Many mums turn to working at home as a means of managing work and family life. Certainly the commute from bedroom to office is appealing, as is the flexibility to pop out to pick the children up from school or the childminders but it isn’t for everyone and it isn’t always the ‘easy option’ that many hope it will be.
It may sound obvious but working at home can be very isolating. Some mums may cherish the opportunity to have some quiet time, working at home without the usual noise of children in the background but others may crave the adult company that an office can bring.
Being isolated also means that you have to look at different ways of being creative with your colleagues and learning about new things, or developing your skill set. Sometimes a work at home job is taken at a lower level then your actual ability because you are more than capable of fulfilling the job requirements and therefore you need little hand holding in the office to get on with it. So whilst you are a boss’s dream you might be your own worst enemy when it comes to feeling all alone.
There are ways around this, however. Set up an instant messaging board with key colleagues so that you can share information with them daily this way. Follow your organisation on social networking sites where they may already have a following such as Twitter or Face book and importantly schedule in some ‘talk time’ with your colleagues and boss. This might be in the form of a weekly conference call or even fortnightly. What is important is that it is a regular forum for catching up on news and to communicate what you are doing and where you need help. None of this can replace face to face time, however, and unless you live a long way from the office it is beneficial to spend one day every so often in the office.
It’s also good to schedule in some time away from your desk if you work at home regularly. Take a walk at lunchtime or arrange to meet a contact or friend for lunch. In the worst case scenario working at home can lead to feelings of real isolation and even depression, if you feel you are going down this road then take action and talk to your boss or doctor.
Communication or rather the lack of it is a common problem for working at home mums. You agree to the job, you are very capable and off you go but once you’ve shown that you are very self-sufficient this can be seen by the boss as a green card to take a step back. Working for weeks by yourself, tirelessly without any interaction from your boss and importantly thanks can therefore be very disheartening.
If this starts to be a problem the first thing to do is to address it. Schedule in a regular catch up time, either by phone, Skype or in person. You may have some great ideas that you’d prefer to convey face to face too.
Alternatively you might be the type of person that isn’t very good at communicating so remind yourself that you need to let your colleagues know what you are doing. You are probably part of a team and many people will be relying upon you so write yourself a check list of who you need to inform regarding progress on the work that you are carrying out. Similarly if you are going on holiday or changing your working schedule, then give your colleagues plenty of advanced warning. It is also good to check in daily with the team so everyone knows what you are working on and where you’re at.
‘Being seen’ is often viewed as the only route to success. But this needn’t be so. Be true to yourself and from the day you agree to the working at home job, set out the ground rules, agree where you want to be in two years time and what skills you hope to pick up along the route. It might be that working at home is a short pit-stop before an eventual return to the office so if you are career hungry then ensure that your career doesn’t languish whilst you are working from your home office.
There are several ways to do this. Put together a career development map from the start and agree this with the boss. If you work for a small company and this looks unlikely to come up in conversation then expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible. It might be the case that you can cover someone’s leave whilst they’re off or on maternity leave and glean some great skills.
There are also training courses that you can undertake online and from home, schedule in some time to do this and keep in touch with the office – make sure that you are not being missed off the list of training days or office brain storming sessions just because you work from home.
Working at home is a great way of managing your home and work life. By cutting the commute you can fit in the time to take the children to school yourself and often pick them up too. This should not be ignored as a great benefit when you consider whether or not to take your working from home job. But be sure that you are taking on the job for the right reasons, because you love the work and are aligned with company values and not because you see it as a way of managing your home life because your career may suffer and you will be unhappy in a job you don’t like.
Working at home doesn’t cut out the need for regular and quality childcare either. If you think you can work at home and look after the children then think again, especially if they are very young. You will just end up being constantly distracted and you won’t satisfy your desire to either be a good parent or a good employee. So make sure you book your childcare and that the finances stack up. You may be able to manage the odd day without childcare but ensure that you have a regular pattern to your work and that it doesn’t impact on the children’s home lives either.
If you enjoy your work and are perfectionist and a bit of a workaholic then the problem you might well face is that you can’t ever leave your computer and your work because it is always there, staring at you! Working excessive hours can be as much of a problem as not working enough if you are prone to being distracted because you are at home.
If you are of the workaholic variety then stick to strict office hours or whatever has been agreed with your boss and if you have the space at home, create a separate home office in which you can keep your desk and your paperwork separately from the rest of the daily life that goes on at home. The top of the house is a great place but equally an out building that can be converted or a desk in the spare bedroom.
On the other hand if you are prone to finding yourself in front of daytime telly or with the Hoover in your hand on the promise that you’ll do some work in a minute, then you need to evaluate whether you are fulfilling what is required from the job. Of course you can take five minutes here and there to put the washing on or give the sitting room a bit of a tidy but build this in as regular breaks that you would normally take in the office and if you start slipping then it might be time to consider working in an office once again.
If you decide that working at home is for you then the journey to a happy and fulfilling working at home job will be a lot smoother if you go into it with your eyes wide open.