April/May/June 2020

Working from home – the new norm?

Working from home is becoming a more popular choice, especially of late with the spread of Coronavirus, where most office-based businesses have their workforces exercising social distancing for at least the next few months. Before the pandemic there were many reasons home working was gaining momentum as the method of choice for many workers and businesses.

Some staff employed by large organisations may have responsibility for several regions in the country and are home-based for expediency. They may have to attend meetings and updates at head office on occasion (which is now via zoom or skype), but in the main are left to plan their own workload. And then there are the large numbers of people who run their own businesses from their home, the small businesses and sole traders.

There are many reasons why home-based working is a positive option.

Let’s think about those people who unexpectedly are ‘forced’ to work from home. They may have always had the discipline of an office environment, are used to turning up, clocking-in and working set hours. But due to the company’s new structure, recent health concerns or a new way of working they now have to work at home, and it can require a whole new way of thinking. If it’s a temporary situation maybe taking space on the dining table will suffice, but longer term plans may require more adjustment.

We all need to treat work as important and provide ourselves with a conducive, supportive environment, so an area may need to be dedicated to the new arrangements. If the bedroom’s being used as an office ensure that you’re able to pack it up or screen it off when finished, so that work doesn’t seep into out-of-hours personal space and time. There are also financial implications. New kit may need to be ordered; not everyone has a dedicated work phone, laptop or access to the necessary extra broadband or software capability. How is this going to be financed and facilitated? And noise! Domestic noise can be distracting, especially when it’s from young children, which always manages to sound urgent! It’s important to be as strict as possible from the outset about committing to a professional working day.

Then there are those who want to set up a new business, which initially can be an expensive proposition, carrying no guarantee of success. Starting from home can be a great way to trial the project, particularly in the current environment, costing less and giving more flexibility. The flexibility of working when busy and being free at other times can make a lot of sense. Modern technology provides more freedom. Most places offer wi-fi, so it’s convenient to work anywhere and know you’re instantly accessible. In fact, many small businesses now compete successfully on the global stage using the internet, websites and social media, sending their messages far and wide.

Home-based means premises and staff costs can be kept to a minimum. Many established businesses use home workers effectively when relevant. Or pre-Covid-19 they rented co-working spaces and used hot-desk, meeting room and PA services as required. Also many hotels and cafes found their premises were increasingly being used for business coffees, networking and meetings throughout the day. Work your own hours. Unlike a shop with an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ sign on the door, working from home means that no one knows what your office hours are. You could be on holiday and spend an hour a day online, working for clients and keeping up-to-date with their businesses.

Or if you’ve children, it may be more effective to work in the evenings when there are fewer distractions. Bad weather and contagious illnesses do not have a direct effect on the home worker, unless meetings with clients are disrupted. Of course under the current UK lockdown meetings are very easily conducted online.

Working from home may offer a more comfortable environment for clients to relax in. Looking to the point when things return back to normal, it may be the case an area of the home can be used to meet with clients – possibly over a coffee at the kitchen table. It’s less corporate and more relaxed, however, it’s important to maintain a professional set-up, be dressed appropriately and keep domestic interruptions to a minimum.

Family responsibilities can be managed by incorporating some flexibility into the working day, so accommodating chores and the demands of children should be time-tabled. At the outset it might be necessary to agree some ground rules or distractions can prevent any work being done. Designating specific hours or days as work time can be very important, otherwise the motivation to work and achieve your goals can ebb away.

Switching off at the end of a working day can be difficult if you work from home. It can be tempting to check in just once more or keep going until you’ve finished. Be firm with yourself about managing stress and burnout. Plan time to eat, exercise and relax. Look after yourself. After all, you’re your business’s main asset!

Network groups and professional clubs for sole traders can be a good way of finding mutual support and maybe opportunities to recommend and work together, sharing valuable hints and tips to make a better home working experience. These of course can be conducted virtually.

Susan Leigh

Discipline and routine are crucial to ensure effective working from home and avoid either having one long holiday or becoming chained to work. Running an organised and efficient business from home can enable time and energy to be used in the most effective way for you and your success. Saying goodbye to the daily commute can be incredibly useful in increasing your effectiveness, and once things get back to normal, perhaps more of us will find ourselves working from home in the future.

Susan Leigh MNCH (ACC)
Altrincham, Cheshire and South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer and media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.

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