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