Working from Home
Working from home is some people’s idea of heaven—and other people’s vision of hell. It is, however, becoming more a part of everyday working life for many people.
Many more companies are now recognising that people value the flexibility of home-working, and that it can often make them more productive and happier. Others are simply reducing their office space and encouraging home-working as a result.
People around the world are also embracing freelancing and self-employment as a way to combine work with travelling or caring responsibilities, or an opportunity to avoid commuting.
Whatever the reasons, home-working is on the increase. This page discusses the skills you need to work effectively from home, and some ideas to make yourself more productive.
You, Your Equipment and Your Environment
When you work in an office, you tend to take certain things for granted: you will, for example, be given the necessary equipment to do your job. There will be somewhere suitable to work, and the environment will be conducive: it will be warm enough, not too noisy, and so on.
When you work from home, however, this does not follow.
If you are employed, your equipment will probably still be provided. You might even, if your employer is so minded, get some support to ensure that you have a suitable work station.
The rest, however, is up to you. And when you are self-employed, it is all up to you.
You get to decide when, how and even whether you work.
This can be a huge challenge, particularly when you are new to freelancing. Making coffee, sitting reading the paper or looking at social media, and even doing the laundry can all seem more attractive than working at times. You may need serious reserves of self-motivation.
You get to decide what equipment you need to buy
You have to spend your own money on your equipment, so it really matters that you get the decision right. Whether your requirements are as simple as a laptop or PC, or you need more complex tools and equipment, you have to take the risk about buying the wrong thing. You also have to think about how you will cope if something goes wrong with your equipment.
There’s no technical support now!
You may have complained vociferously about your IT helpdesk while in employment, but you could find yourself looking back nostalgically on the days when you had someone on the end of the phone to sort out any technical problems.
As a freelancer or self-employed worker, you are responsible for your own technical support.
If you are not very tech-savvy, it may be worth sorting out a contract with your local computer shop to provide help if you need it. If nothing else, you want good anti-virus and malware protection software, and some kind of back-up system, such as access to a cloud-based service like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive.
You get to decide where you work
This may sound simple—you are, after all, working from home, and surely that’s all that matters?—but in reality, it is not trivial. If you are going to be working at a laptop all day, for example, you do not want to be sitting hunched over it, or you will end up with back trouble.
Sorting out a proper work space will enable you to be more productive in the long term, and will also allow you to ‘leave the office’ at the end of the working day.
For more about this, you may want to read our guest post on setting up a home-office space.
Some people find that they prefer to rent office space locally, or use a local café (the unwritten deal is usually that if you buy enough coffee, they will let you stay there and use the wifi all day). This is especially true if you have young children at home, even if you have a nanny or other childcare. You are likely to find that your children do not understand the concept of ‘working from home’: for them, you are there and therefore available.
Essential Home-Working Skills
There are some particular skills and qualities that make home-working easier.
For example, it helps to have a reasonable amount of tolerance for being on your own quite a lot. Unless your home is just a base, and you will be out-and-about visiting clients most of the day, you are likely to spend large chunks of time by yourself if you work from home.
If you think this might be a problem for you, you might want to consider renting office space, or using a café as your work space, at least for a while.
Other important skills for home-workers are:
When you work from home, and particularly if you are self-employed, there is nobody standing over you making you work.
It is up to you. This is, of course, why employed home-workers are often viewed with suspicion by their colleagues, who are tempted to believe that they do no work. You therefore need to be able to motivate yourself to work. Extrinsic motivators like ‘needing money’ are a good start, especially for self-employment, but many people also find that the freedom of managing their own work–life balance, and being able to control their lives, is a bigger motivator.
For more about this, you may want to read our page on self-motivation.
Similarly, home-working requires a much better ability to manage your own time.
You need to be able to identify which jobs must be done first, and which can wait. It also helps to have a good understanding of how long tasks will take. This enables you to manage client or manager expectations.
You will find more information about this, and some ideas to help you improve your time management, in our page on Time Management. You may also find it helpful to read our page on Minimising Distractions.
Finally, you need to be organised. You have to be able to organise your own work and workspace, and function effectively.
Our page on Organising Skills suggests that being organised may simply be a combination of self-motivation and time management, but it also suggests some practical steps that you can take to improve your skills in this area.
A Rewarding Experience
Working from home is not, perhaps, for everyone. Some people thrive on contact with others, and the busy environment of a working office. Some jobs are simply not suitable for home-working. But if your job is suitable, and you like the idea, it is certainly worth a try. With a bit of preparation, and time taken to ensure that you have the necessary skills, you could find that it is one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.