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Here are 10 top tips for homeworking, and making it work.
Over the last 10 years there has been a huge movement towards home working and remote working. Lots of people are working remotely these days, if not full time, then at least part time, which gives you the best of both worlds. Of course, there are many jobs you can’t do remotely, but they are decreasing by the day as technology opens up new possibilities and affects the type of jobs that are available. For parents, remote or home working offers up some big benefits – cutting commuting time, being around for children’s sick days/inset days and the like – and for employers it means fewer days off because employees can work even though there’s a snowstorm or a transport strike or whatever. There’s also research showing the benefits in terms of increased productivity.
It doesn’t, of course, suit everyone, but parents may have an added reason to make it work if they’ve struggled with the stress of childcare fines due to delayed trains or traffic, had to rearrange meetings at the last minute or ring up every single friend they know because their son or daughter has woken up with norovirus or just found the whole logistics planning needed to ensure everyone is in the right place at the right time has become a little overwhelming.
One of the tips lots of websites suggest is having childcare in place. It is true that working with children present can be extremely stressful, depending on their age. Yet many people choose to run their own businesses and work them around their children’s sleep patterns when they are very small. When they stop sleeping so much – if they ever did – and particularly when they start walking/running, this can be very difficult, particularly if you have phone calls to make. Despite the miracle of invention that is the mute button, it is likely that you will be unable to focus well, especially because as soon as you pick up the phone your child will start demanding your full attention by, for instance, urgently needing the toilet – even if you have taken them to the toilet only seconds before.
For your own sanity, it is advisable therefore to have childcare in place and employers will expect that you have. On the upside, as children get older they will become more independent and may even advise you on certain aspects of your work, eg, technology-related issues.
Be aware that, even if you are clear from the very beginning, everyone will assume you are around for all manner of things, such as deliveries, repairs, child-related sickness, inset days, vet visits, GP visits, after-school activities, etc, even if you repeatedly tell them that you are working. This will result in more judicious use of the mute button as you get halfway through a conference call and someone arrives to read the meter. Remember to keep listening to the conference call while escorting people to the meter or you will find yourself being asked a question and will have absolutely no idea what preceded it.
Try to resist the urge to multi-task during conference calls in general. It is all too easy to sit reading your emails while someone else is talking and then find out afterwards that your name has been put down for several tasks which you don’t even recall agreeing to. The most effective meetings only call in the relevant people for the relevant items so you don’t waste time hearing about what x is doing in finances when it has no bearing on your role.
Very few organisations who allow people to work remotely provide technical support. You’re on your own. On the downside, dealing with internet breakdowns and the like can suck up vast amounts of time as you check your phone for Youtube tutorials and may even result in your neighbours reporting you to social services for abuse of your laptop. On the upside, you will soon learn how to fix most technical problems or will build a team of children who can advise you.
They may provide a welcome distraction from work eg dogs are a good excuse to take a break and go for a walk and they may also serve as ghost colleagues, eg, you can bounce ideas off them. Guinea pigs are particularly good for advising on strategic matters.
You will very likely become more productive and develop amazing powers of focus. This is often because you will have a specific timeframe in which to do your job eg before the school run, but also because you will have no distractions unless you are for some strange reason drawn to housework. Even so, doing housework can provide a break and a much needed time for reflection. There is nothing like bunging some laundry in the washing machine for sorting a particularly difficult policy question.
All the advice is to have a separate space reserved solely for working so that you can close it down at the end of the working day and not lose any paperwork, whether that is a separate office, a garden shed or just a small corner in the living room, but, as with all things, different people work better in different circumstances.
You need to find out what works for your situation. Some, for instance, prefer a more “blended” approach where their desk is essentially in the middle of home life. Some people like to ‘travel’ to work by walking round the block before they start for the day. If you have school/nursery/childminder drop-offs anyway, you probably don’t have to worry about this. Coming back to a quiet house presents home in a whole new light. It could almost be a different place.
It’s the eternal downside of working from home. Despite instant messaging, etc, you are still essentially on your own physically. On the up side, you focus more. On the downside it can feel like you are hidden away from the world. It’s a good idea to break and chat to other homeworkers in your area, if you can identify any, but if you are trying to focus that may be difficult. This is where mixing homeworking and office working can work well so that you get the best of both worlds, as Hannah Montana so rightly put it.
The potentially good news is that more and more people are working from home so it is only a matter of time before half your street, your partner, if you have one, and potentially your children when they get older are all around too.
And the good news you will not be sitting on your own in silence because you will receive a lot of calls, regular daily calls, from people selling all manner of products. Develop a quick, but polite way of getting them off the line. This may be hard because they will mainly call at the busiest times of your day or when small people are yelling their loudest.
Working from home is a definite advantage for dealing with school holidays and playschemes that finish early and only cater for one age group. Teenagers probably won’t get up till the afternoon anyway so you can probably do a full working day before they get up and have time to spend with them later.
Depending on your approach – either remember to eat or else don’t pick at sugary stuff all day long. If you are focused on a project cooking something may be a bad idea as it is highly likely it will get burnt. Exercise is obviously a good thing. On the positive side, you will have saved time from commuting so can afford 20 minutes for whatever exercise takes your fancy. You may have to factor it in, though, to ensure it doesn’t get pushed to the bottom of your to-do list. In the winter, it will help keep your circulation going as you may find yourself working in semi-freezing temperatures as you save money on heating just for you. Ah, the glamour…