By Shirley Borrett, Development Director at Telework Association &
Author of Lawpack’s Working From Home Kit

Increasing numbers of people work from home including freelancers, employees and self-employed people running their own businesses. The benefits from working from home to both individuals and organisations are becoming better recognised and understood in the corporate world. Working from home is no longer automatically seen as an excuse for skiving and watching daytime television.

But working from home presents a lot of challenges and if you want to do it successfully there are some things you need to consider before starting your job search or trying to convince your boss of the benefits of working from home.

Working From Home Tip #1: Understand yourself

To work from home you need to recognise what you’re good at and what you struggle with in two areas. Firstly work tasks – the things that you’re confident you can do independently, without help or supervision are the tasks to assess for home working, as they’re the ones you’re likely to be most successful with. Those tasks that you are less sure about will be more of a challenge – that doesn’t mean you can’t do them at home, but you need to think about what support you’ll need and how you’ll get it.

You also need to think about how you work and how organised you can be. Whether you’re self-employed or you’re an employee, working from home means you have to manage yourself. You’ll have a lot of flexibility over when and how you do things but that means that you have to actually take control. You need to be good at planning tasks, organising your time, meeting deadlines and coping with unexpected problems. Enthusiasm for your work is a big help. If you’re a person that needs a push from your manager or colleagues to get on and do things, if you need someone else to tell you what to do next, then you’re likely to struggle with working from home.

Working From Home Tip #2: Have a suitable place

When you’re working from home you ideally want a place to work that is sufficiently separate from your home life to enable you to think of it as being ‘at work’. A study, spare bedroom or garden building means that you can shut the door and concentrate on work, or shut the door behind you and forget about work. It means your children, pets and spouse are less likely to interrupt you and your work will not take over family areas. If you don’t have somewhere you can dedicate to work you may be able to find a reasonable alternative, but the challenges will be even greater, so think carefully about exactly how you’ll provide the space, facilities and atmosphere that you’ll need to work from home.

Working From Home Tip #3: Involve your family in decisions

Working from home will have an impact on anyone that you share your home with. Make sure you explain why you want to work from home and how it will benefit the whole family. Talk about the difficulties of working from home too and come to a mutual agreement about how available or otherwise you’ll be to help out with domestic matters. For instance, taking or collecting children from school and dealing with deliveries.

Working From Home Tip #4: Keep motivated

However much you like your work there will be times when you have real trouble getting going or keeping at it. Before you embark on home working, work out how you’ll maintain your enthusiasm when things get tough. Understand yourself and how you react to pressure and make sure you know what to do to stop yourself sliding into apathy and inactivity.

Working From Home Tip #5: Stay in touch

People worry about isolation when they start working from home and, although this worry is usually unfounded, it’s important to make the effort to keep in touch right from the beginning. If you’re an employee, then your manager should make sure you’re included in all the team communications and activities. It can be especially helpful to be in contact with other employees working from home. Social networking like instant messenger can make a good substitute for the ‘coffee machine chats’ that just happen in an office environment.

If you’re a freelance or self-employed, then look for networks of similar people that you can meet up with, either in the local pub or online.

Working From Home Tip #6: Switch off – take a break

People working from home are usually more productive than when they are office based, and much of this is due to motivation and lack of interruptions. But, when your work is just a step away rather than an hour’s journey away, it is easy to carry on working indefinitely. Productivity deteriorates when you’re tired whether you’re at home or in the office, and sitting staring at a computer screen for hours is bad for you wherever you are. So make sure you take regular breaks during the day and that you do finish work, switch off and close the door (even if that’s a mental door rather than a physical one).

It’s one thing to recognise that you’re a night owl and are most creative in the evenings, so long as you take time to relax in the morning or middle of the day to compensate. Working through the whole day and then late into the evening will soon exhaust you and wipe out the benefits of flexibility and home working.

And taking a break also applies to holidays. As an employee you should be able to schedule holiday breaks just like everyone else. But if you’re self-employed, getting away can be much more difficult. Try and take a break during a quiet part of the year and/or link up with someone else working in your field and arrange to cover essential work for each other whilst you take holidays.

Burying yourself in day-to-day operational problems is not good for your business – you need to step back sometimes and look at the big picture to ensure you’re going in the right direction and a holiday is the ideal time to do that.

Hopefully you feel positive about tackling these work from home challenges. So, if you want to try it, you’ll need to think about your next steps. These include actually setting up your home office and looking more closely at your skills. Also thinking about the legal and regulatory aspects of working from home. And then finding genuine home working opportunities or convincing your boss to let you start working from home. Expert guidance on all these matters can be found in Lawpack’s Working From Home Kit.

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Published on: January 21, 2011