Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Getting the balance right - Homeworking

There are estimated to be over 4 million people in the UK who work mainly from home, and this only counts those working 3 or more days a week from home. There are numerous others who work at least one day a week or at least occasionally from home.

Home working claims to improve work life balance, and there are undoubtedly positives. Homeworkers don’t have to face the daily grind of commuting, for one. Theoretically at least they have more family time and increased flexibility.  

Yet this superficial view can overlook one important consideration. Optimum work-life balance requires a separation of work from your private time. With our 7x24 on-line world this separation is already blurred and for people who work at home it can be even more blurred.

It’s not just work encroaching into your private time by email, phone, mail, work papers around the house and so on – it can also be family encroaching onto your work-time by expecting you to be available for errands at a moment’s notice for example.

Maintaining separation if you work at home requires even more discipline than if you work in an office and clear guidelines both for yourself and others. If you work at home often, think about the following points and see what you can do to help achieve a better clarity and separation.
  1. Ideally have a separate work environment – an office or study – and make that the only place you work in when at home. This helps reduce the spill over of work papers, phone calls etc all over the house – so you’re not constantly reminded of work when you’re in your private time.
  2. Think about the technology you use. Some people have a separate work computer from their family computer for example. Having a separate phone line and at least a separate email account for work can be really beneficial. As long as it’s appropriate for the type of work you do, it means you only need answer the calls or look at emails when you’re in work. It means you’ll always know whether a call or email is work related or not.
  3. Set a pattern as much as you can of regular working hours – with a clear start and end to the working day. The flexibility of homeworking is great but too much mixing up of time between work and personal activities can blur the boundaries – and make it confusing for others to know whether you’re “at work” or not.
  4. Set expectations with others at home also so that they know when you’re at work or not – this is also where a separate environment really helps.
  5. Set expectations with your employer and colleagues also. There can be the temptation for them to think that if you’re working at home you’re always available.
Homeworking offers tremendous advantages, but it isn’t an automatic ticket to a better work-life balance – planning how you will manage your time and your working environment is essential if you’re to reap the rewards.

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