I've been working from home now for almost 10 years and it's been a learning curve. There's no doubt working from home can be a great way to balance work and life but it can also bring some challenges. I definitely don't miss the commute, trundling along the motorway at a depressingly slow 20 miles an hour. And I do love the flexibility that working from home brings with it. But I have learnt that successful working from home takes dedication, discipline and some serious focus. If you have ideas of getting up late, working in your pyjamas and taking four hour lunch breaks, then the likelihood is that you're not going to get much work done.
So what have I learnt along the way...
If you're a social butterfly, don't lock yourself away completely in the house
There's a huge amount of research into the pros and cons of working from home. Social isolation is one of the biggest negatives of working from home and it's something that I still find hard. I love to talk to people. I love finding out about their lives and their passions (maybe it's the researcher in me or maybe I'm just nosy!). I need to interact with people and have those coffee machine chats that break up the working day. So sitting in a lonely home office all day can be enough to drive me running to the nearest supermarket just to have some contact with the outside world. Conference calls, email and instant messaging allows me to have contact with my colleagues and clients but it's really not the same as face to face interaction. I try and make time each day to get out of the house and interact with other people.
Children just don't understand the concept of working from home
Working with kids at home doesn't work. I've tried it and failed miserably. Trying to convince a 5-year-old to stay quiet while mummy has to speak to a 'very important client' just isn't going to work. The mute button on a conference call is helpful - until it's your turn to speak! Anyone who has tried being on a conference or video call with children in the background will have stories of their timely interruptions. I've been on the phone with my daughter singing 'Let It Go' from the top of her voice and my son being very descriptive about his trip to the bathroom at the top of his voice. Not quite as public as Robert Kelly who had his live interview on BBC World News gate-crashed by his children, but the reality is that if I'm at home, my kids want my attention. They have no concept of 'please sit there quietly while I make an important phone call'. I soon discovered that it's far too stressful on all of us if I'm trying to work and look after children at the same time. In the early days of juggling parenting and work, I quickly made the decision to work part time and put the children in nursery 3 days a week. Now they are at school I try to work around school hours and rely on after-school care for my longer days.
A dedicated place for work is essential
When I first started working from home we were in the middle of a renovation project and I had no space for a desk. I ended up working at the dining room table, on the bed, sitting on the floor or anywhere I could find space. I soon discovered that this just lead to chaos and disorganisation. I now have a permanent workspace which means I can be more organised and focused. There are times when I work from the sofa or from a coffee shop because sometimes I just need a change of scenery or social contact but having a dedicated workspace has been critical for me.
Is working from home worth it?
For me, yes definitely. But it won't be for everyone. Really think hard about your reasons and motivations for working from home. It's not an easy ride, but for me, the benefits definitely outweigh the negatives.
What are my top tips for working from home:
Don't become a hermit. Make sure you get out of the house every day. Whether it's meeting a friend for lunch, a walk around the block or working from a local coffee shop, make sure you get social interaction to avoid feeling isolated.
Don't mix looking after children with working from home. Well, not unless you're a childminder of course! Book them into childcare or ask relatives to look after them for a few hours so that you can really focus on work without guilt or distraction.
Turn the TV off. Watching Jeremy Kyle in the morning is not going to lead to work productivity! Some people do work better with a little noise in the background so having the radio on at a low volume can help.
Have a lunch break. It's all too easy when you're working from home to lose track of time and realise that it's 4pm, your tummy is rumbling and you've run out of energy. Taking regular breaks is really important for improve efficiency, productivity and for your mental well-being.
Switch off the laptop and email. Working from home can mean the boundaries between work and family life can become blurred. I try and stick to set working hours and switch off the laptop at the end of my working day. Sometimes I do need to work a little more flexibly and into the evenings but I try not to make that the norm.
Don't feel you have more to prove because you work from home. When I first started working from home, I felt I had to work longer hours and be available constantly to prove I was actually working. I realised that was a pressure I was putting on myself rather than coming from anyone else. I now know the quality of my work is much more important than working a 16 hour day.
Schedule 'me time'. Actually this is important for everyone! Time away from work is essential in ensuring a good work-life balance, reducing stress and in making sure you don't burn-out. Schedule a little 'me time' doing something you love to recharge your batteries.
Whatever your reasons for working from home, make sure you're realistic about what that means and making it work for you. There's no doubt in my mind that working from home is a great way to balance work and life but it's taken me a good few years to get that balance right.