working from home
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Working from home made headlines recently when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ordered all employees back to the office. You can almost see the legions shuffling their feet, wishing they hadn’t been tagged on Facebook at the boozy lunch with friends or their kid’s preschool concert when they were meant to be, you know, working. You can hear them grumbling as they squeeze into their work clothes and fold away the comfy T- shirt and track pants.
When we think of telecommuting most of us picture a gleaming white office with oversized iMac and the day stretching out with no distractions. The only sound is the quiet snap of the pen ticking off the to do list.
But the reality for many is preschool aged children building sheet tents on the couch, the baby crying, and the laptop lying open on the table, almost obscured by the laundry baskets herniating half sorted washing.
Caring for young children or a loved one while you are working from home must be one of the biggest unrecognized challenges in modern life, yet many people consider it the easy option and expect you to be grateful for the opportunity. In a way they are right, it is a privilege to have flexibility and to be there for your kids, but that doesn’t take away from how difficult it can be. Sometimes men can suffer the most with this. “Great, I’ll work from home, finish my masters degree, renovate the bathroom and look after the baby while I’m at it!” Famous last words indeed.
Despite the potential pitfalls people who work from home are typically more industrious and happier than office workers. A new study from Melbourne University found that people who work from home start earlier, are more productive, work up to three hours longer and feel more energized and less stressed than office workers.
I’m not going to tell you about to do lists and organising your time. You more than anyone know that, right? You could probably teach most people a thing or two about multitasking, you reliably hurtle through a to do list in the time it takes to build a Lego castle and I’m sure you could write a white paper on getting things done late at night.
These are tips for the modern telecommuting mum or dad juggling kids and school runs, as well as anyone working at home to care for someone they love.
- Set up somewhere to Skype. Most telecommuters these days use Skype (or similar) to attend meetings, talk to clients and colleagues and the boss. Think carefully about what they see when they speak to you. Consider the obvious – out of those pajamas please – but also the background. Ensure the area behind you looks attractive and uncluttered. Some people actually buy a portable projector screen that can just erect behind as necessary. If worst comes to worst throw a sheet over the offending background, or move to somewhere suitable if you use a laptop. Teleconferencing in your pajamas with dirty plates piled up behind you does not exactly scream “leader”. Appearing professional is essential for successful telecommuting.
- Untag yourself on social media at non work functions. One of the advantages of working from home is the flexibility of attending school concerts or social events and catching up on work later. However, being tagged a swanky restaurant with a glass of champagne can be viewed unfavorably by the cubicle dwellers still at the office, clients and also the boss. Ditto for Facebook “checking in” at the hairdressers or golf club.
- Podcast. When you are working from home as well as caring for someone there are inevitably time-consuming tasks that just have to be done. Use this time to podcast all the latest in your field of expertise. There are podcasts available from most of the world’s leading universities, journals and experts in pretty much every area. When you find the right podcasts the professional development opportunities are stunning. By the time you make it back to the office you’ll be ready to run the company. If you are running your own business from home you’ll be able to tap into the best advice the world has to offer.
- Productive pauses and your inner genius. If you are working and parenting or caring you’ll know a thing or two about interruptions, or productive pauses as well like to call them at cognitive behavior therapy. But it’s true. Stepping away from your work gives you time to reflect, time to think which is in short supply in most workplaces these days. It is amazing the creative thinking and mental problem solving that can be done while making sandwiches, folding laundry or chatting to the baby. (Note: babies are fascinated about your work and will chat to you about it for ages. Teenagers not so much.) Keep a note pad handy so when you return to work that night you’ll be ready with your inspired solutions.
- A room of one’s own. Plenty of people are incredibly successful working at the kitchen table, but if you can have your own office, and physically separate yourself it is easier for people, yourself included, to understand that you are “at work”.
- Stay part of the team. Maintain connectedness by always attending meetings (teleconference) and taking the initiative to participate. Make sure you are one of the first calls so you can spend the time waiting for everyone to join catching up on office small talk. If possible try to get to some meetings in person – just to make your presence known.
- Respond promptly. Modern technology means you can respond promptly, no matter where you are. Nothing grates more to an office worker or client when the telecommuter is “missing in action”, especially in a crisis.
- Exceed expectations. There is a reason telecommuters are more productive than office workers. They work harder to over deliver on every project and keep everyone happy.
- Take care of yourself and be realistic. Being a perfect parent/carer during the day and working every spare moment and into the night is not sustainable. If you work for yourself set realistic expectations of projects and timeframes so you always over deliver. If you work for someone else be honest with the hours you are able to commit.