Best way to succeed working from home
From the perspective of a worker in an oxygen-deprived and boss-infected city-centre office, working from home can sound like paid retirement.
Before experiencing it, you visualise yourself having boutique coffees in secret cafés at bohemian hours of the afternoon, using your rescued commuting time to get fit/read Tolstoy/brainstorm amazing ideas (while in bed), and burying a few cash-only invoices to dupe the tax man. Chances are you also imagine you’ll spend at least a few hours each week forward planning – to ensure you bag that ultimate one-off contract which will prove to the world that self-employment has worked for you just as it has for Richard Branson, Peter Jones and Louis Hamilton.
The reality is more likely to be: unnecessary lie-ins, wasting time on the internet, extraordinary heating bills, a Snickers addiction, and occasional panic attacks about having no job security, pension, career or hope. Or office. Or work. Oh, to be given the chance to earn a living in an oxygen-deprived and boss-infected city-centre office.
“A house is full of sleep, memories, lived life. It is a place we associate with free time, with not working.”
Earlier this month, new research indicated that men with flexible work arrangements were less likely to thrive and succeed than women in the same situation. Low confidence and flaky commitment were cited as influencing men’s behavior.
Men’s self-image was another factor: men and flexibility just don’t like each other.
Home working throws in all manner of extra issues. Home, after all, is where women ruled for the past century or so. Home means dog-on-the-hearth domesticity, kitchen smells and kids’ spaces. A house is full of sleep, memories, lived life. It is a place we associate with free time, with not working.
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. While Osbornians like to trumpet new freedoms, the reality is that a lot of home-workers lost their jobs and were forced into self-preservation by a long series of ploys and policies that shifted responsibilities away from the employers to their humble worker rats. But “working for yourself” is the biggest fib of all. Personal trainers work for their clients; journalists work for commissioning editors and physiotherapists work for their patients. We all work, ultimately, for the public.
The only way to survive and prosper is to have a few rules about Self HQ – here are a few to pin on the noticeboard…
It won’t make you obviously richer, but standing up, going out for walks, popping into the garden and, once or twice a week, doing something a bit more vigorous will keep your mind more alert, your body less desk-shaped and will also ensure your relationship with the home office doesn’t feel constricting and claustrophobic.
LifeSpan TR1200-DT5 treadmill desk: the future of work?
LifeSpan TR1200-DT5 treadmill desk: the future of work?
2. Meet others
Again, blindingly obvious, but not that easy to arrange if many of your friends work at offices away from home. Find a group, join a club, take up tennis, use social media to find locals who do similar jobs, and try to meet your clients face to face.
Home-working saves a lot of water-cooler time and office chit-chat, but you still need some gabbing and gossip to keep you sane.
3. Breaks and time management
One of the joys of being at home is that you don’t have to do 10am-6pm (or 8am-8pm, as is probably the case). However, it is helpful to have some kind of regime, as you don’t want work to bleed into your down time. Every morning, plan a couple of off-periods: half an hour for coffee and the newspaper, fifteen minutes radio, ten minutes to go to the library.
4. Get goals
No line manager will be inviting you in every six months for an appraisal, so you need to invent your own checking systems. One key part of this is to have goals, both long and short-term. The latter will give you achievable targets and help pay the bills. The former will make you feel you are going somewhere and ensure that years don’t suddenly pass without any noticeable improvement in money or, especially, job satisfaction.
5. Plan holidays
If you can, take these when it’s cheapest, wettest here, less popular. This is one of the great fringe benefits of working at home, so don’t overlook holidays – whether you want a week on the Cornish coast or a weekend in New York. Now’s the time for sales; wise workers book early.
Work can feel like fun at times, but it’s rarely the real thing. Make sure your schedule allows for self-improvement, whether that’s painting, reading, creative writing, or breeding budgies. Something useless – as in not remunerative – is essential for mental health and may open up new avenues of pleasure in the future.
7. Housework is a no-no
As tempting as it may be, try to limit trips to the dirty sink, the upstairs carpets, or the garage to a minimum. Most chores can still be done at weekends or outside work hours. Something as simple as hanging out washing seems fine, but then it rains, then the sun shines again, and you find an hour is gone pegging and unpegging when you should have been either grafting or having proper time off.
Blurring work and housework is often a way of avoiding confronting things that need to be done.
Procrastination: a home worker’s best friend (/worst enemy)
Procrastination: a home worker’s best friend (/worst enemy) CREDIT: ALAMY
8. Client and colleague relations
Remember, many of the people you deal with – be they colleagues or clients – are in offices, with managers and targets not of their own making. If they seem cool, stand-offish, occasionally rude, or envious, that’s because they can, perhaps, hear the warm sounds of home on the phone when you call, or suspect a leisurely smugness in your emails. They may even say, “I’d hate to work at home.” Don’t take it to heart. Self-employment is about tolerance as well as tight deadlines.
9. Creativity cannot be quantified
Window-gazing might feel like an abuse of your position, but a lot of the best ideas come out of periods of what a friend of mine calls “interesting boredom”. Even if your home job is tax accountancy or business copywriting, allow unforeseen ideas to swim around your day.
Don’t lose hours watching the winter storms, but don’t lose the storms themselves. They might inspire something you weren’t expecting.
10. Manage food, drinks and snacks
Home workers easily become grazers. If you can’t resist standing up to go to the kitchen, hide the biscuits and chocolate and ensure there are healthier fruits, nuts or veggies. But try to have a proper lunch and coffee breaks so you keep up a work-reward-relax cycle.
Also, get some teas in that don’t have caffeine so you can get liquids and not overdose on coffee.
11. Weekends are sacrosanct
It’s quite easy for life to become one long Monday morning as a home-worker. But try to protect your weekends. If you want to be “different”, make them happen on a Sunday and Monday, but keep some extended time that is completely work-free. Otherwise you’re no better off than the small-hours commuters and red-eyed shift workers.
12. Seize the daylight
Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia Inc, titled his self-help book, Let My People Go Surfing. At the outdoor clothing company’s head office in Ventura, California, staff were allowed to take time off when the surf was up. The British equivalent would be sunshine, daylight, dryness, especially in this season. If you see a gap in the storms, switch off and unplug and get out.
Not all city workers enjoy such freedoms, so value them and use them.