How can I keep up productivity when working from home?
Most of us, at one time or another (usually on a dark, wet Monday morning), have probably thought how fantastic it would be to work from home. No cold commute, a slow start, no need to get out of your dressing-gown till lunchtime.
But what’s the reality of working from home, and is it something that would really work for you?
First of all, get clear about exactly why you want to work from home. Legitimate reasons include helping you to juggle family commitments such as childcare, allowing yourself to work “smarter” by saving the time of a long journey to work, or allowing you to manage your time better if you spend a lot of time working independently, or often have to travel or work unsociable hours.
If you’re self-employed or about to start up your own business, working from home is often a sensible way of keeping your overheads down.
Employers are increasingly willing to allow employees to work at least part-time from home – it helps to keep their costs down and can be great for staff morale as it shows that your company trusts you to act responsibly.
If you have children under the age of 6, your employer is legally required to give serious consideration to a reasonable request to work flexibly. However, that doesn’t mean they have to agree to your request. Increase your chances of a favourable response by setting out clearly the benefits to your employer as well as yourself.
Be honest with yourself about how well you are suited to home working. If you’re someone who loves a quick gossip with your colleagues over your morning coffee, you might find it lonely being stuck at home all day on your own.
Be realistic about your ability to discipline yourself to get down to work when there’s no one there to check up on you: it can be all too easy to find a constant stream of chores and distractions to keep you away from the computer.
If you decide to go ahead and take the plunge, you’ll need to make sure that you have appropriate space and systems in place. The spare bedroom is the classic home office location, but if you’re short of space you may have to improvise a bit.
The key thing is to make sure that you have dedicated workspace that is comfortable and practical. If that means the kitchen table, arrange things so that you can easily clear away at the end of the day – so that you have room to live, but also so that you can switch off from work.
Drawing a boundary between work time and leisure time is often one of the most difficult problems for home workers. It’s all too easy just to check your email one more time or make one more phone call, and before you know it, it’s 10pm.
Put a routine in place: start work at the same time every day if possible, plan proper breaks throughout the day, and be disciplined about your finishing time. Take a break for lunch and, if possible, get outside and get some fresh air, or at least take some time away from your desk to do something completely different. This will help to keep you fresh and focused.
You’ll need to be strict with friends and family, too. When you work from home, people can fall into the trap of assuming that you’re always available to chat, go shopping, or help them out. If friends phone for a gossip, tell them that you’re working but you’ll call back at the end of the day.
Be prepared to be robust about this: one of the most frustrating things about working from home is that other people sometimes assume you don’t really have a ‘proper’ job – don’t reinforce their prejudices by not taking your work time seriously.
Put in place systems to keep you in touch with the office. A daily phone call and/or a weekly meeting will help to keep you involved and make sure you don’t get forgotten about. Try to meet up with colleagues socially from time to time so that you’re kept on the inside track of the office politics and what’s really going on.
Working from home can bring enormous benefits, helping you to juggle other demands, work more efficiently and reduce the stress of commuting. The secret to making it work for you is to be clear about the potential benefits as well as the drawbacks, and to put in place systems and procedures to make sure that you can work as efficiently and effectively as you would in the office. Then all you have to do is work out what you’re going to do with all the time you save!
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