Get best of both worlds
Working from home is only for those who can manage time well and are highly organised, writes Sophie Toomey
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!’’
Flexibility: Charlotte Gee puts a lot of work into maintaining relationships at work