Get best of both worlds

Work­ing from home is only for those who can man­age time well and are highly or­gan­ised, writes So­phie Toomey

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Career One -

IF your vi­sion of work­ing from home is long breaks for a day­time movie and never get­ting out of your slip­pers you’re in for a shock. The re­al­ity of work­ing from home is that dead­lines still ex­ist and like any other work setup it comes with ups and downs and a unique set of chal­lenges. Think no so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, no one to struc­ture your day and the of­fice al­ways in your home. Work­ing from home is only for those who are dis­ci­plined, or­gan­ised, ded­i­cated com­mu­ni­ca­tors and not afraid of be­ing alone.

In 2005 the Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics recorded 2,320,000 work­ers as do­ing at least some of their work at home. And tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions are en­sur­ing that link­ing to the of­fice is more pos­si­ble than ever. Ni­cole Isaacs, re­gional di­rec­tor of Hays Hu­man Re­sources, says that com­pa­nies are in­creas­ingly of­fer­ing em­ploy­ees the op­por­tu­nity to com­bine both home and of­fice work. ‘‘ Em­ploy­ers might sug­gest this ar­range­ment for a num­ber of rea­sons, a lack of space in the of­fice be­ing just one of them,’’ Isaacs says.

He says the ar­range­ment of­ten works bril­liantly for both em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees, of­fer­ing work­ers the best of both worlds.

Char­lotte Gee, AMP’s learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment con­sul­tant, ven­dor man­age­ment, says she has com­bined two days at home with two days in the of­fice for the past three years. The ben­e­fits have been enor­mous, she says.

‘‘ I have a lit­tle boy and it gives me the flex­i­bil­ity to be an ac­tive mum and ful­fill his needs and to do a job as well.’’

Isaacs says many peo­ple opt for work­ing from home to im­prove their work life bal­ance. ‘‘ The long com­mutes and the long hours at the of­fice can play havoc with peo­ple’s home lives: we all know that. Those who work from home don’t have the com­mute and they can start work at any time of the day. Peo­ple can get up early and fin­ish all their work by mid­day. Or they can spend the morn­ing with the kids and the af­ter­noon at the desk. It does of­fer flex­i­bil­ity in terms of work hours.’’

While work­ing from home may seem an ideal lifestyle choice, the re­al­ity is that not all work­ers are cut out for it. Isaacs says that for some peo­ple it is just not a vi­able op­tion: not just be­cause of their job but their per­son­al­ity and skill set. ‘‘ It drives some peo­ple crazy. They are just not self­suf­fi­cient enough or they can’t take the iso­la­tion. You need to be able to get your­self out of holes and to keep to a rou­tine. Not ev­ery­one can do that. I have known peo­ple who would walk round the block sev­eral times a day just to be around peo­ple. It didn’t agree with them.’’

Even those who are cut out for home work need to put things in place to keep them­selves on track. Robert Ger­rish, di­rec­tor of Fly­ing Solo, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that as­sists home-based work­ers, cites lack of out­side in­put and struc­ture, fluid work­ing hours and lone­li­ness as some of the things that plague home work­ers. Isaacs sug­gests there are ways to avoid the feel­ings of iso­la­tion. ‘‘ Try to do at least some face-to-face meet­ings, net­work with oth­ers who work from home and make sure you get out of the house ev­ery day. Also re­mem­ber to al­ways take lunch breaks as you can go a bit crazy if you don’t.’’ Ger­rish also ad­vises set­ting your­self proper work­ing days even if it’s 6am to 1pm and cre­at­ing your own dead­lines if your job doesn’t have them in­built. ‘‘ Buddy up with oth­ers work­ing from home and hand dead­lines over to them if you have to. Then you are ac­count­able.’’

Ger­rish says an­other prob­lem is the dis­trac­tions that ex­ist at home. ‘‘ There’s al­ways wash­ing, cook­ing, clean­ing but you have to make work time exclusive of any of th­ese things.’’ Ger­rish ad­vises block­ing out work time in your diary and stick­ing to it, as well as cre­at­ing dead­lines for your­self that you must ad­here to. ‘‘ Th­ese are ba­sic time man­age­ment skills but they work.’’

Lack of bound­aries as an is­sue, Ger­rish says. ‘‘ Of­ten peo­ple don’t treat their of­fice as their of­fice and let oth­ers come in and out and in­ter­rupt while they are work­ing. You wouldn’t let your kids do that if you were in a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment and nor should you at home.’’ Ger­rish says if you don’t treat your work se­ri­ously you can’t ex­pect those around you to do so ei­ther. ‘‘ If you swan around in your slip­pers, let the neigh­bours drop in for tea, and treat your job like a hobby then that’s what oth­ers will do. Treat it se­ri­ously.’’

