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Does working from home permanently undermine self-confidence if homeworkers are not made to feel equal to other workers?
What is the cumulative impact of working from home on a person’s confidence? I’m asking because I know someone who has been working from home for years and is now going back into an office. It struck me that that person’s confidence levels were similar to those of the many returners I speak to. Yet she has been doing a regular job, with quite a bit of responsibility, for a long time. She has not had a break in her working life. It’s just that she has been working from home.
A few months ago I helped a neighbour with her cv. She has been working from home on her ex-partner’s business. From how she presented it it was as if she had been doing virtually nothing for years. We sat down and wrote down all the skills she had and those she had acquired through running a business, from invoicing to liaising with suppliers, problem solving, administration and so forth. Would she have felt so deskilled had she been doing this in an office surrounded by other people? The fact that she did it alone in her house with no support – apart from the odd call to me to help with internet and spreadsheet problems – did not register with her. Would a man feel similarly, I wonder, because the figures show that more men than women work remotely? Do the reasons for homeworking make a difference? If it is to be on hand for kids in case of the inevitable emergency, is it more likely that we will denigrate the work part of the equation, even if we work much harder than we might in an office – because, it seems, many people who work from home go beyond their hours?
Are we too grateful for the ‘opportunity’ to work from home, even if we do exactly the same as we would do in an office, or more – often because we are so worried that homeworking will be taken away from us? Indeed one of the business cases for homeworking is that workers will be more loyal and more productive, but why should they be? Often, in my experience, workers are left to get on with it and make homeworking work. Often no technological support is given, meaning the need for multiple back-up solutions, including neighbours, and the whole managing that sense of being adrift is left down to the individual to deal with. To work from home you need strong motivation [having kids is a huge one. The stereotype is that women are less committed to work after having kids – in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. It is the logistics that sap energy]. You need self discipline. You need enterprise. You need to acquire a whole heap of technology skills. You need to be able to understand how you work best. And yet those skills are rarely, if ever, recognised and valued and rarely, if ever, developed in any conscious way.
It really is not enough to let people work from home. Employers – and some of the good ones do – need to come up with ways to ensure homeworkers feel valued and equal to other workers or confidence issues will become more prevalent and many people could end up feeling trapped at home.