Living in pyjamas, watching daytime TV, wasting time on Facebook, taking two-hour lunch breaks to go to the gym…these are some of the images people often associate with home working. In my experience however, these couldn’t be further from the truth.
There’s no 9-5 when you work from home. Particularly if you’re self employed or freelance, there are always deadlines to meet, client relationships to nurture, new business leads to follow up, accounts to file, work to research and emails to respond to. Continually thinking ahead to the next month’s work, which may be uncertain, is a given; and switching off completely is rarely an option. Taking proper holidays requires military planning, and rarely happens without the company of a laptop.
But for all its idiosyncrasies, home working is booming, as it brings with it many work-life benefits. According to the TUC, in 2015 the number of people regularly working from home increased by more than 800,000 compared with 2005, taking the total to 4,218,699. Additionally, more and more Brits are joining the freelance ranks. In 2015 there were 1.91 million freelancers, a rise of 36% since 2008, according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE).
It takes a certain type of person to work from home. While it’s a growing trend, I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with friends and associates who admit they would never have the self discipline and motivation to work from home. According to new research, men are less likely to thrive and succeed in a home working environment than women. Low confidence and flaky commitment were cited as influencing men’s behaviour, as well as self image.
But there are also many benefits to home working, namely the flexibility and autonomy, and I couldn’t imagine working any other way. For working parents particularly, home working can be a great way to maintain a healthy work-life balance, while continuing to pursue the career you love. A few simple rules and good habits go a long way to making home working sustainable…so whether you’re new to home working, or well established, here are some tips to help you prosper…
1. Take pride in your work
Proving yourself and the quality of your work is fundamental to making home working sustainable. In my experience, home workers often go above and beyond what’s been asked of them, and take an exceptional level of pride in the work they deliver. They do this instinctively, without the encouragement of a boss, as they’re motivated by what they achieve.
2. Make hay while the sun shines
If you’re juggling work with family, making the most of the house when it’s empty and quiet, is a must. The home environment can bring with it all manner of distractions, and scheduling in time when you know you can work most effectively, is a good habit to get into from the start. The washing up and hovering can always wait until later in the day, at a time when you know it will be less effective to work.
3. Work on your terms
When the sun bursts out (which we all know is a rare occurrence in the UK), if you can afford to take a break, make the most of it. Whether it’s taking a book out into the garden for 30 minutes, going for a run in the park or a swim in the sea, seize the opportunity whenever you can. If it means taking a half hour break from work to pick the children up from school, do so, as this ensures you are working on your terms and reaping the benefits of home working.
4. Mix up your work environment
Don’t fall into the trap of being constrained by the same four walls every day, as you would within an office environment, as this can lead to boredom and isolation. If it’s warm and sunny you could work al fresco for the day, in the garden or from the grounds of a nice hotel with wifi. Co-working spaces are also popping up all over the place, and the chances are there’s one near you where you could rent a desk once a week, or once a month. Not only is it healthy to have a change of environment, but it’s a great way to network with likeminded individuals who you may be able to share work with, or collaborate with in some way.
5. Plan your days effectively
The journey or commute into work can often be an effective time to consider the day ahead, and mentally map out your priorities. But when you’re living and working from the same place, the temptation is to dive straight into work, without giving too much thought to the order of your day. It’s important to make time for planning and reflection, so that your working day is effective.
6. Set goals, and evaluate regularly
As a home worker, it’s unlikely that you’ll be part of the same appraisal system as an in-house employee, so it’s crucial that you continue to hold yourself to account. In addition to evaluating the quality of your work and output, it’s important to be setting both long and short term goals for yourself, so that as well as earning a living, you are remaining focused on self development and career progression. This will help to ensure that you are going somewhere with your career, so that years don’t suddenly pass without any noticeable improvement in money, accomplishments, skills or job satisfaction.
7. Be transparent in your workflow
One of the obvious challenges with home working is that no one can see you working. Your boss or your client may trust that you are putting in the hours and are on target with your project or deadline, but from experience, it can be extremely helpful to offer regular updates on how a piece of work is coming together. You may decide to offer manual updates via email or a phone call, or enlist the help of a workflow or project management tool such as Podio, or even provide transparency through time tracking. Whatever the method, make sure it suits the purpose and will hold you accountable in a way you feel comfortable.
8. Invest in your social media presence
One of the dangers of home working is that you go ‘off the grid’, simply because you’re no longer physically present and visible in the way that you were. This is where social media comes into its own, as it can be a quick and easy way to ensure you stay front of mind within the industry circles that matter. Schedule regular time each week to maintain your social media profiles, so that your network of contacts continue to know what you’re working on, and to help keep you front of mind for future opportunities.
9. Get some fresh air and exercise
Staring at a monitor for 10 hours on end is never going to be healthy or productive, but it’s one of the dangers of home working. As hard as it might be, schedule in regular breaks, and take them away from your computer. Use this opportunity to go for a brisk walk, so that you’re getting some fresh air and exercise each day, along with a change of scene. If there’s a gym class you like to take during the day or a running club you’d like to join, make time for it, as it’s important to keep social and active.
10. Protect your weekends
When there’s no physical divide between work and home, it can be easy to let work spill into the weekends. While on occasion it can be beneficial to put in some extra hours on a Saturday morning, try to avoid that becoming the norm. Make your weekends sacrosanct, and instead top-up hours in the evenings during the week, if necessary.