When it comes to hav­ing the kids around, Isaacs says there are those who be­lieve that they can jug­gle home-work and car­ing for kids. Says Isaacs, ‘‘ It’s a mis­take to think that work­ing at home will pre­clude the need for nan­nies or day­care. The re­al­ity is that multi-task­ing al­most never works. You are much bet­ter off ar­rang­ing part-time care and fit­ting all your work into shorter hours so you can have good fam­ily time and good work time.’’

Gee says she hasn’t struck any of the pit­falls of work­ing from home, largely be­cause she com­bines of­fice and home.

She doesn’t find lack of con­tact with peo­ple a prob­lem nor does she suf­fer from lack of mo­ti­va­tion or struc­ture. ‘‘ I have face-to-face meet­ings in the of­fice and I put a lot of work into main­tain­ing my re­la­tion­ships at work.’’ Gee says be­ing out of the of­fice re­quires her to make a more con­certed ef­fort to be part of the team at work, some­thing she does by stay­ing in con­stant email and phone con­tact. ‘‘ Not a day goes by when I don’t have con­tact with my man­ager.’’

Gee says for her, con­cen­trated work time has been a ma­jor ben­e­fit of work­ing at home. ‘‘ I achieve more than if I were in the of­fice. I work three solid hours a day with ab­so­lutely no in­ter­rup­tions and I can re­ally con­cen­trate.’’ Gee stresses that dis­ci­pline and or­gan­i­sa­tion are key fac­tors of mak­ing such an ar­range­ment work. ‘‘ You have to show your con­tri­bu­tions. You must be very dis­ci­plined and ar­range your day so that you are re­spond­ing to emails and phone calls and your out­put is ob­vi­ous. ’’

Ed­i­tor and writer Lisa Doust agrees with Gee that one of the ad­van­tages of home-based work is that her days are fo­cused en­tirely on work with­out dis­trac­tions and stresses. ‘‘ My days are not con­sumed with of­fice pol­i­tics or meet­ings and I am home for my sons at 3 o’clock.’’

Doust works from home as a free­lance mag­a­zine ed­i­tor, some­thing she opted to do 16 years ago when she de­cided to do con­tract work. ‘‘ I liked the au­ton­omy so I have cho­sen to work this way. I used to work in of­fices but stopped do­ing that with the on­set of the web and email. It is now a pre­req­ui­site of any job I take on.’’

Isaacs says that cre­at­ing a net­work and keep­ing in touch with oth­ers who work alone is vi­tal and can make all the dif­fer­ence. ‘‘ Make your­self avail­able to do th­ese things if you work for an or­gan­i­sa­tion. Net­work, ar­range so­cial oc­ca­sions, team din­ners or break­fasts.’’ Doust has cre­ated just such a sup­port net­work. ‘‘ I catch up with my col­leagues in meet­ings and have good phone re­la­tion­ships with ev­ery­one I work for or with. If I am stuck for in­spi­ra­tion I go for a long walk or go and work in a lo­cal cafe. I also have a cou­ple of close friends who work free­lance and can al­ways call them and meet up for din­ner when pos­si­ble.’’

Gee says there were those who didn’t take her se­ri­ously in the be­gin­ning but she just ig­nored the jibes about her re­lax­ing at home watch­ing day­time TV and loung­ing round the house. ‘‘ I had a few of those in the be­gin­ning and peo­ple do have the per­cep­tion that you are not hard­work­ing or that they can’t take you se­ri­ously. Once my col­leagues and clients saw my out­put the com­ments went away.’’

So what about the em­ploy­ers: is hav­ing their work­force at home prov­ing to be a work­able ar­range­ment? Josephine Parker, Char­lotte Gee’s man­ager at AMP says that she and Char­lotte have dealt eas­ily with the unique set of chal­lenges that work­ing from home brings up. ‘‘ Her open com­mu­ni­ca­tion style and ded­i­ca­tion to her work makes hav­ing her at home easy.’’ Parker says the ar­range­ment must, how­ever, work for both par­ties and flex­i­bil­ity is key. ‘‘ We sup­port her need to work from home but she also sup­ports the oc­ca­sions when we have needed her in the of­fice on a des­ig­nated at-home day.’’

Parker says in ad­di­tion to com­mu­ni­ca­tion about work, her team makes an ef­fort to so­cialise. ‘‘ It’s im­por­tant that ev­ery­one feels part of the team and since Char­lotte isn’t go­ing to have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties to keep up with chats in the hall­way we con­duct reg­u­lar meet­ings.’’ Parker says food is a great uni­fier. ‘‘ Our team are great lovers of culi­nary ac­tiv­i­ties like lunches and break­fast. We all ap­pre­ci­ate food: es­pe­cially choco­late. Noth­ing brings peo­ple to­gether like food!’’

Pic­ture: Sam Mooy

Flex­i­bil­ity: Char­lotte Gee puts a lot of work into main­tain­ing re­la­tion­ships at work

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