There are two key factors when it comes to working from home. Firstly is your ability to have self-discipline and the second is ensuring there is a trusting relationship with your employer and the two often go hand in hand.
Having the ability to be disciplined, manage work effectively, meet deadlines and juggle cases is essential for working from home. All distractions should be eliminated or reduced and, as you would in the office, keep ‘to-do’ lists and prioritise effectively. Don’t be shy to ask your manager for time management tips or a course to attend on improving your ability to work effectively at home – it will show that you are keen to improve.
Many experts have been working independently for some considerable time and are au fait with prioritising and effective time management. While they may be self-employed and their own boss, there will still be the need to meet deadlines and manage cases effectively.
For those who are new to working from home, your employer will need to know that you are capable of being self-disciplined and can manage your time effectively. You may be working in a different environment ie your home rather than an office but the job is the same. Furthermore, line managers need to be supported and enabled to be available to support staff working from home to prevent feelings of isolation.
There are positives and negatives to working from home but there is something for each of us to take away from the experience whether that is becoming more autonomous, learning new skills, maximising our time, being able to take the children to school, effective time management, having a better work/life balance or avoiding the commute. Read our pros and cons below and also our tips to working effectively from home.
There are many pros under this one heading alone.
When you are commuting/travelling to the office it can be quite a stressful way to start the day. You are constantly aware that you need to leave by a certain time to avoid the traffic/catch a train/get the children to school. However prepared and organised you may be the night before, things do crop up in the mornings. Your child may spill their breakfast on their school uniform meaning a clean one needs to materialise, you are reminded at the last minute that your kids have PE today – or worse – it’s Viking Day and they need to be in full costume! The car needs de-frosting or won’t start or the traffic is bad. These things are sent to challenge us but taking away the stress of the commute and being rammed next to someone’s less than pleasant arm pit on the tube, running for the bus and watching it pull away or seeing the ‘cancelled’ sign against your train on the departures board can significantly improve the way your day starts.
Removing the commute is also better for the environment and reduces your carbon footprint.
You are also quids in if you are not spending money on the daily train fare or petrol.
From an employer’s perspective it also maximises your time at work. For example, after I have dropped the children at school, I have a 10 minute walk home and, after I make a quick coffee, I am at my desk working. Naturally I wouldn’t be able to do that if I had a half an hour car journey into work or a train to catch.
A key part of my job is writing and so being at home in a quiet house is a far better environment for me workwise than a noisy office. Independent Social Workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, family support workers, solicitors all have to carry out some written work or need to time to think about work situations and having a quiet and calming environment can be extremely helpful.
Flexible working hours
Self-employed professionals have the opportunity to decide when they are most productive. Some people like to get up early and crack straight on with work, whereas others work better in the evenings. As self-employed experts, working from home enables you to work at the most suitable time for you, providing your deadlines are met. It also means you can factor other things into your working day. If you need to go to the supermarket, for example, the queues are likely to be far smaller and the stores far less busy at 9.30am than at 6pm when a lot of people have finished work. Again, this maximises the use of your time.
Professionals who are employed by a local authority or other organisation will probably have core hours that need to be covered but there may be the opportunity for some flexibility over working hours, if discussed and agreed with your employer – particularly if it enables you to work when you are most productive.
Family time/spare time
When you have finished work, if you are working at home, your working day is complete. Again, you miss the commute which means your time is maximised to spend with your family, children or friends or doing more of what you want to do.
Working from home enables me to take my children to school and collect them which is really important to me. I find teachers are far more likely to discuss any issues/problems/achievements with parents than childminders or friends collecting children. Having that link with school is beneficial for my children, the teachers as they know they have access to me every day if need be a and my children and teaching staff knowing that I am supportive of their education. While this is something that is important to me – there may be other things that you need to do which working from home enables you to do.
Avoid office politics
There can be office politics within some organisations which can cause problems for some employees. Self-employed expert social workers and psychologists frequently tell us that it is a contributory factor to becoming independent as they don’t want to be dealing with office politics or red tape/bureaucracy. Sometimes, some members of the team get on better than others which can result in ‘cliques’ forming and some people just don’t need the hassle of getting involved or don’t want to work where there is an atmosphere and this is pretty much eliminated through working from home.
Talking cases through
WillisPalmer Chief Executive Mark Willis recalls how the knowledge he accrued by osmosis when he was an assistant social worker by sitting alongside experienced social workers was an essential part of his training. Working in an office and sitting alongside team members can be a really useful way of disseminating cases, coming to decisions and generally talking things through. There is the risk that this is lost when you work from home but that doesn’t have to be the case. With the enhanced technology available to us, there is no reason why a social worker or psychologist can’t schedule a Zoom call, even over lunch, with a colleague to talk things through. This has to be a two-way process of support so that both parties benefit when they need to discuss cases. It may be more ‘planned’ and require more effort than a general chat at the water cooler but it can still be effective and ensure that important dialogue and support mechanism isn’t lost.
You can also set up a Microsoft Teams group where team members can log in and keep each other abreast of important information and things that should be shared.
It may feel that managers are more accessible in the office as they are visible but that does not have to be the case. Your line manager should be providing you with regular supervision at least monthly and it is vital that in the new advent of working from home that team managers are freed up to provide their team with much-needed support and regular scheduled ‘catch ups’. If this isn’t integral to working policies and procedures then there is the danger that team members can feel isolated, lonely and it could impact negatively on their mental health.
Eating more and moving less
It was widely reported at the time that many of us put on a few pounds during the lockdowns and there is a risk that when you work from home you may eat more and move less which is not a healthy combination. However, it doesn’t have to be the case and in fact, working from home can be utilised to eat more healthily and get those important steps in.
For example, in the office, it can be tempting to go to a coffee shop with a co-worker, have a sandwich and coffee, maybe a cake which adds up over the year both financially and in terms of calories.
If you made a packed lunch for work when you were based in the office, you can still do this. Make a sandwich the night before and keep it in your fridge at home. Alternatively, you could make a salad in a Tupperware box for a healthier option, then when you are ready for lunch, simply drizzle on your dressing and you’re ready to go. You are still entitled to a lunch beak when you work from home whether that is an hour or half an hour – whatever is agreed with your line manager. For self-employed experts not only can you take your lunch hour when it suits you, you may decide you want to go for a walk for 30 minutes, come back and have your ready prepared salad meaning you are getting in some steps and eating healthily.
My tip is simply to not buy things I might be tempted to snack on. If they are not there, I can’t eat them. I also choose to walk to take the children to school and to collect them meaning I inadvertently walk for an hour a day.
Now the weather is getting cooler, another option is to make a batch of health soup on a Sunday which means you have a healthy lunch ready in minutes during the week.
In my 20’s a lot of my social life was linked to my work life meaning I would meet friends after work for drinks or dinner as there was nothing that I needed to rush home for. Twenty years later, I am less of a social butterfly and my children and family are my priorities in the evening. I can see that for younger employees working from home can impede a social life, especially in larger towns and cities where the office is the ‘meeting point’ and people live across a larger geographical area. But working from home doesn’t have to be the death of a social life, it may just need more planning and organising than ad hoc dinner after work.
Many professionals have struggled with feelings of isolation since working from home, and this is particularly acute among people who live alone or those who have just joined a team. Learning a new job while working from home and without the support of peers physically around you can be challenging and elongate the induction process. Going forwards, managers will need to ensure new recruits feel supported. If you are feeling isolated utilise technology to keep in touch with your colleagues such as setting up a Microsoft Teams group. Keep lines of communication open with your manager and let them know if you are struggling.