Working from home is often seen as the Holy Grail of the IT worker. No more getting up early to get ready for work. No more spending thousands of pounds a year for a season pass only to get squished in a carriage like a sardine.
My last office commute was three hours each way. If the option of working from home had been available to me, I would have grabbed it with both hands. This is a particularly popular option that my current employer uses when they want to hold on to good employees who move, or otherwise can no longer attend the office.
Things get no better when you're boxed into your cubicle space for the entire day. Another bit of you dies inside. Sitting in your own office with the sun shining and a cup of proper coffee, and fitting work around domestic arrangements sounds like a nice set up.
The fact that IT work is one of the most portable professions helps facilitate working from home: you use a keyboard and screen in the office, you can (and probably are) set up with similar at home. You can also tap into the office hub via all manner of network pipes and collaboration mediums.
Working from home is on the rise in the UK as a whole and last year saw a record number of UK staff doing it. According to the Office for National Statistics, 13.9 per cent of all those employed in the UK in the first quarter, some 4.2 million people, were working from home.
But, yes, you've guessed it, there are down sides.
Working from home can see you actually toil for longer hours than if you were in the office. You can succumb to a creeping feeling that you have to be seen to do things not just better but as quick, if not quicker, than your colleagues on the mothership.
You will more than likely find yourself doing extra hours just to make sure you have done your "fair share". Also, anecdotal evidence would suggest home workers tend to get overlooked for promotions, interesting projects and the like, although no solid evidence exists.
The lines between home and work life can become blurred.
Without defined boundaries as to when you can be disturbed, you may as well just not be at home. The last thing you want whilst on some super-urgent stressful project is for another family member to come along and trot out: “Oh, can you just do this for me?”
These “little” interruptions break concentration and also effectively grants permission for the instigator to carry on doing it. It took several weeks to get my wife to understand that just because I am at home doesn’t mean I can be interrupted at will.
Another major issue and bone of contention is working hours. Everybody likes to be seen to be doing what’s asked of them and a touch more. It becomes all too easy to do that extra hour in the morning or in the evening when you're at home and there's no need to be away from the office by a certain time.
Put into context, these extra hours can equate to almost three extra days a month. I am not saying don’t do what’s needed, just keep a tally on the hours worked and if they start to significantly increase, you need to address it.
A large downside that a lot of home workers have to contend with is when not in the office for several weeks, you lose touch with what is going on, and that can have an impact on professional and personal relationships. OK, there's formal email communications but it's the banter and the back-and-forth of general chit chat that gets missed out. The knowledge, if you will.
Yahoo! and Hewlett-Packard in recent years have reined in their work-form-home cultures to, they claim, facilitate a culture that pollinates ideas through informal meetings and conversations around the office.
However, in spite of this, you want to swim with the tide and work from home. Getting there means managing you, your time and your surroundings. Ensure structure and discipline in the above three is my advice.
Find somewhere to work, where you cannot be disturbed without someone having to come and find you. The family dining table is not that place.
Also, set a lunch hour and stick to it. During this time you can handle those little tasks that would otherwise encroach whilst you are working. It shows willing on your part and also helps other family members understand that you aren’t just “messing around” in your office.
Non-human distractions can also be very damaging. This is especially true if you have a man cave and acquired the latest box set of your favourite series. It is all too easy to let the distractions get in the way. The only answer to this is just don’t let them. If you get to this point, it’s bad. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having the radio on as long as it doesn’t distract from the task at hand.