (possibly) your boss. So how are you going to go about convincing your superiors that working from home is the way forward? And what advantages, or disadvantages, are there?

Making the move

Planning to work from home takes a lot of consideration. Jon, who has been working from home for 18 months, found this to be the case. "Planning to work from home was very much a conscious decision. The whole process, from planning and then engineering the change, took about two years." This is no overnight matter, then. Andrew, who has more recently began working from home, concurs. "Working from home was something I had really wanted to do for a long time. The office environment just didn't suit me, and the field I work in [journalism] lends itself well to this style of employment."

Your employer, naturally, doesn't want to be messed around. If this is something you want to do, consider it objectively. Is working from home actually feasible? Are you motivated and reliable? Do you have the necessary technology to make this move? If, after careful consideration, working from home is still something you want to do, you will need to speak to your employer about the matter. Outline carefully the advantages that you think it will have for both for you and your employer. This will include, obviously, things such as saving the company money, time and office space, any increase in productivity you will achieve, and the environmentally friendly matter of not having to commute (most companies want 'green' images). You should also be careful to address any concerns that your employer will have with telecommuting, such as self-discipline, technology, and other practicalities. If you can provide examples of known colleagues that have left behind the office for working from home then all the better. Also, working remotely doesn't mean you will never be seen again. Regular meetings - even if only once a quarter - with management or other team members are advantageous for both parties.

Why do it?

Talking about the advantages of this style of employment, Jon, quoted earlier, had this to say: "For some the change in environment will be a big advantage, for others it could represent an invigorating change in lifestyle. There's always one advantage in that it cuts out any time that would otherwise be spent commuting - time which could be spent on something more worthwhile." Certainly, the ambience of working from home is quite distant from that of the office. You have to be prepared for a change - is your home suitable for working, or are you going to be constantly distracted by D.I.Y. projects, or family matters? Andrew was also keen on the 'no commute' aspect. "Well, first you eliminate the stress and wasted time of the daily commute, which is lovely. You also get to structure your own working day - if you're really busy you can take as much time as you need to complete a task." Being largely in control of your own schedule allows you the freedom and flexibility to work at a productive pace. Andrew continues, "I've found I can be a lot more productive working from home, especially without the distractions of other people around. And of course I can work with my music on, which helps me to concentrate!"

Conversely, working from home can require a lot more from you as an employee. "It can be hard to get yourself motivated sometimes. Your attentions can tend to wander, and an hour long task can stretch out to several hours", says Andrew. Discipline, then, is vital if you are going to make this work. Jon was in agreement. "Self discipline can be difficult and being usefully productive can be quite a challenge. It is quite isolated without the diversion of social contact with colleagues, especially for those that enjoy working in a team."

Keep in touch

Of course, contact with the office is still maintained at all times. But without that face-to-face interaction, the job can become quite different. Andrew found this to be the case. "You can tend to lose your objectivity without someone there to bounce your ideas off, so I keep in touch with the office via Skype and e-mail." Jon, who worked in a large team all working remotely, found communication via the web to be both challenging and productive. "The team used a web-forum, Messenger and Skype to keep in contact. It worked well, but needed a great deal of discipline from everyone involved." It's important not to distance yourself from your colleagues when working remotely. Regular contact with the office - by email, an Internet messaging service, or face-to-face meetings - will keep you in the loop and maintain your sense of team spirit.

Some employers are beginning to see the benefits of remote workers, and are moving all of their operations to this method. It presents several advantages, not least that recruitment is no longer limited by location - the right person for the job can be hired wherever they live. It requires several things, including the technology to do it (such as a fast Internet connection, a multi-function phone, and preferably an office intranet to keep everyone up to date) and discipline from both sides, but the positive aspects are immediately rewarding.

If you are considering either taking a new job that involves working remotely, or asking your employer about working from home instead of from the office, you should research the matter thoroughly and be ready for a significant - and hopefully beneficial - change in lifestyle.

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