With more people than ever working from home, it is inevitable, that you’ll see a great number of posts and blogs on the subject. These centre, for the most part, around productivity and advice on how to avoid domestic distraction. Very few consider the opposite perspective. The issue of doing too much. I began working from home around 2 years ago and this is exactly the challenge I first faced. After 20-years of city based working, when my daily commute would be the natural start and end to my day, I now lacked the structure that an office based working life can bring. Whilst I was now happily free to live far away from the London slog, I remained tethered to my work.
We are in an age when working from home is more prevalent than ever before. A staggering 4.2 million in the UK were classed as home-based workers, according to the 2014 survey by the Office of National Statistics. That was equivalent then to almost 14% of the national workforce. With improved technology and globalisation, this figure continues to rise.
The benefits for both the worker and employer are clear. Businesses can dramatically reduce their overheads, with less employees to house in offices, whilst at the same time expanding their potential talent pool, geography no longer being a barrier to employment. For remote workers, the opportunity to lead a more balanced life and eliminate the stressful (and costly) commute is a massive draw.
When I made the shift to work from home I was more than ready for the change. I’d become tired of the commute and was increasingly frustrated by the wasted hours spent in meeting rooms. It’s amazing how much time you can waste having a quick catch up here and a quick catch up there. I remained with the same organisation, but managed to change my role and even took the step of moving my family to the West Country - far enough away to no longer be within commuting distance of the office.
There’s no doubting that this was a fantastic move, but I quickly noticed that it does take quite some discipline and determination to make working from home a success. The challenge isn’t limited to only being able to focus on your work. It’s also about knowing how to reap the benefits and ensuring you tap into the great work/life balance that working remotely can give you.
Most of the articles I’ve read warn of distractions and making sure that you don’t end up scrubbing loos whilst you’re actually meant to be working. In fact, the very day I chose to write on this subject, a Harvard Business Review Article by Elizabeth Grace Saunders, warned of exactly that. She urges the remote worker to ask the question: If I was in the office, would I do this task during the day? If the answer is no, then don’t do it. So no loo scrubbing or throwing the washing in the machine!
I’d argue that I had the opposite problem and I’m sure I’m not alone! In the first few months of being home-based, I fell into the trap of working more hours rather than less. I was even anxious at leaving my desk for just 5 minutes to make a cup of tea, worrying that this could be perceived as me slacking off. I made sure I was online before anyone else in the office and would make myself available for late night meetings, whenever colleagues in the US requested my time.
Very soon I was working until 11pm at night on an almost daily basis and saw less and less of my family, who were only in the room next door! So why was I doing this?
For one, I suspected that my peers imagined me “working from home” as actually: sitting in the garden, sipping Pimms, glancing occasionally at emails and putting in the bare minimum to still warrant a pay cheque. A harsh assessment, but one common of the 70s born generation, who had for many years only known office-based working. Secondly, I felt that I had to put in more than anyone else, for the privilege of being allowed to work from home in the first place. This afterall a perk right?
Well, I was wrong on both counts and quickly became frustrated and frankly tired. I was working harder than ever before and not seeing any of the benefits of being at home. So I too asked myself a very similar question, to the one in Saunders’ article: If I was in the office, would I be doing this? Answering that one question, helped me realise that I had absolutely no obligation to be online into the night or take conference calls after hours. I could of course be more flexible with my hours, but I shouldn’t feel obligated to be. Nor should I work longer hours just to prove that I was in fact working. As long as I continued to deliver value, I was doing a good job and shouldn’t need to prove my worth by working longer hours.
So I began to re-prioritise. Putting the important things first and finding the balance I needed to make myself and my family happier. Here’s how:
I now know when to stop. I even have an alarm to tell me when my working day is done. That’s not to say I immediately switch off from work. That’s something I still need to master. It’s a work in progress and I’ll let you know how I get on another time!