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Homeworking is not all a walk in the park. The mental pressures can be challenging.
Homeworking can seem like the Holy Grail when you are facing the daily commute. You can break off to do pick-ups and be on hand in case of sudden child-related emergencies without having to worry about negotiating major traffic or signal failures. Then there are the soft-focus features on shed working, photos of lovely pristine office areas and the like which make it all seem so aspirational.
The reality, as with everything, is not very soft focus. Far from the insta-curated world of gleaming desks and children is the desk space carved out between the laundry and the breakfast dishes. The work life merge or splurge. The pressure to get things that require focus done before pick-up time. The joys of technology breakdowns. The realisation that cats do not make the best companions for brainstorming sessions.
And yet you can take a break and jump on the trampoline or write an article on a sweltering day with one foot in the paddling pool. You can get to know your neighbours or the area where you live better. You could even eat more healthily if you put your mind to it…
Things are never as cut and dried as they might seem. Since this is Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s worth considering the mental health implications of homeworking.
On the one hand, avoiding the stress of the commute is an immense boost to mental well being, the constant pressure to pull off minor miracles to get to the nursery or school on time before the fine system kicks in or you get a warning from whoever is in charge of school welfare, the feeling that you are wasting precious, precious time stuck in a traffic jam or on a slow-moving train, that you are constantly letting small people down by being the last to arrive for pick-up and that you have virtually no time or energy to find out how their day was as you limp through the front door.
On the other hand, homeworking can be a lonely business and it’s not for everyone. If you find it hard to motivate yourself it may not be for you. Yes, there is instant messaging and an array of techno fixes that help, but it’s not the same as being around other people. When my brother moved to Argentina over 10 years ago, he said talking over Skype would be virtually like we were in the same room. It’s not.
It’s not just at the start that homeworking can be hard either. Even after years of doing it, you can go through periods of finding it intensely challenging.
For those homeworking employees, as opposed to the self employed who face a range of other pressures, from financial to work insecurity, there is also pressure to prove yourself because it is hard to be ‘visible’ if almost everyone else is in the office and you aren’t. Many people overdo it because they are so grateful to have homeworking and fear losing it. They are also all too aware of the stereotypes that people just lie around watching daytime tv in their pjs so they feel the need to counter them. That means they often never switch off.
So how do you address the downsides of homeworking as well as the upsides? Well, acknowledging both is a good first step. There is no perfect way around this whole work life thing. Some people get out during the day and work from a local cafe or hub so they feel less isolated. Some fill the bits outside of working hours with more social stuff. Others use a lot of the techno fixes and also arrange regular face-to-face meetings with colleagues or fellow local homeworkers. Getting a mix of homeworking and office working can provide a regular reminder of the stress of commuting while also giving you a much needed dose of the general everyday human stuff that comes from face to face contact which often gets missed out in conference calls.
Meanwhile, the pressure to be always on is a general one, but there is growing awareness that it is not productive. We are still in the foothills of the digital revolution and feeling our way. Thinking about the demands of jobs today, listing them and looking at ways to make them more manageable is rising up the priority list. Similarly homeworking is becoming more the norm – at least for part of the week. If more people do it, there won’t be such a stigma attached and a feeling of needing to prove oneself, so the thinking goes.
Regular, unrushed catch-ups with homeworkers are also a good idea so they have the opportunity to discuss any problems without feeling their homeworking might be threatened. This, of course, relies on having managers who are aware of the potential issues, better still managers who have done or do homeworking themselves.
Moreover, there is a whole raft of modern homeworking types out there whose views might be useful to investigate. They have largely had to forge their own path and their experience – their expertise – may be worth cultivating.
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