16 Nov 2021

The etiquette of working from home

Even before the pandemic introduced major upheavals to working life, the days of a rigid adherence to the 9–5 working day, and a career that spanned an entire adult life and ended with retirement, were long gone.

Some of us may have chosen the more conventional institutions of working life, opting for security, predictability and certainty, and will be happy to return to the office routine.

Many of us, however, are now embarking on a more adventurous and haphazard journey, and are working from home. While some of us may have willingly chosen this option, many of us have been forced to do so because of changes in working structures, some of them brought about by pandemic lockdowns. Many employers are adopting new practices, and relying less on permanent staff members and more on consultants, freelance employees, part-time workers, job-sharers, or people who are working on zero-hours contracts.

Home working is becoming increasingly acceptable. Mobile phones and WiFi have expedited the change, meaning that employees are available (sometimes 24/7), communication is easy, and video calls and conferencing can be deployed to maintain contact. Some home-workers mix and match their working styles; for example, basing themselves mainly at home but consenting to attend an office once a week for meetings and consultancy.

Is Home Working Right for Me?

While working from home has many advantages, both for the employer and employee, there are many factors to be taken into consideration. If you are thinking about making home working available for your employees, consider the following:

  1. Do you trust your employees to use their time constructively?
  2. If you feel you need to closely monitor your employees’ activity and output when working from home, you may find that administrative oversight is too burdensome.
  3. Do you thrive on interaction with employees, and enjoy stimulating ad hoc conversations in the office? If so, you might prefer to keep them in-house.
  4. Are you able to compartmentalise working life, perhaps meeting employees just once a week for a detailed catch-up? If so, you will probably be happy to let them work from home.
  5. Are you a demanding employer who expects employees to be readily available and accessible? If so, home-working might not suit your management style – while you may be able to reach home-workers on their mobiles, that will not necessarily mean that they are available to meet your demands.
  6. Are you willing to support home-workers? Perhaps you would be willing to supply an ergonomic office chair? Or you might be willing to cover expenses like broadband and electricity.

If you are thinking of working from home, bear in mind the following:

  1. Do you have sufficient space at home in which to work? Ideally, you would have a dedicated room; if you are forced to work from your sofa, bed or dining table, home working might not be for you.
  2. Are you an extrovert, who thrives on social contact, and loves chatting by the water cooler or coffee machine? Home working can be lonely.
  3. Are you disciplined and organised? To work effectively from home you will need to be a self-starter, who can make clear distinctions between home life and working life.
  4. Are you a night owl or an early bird, who functions best at these times? If so, home working might well be ideal for you, as to a certain extent you can call the shots and work at the times that best suit you.
  5. Do you have complicated childcare arrangements, or perhaps responsibility for an elderly parent? These responsibilities can be very difficult to integrate into conventional working life, but home-based working gives you the autonomy and flexibility you need.
  6. Do you have plenty of social contacts outside work? You will need to ensure that you have an active social life to compensate for the hours you spend working alone.

When the right conditions are met, home working can be highly effective. It gives employees flexibility and independence, and they may find themselves much more efficient and productive in a quiet home study than in a noisy office.

The Home Office

If you are sure that you can run a home working operation on a laptop balanced on your knees while you’re lounging on your bed, think again.

Of course, there are many practical difficulties involved in trying to work in a space that was designed for another purpose. Whether it is a bedroom or a dining room, you will inevitably find yourself having to clear away clutter. You will have nowhere to spread out papers or possessions and you will be forced to clear them up at the end of every day. Psychologically, this will imbue you with a sense of insecurity and impermanence. You will begin to find your concentration lapsing, and this can irrevocably lead to mistakes, which will dent your self-confidence. Your colleagues will notice if you start to become distrait, and your confidence will decline further.

You need to think seriously about a dedicated workspace, no matter how modest, where you can shut a door, leave out papers and files, hold private conversations. You will also need to ensure that the rest of your household, or family, understand and respect these parameters. Even behind closed doors, sounds of a family row or over-excited children will still be audible on a Zoom call, and will convey an atmosphere of barely-contained chaos, rather than calm competence.

Inevitably, importunate pets or small children are magnetically drawn to computers during Zoom calls, so try and find a way of ensuring this doesn’t happen. Your colleagues may find them charming at first, but will soon get frustrated if they sense that you are not fully focussed on the business in hand.

And remember, if you are forced to share your working space with the rest of your family, or if you find the boundaries between family and working life a little too porous, you can always use the flexibility of home working to ensure that you get some time to yourself (an early start or a late night catch-up).

What you need in your home office at the bare minimum:

•A desk, or sturdy table

•A chair, preferably an ergonomic office chair, to ensure you don’t end up with back problems

•An anglepoise light, which will help you to avoid eye strain

•A shelf, or drawer, or even a storage box in which you can keep papers or files

•Most importantly of all, a reliable WiFi connection, which works in your office (if your hub is several rooms away, and especially if your house has thick walls, invest in a signal booster)

Remember that, in these days of video calls, you may well be observed in your home office, so ensure that you have a non-distracting backdrop. A bare wall is the safest choice of all, though you might feel that this is unacceptably bland; if you have bookshelves, ensure that they are neat and tidy. Try to avoid too much personal clutter  – the people you work with will be distracted by your possessions, and will enjoy speculating about what they say about your private life.


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