Working From Home

by Barbara Buffton

How the employee can make it work

The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.

William James

So, it’s up to you!

Home-working requires many things, not just discipline and commitment. Exactly what you need depends very much on the scope and basis of your work. For example, whether you are a permanent home worker or only spending a certain percentage of your time working from home will determine how much you need to take the following factors into account.

Physical factors

Having the appropriate equipment, lighting and furniture in place in the right environment can make all the difference to working from home successfully. Taking health, safety and security seriously will help to fulfil your obligations to yourself and your employer.

Health and safety

If you use your home as your business workplace, you will be expected to exercise reasonable care over your own safety. However under health and safety law, your company is also obliged to carry out regular risk assessments of the workspace in your home to identify any potential hazards, taking into account the work you will be doing, your own particular needs and who else lives in your home. This risk assessment may have implications on where you have your workspace and the type of equipment and furniture you use. You can download Five Steps to Risk Assessment from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website.

Looking after your health while working from home can take more resolve. Make sure you take regular short breaks to stretch your body and give your eyes a rest from computer work.

Location

If you are going to be working from home on a permanent or a regular basis, it is best to have a dedicated workspace. Ideally this needs to be somewhere separate from the rest of your living space. This helps separate out work from home, so you can metaphorically or physically shut the door on work (or on home), and will hopefully minimise interruptions. There should also be less risk of accidental damage to your work.

If you are only working from home on an occasional basis, for example to concentrate on a particular task, it is probably not so vital to have a separate dedicated workspace.

Lighting and furniture

Working from home means you can have the type of lighting that suits you and not have to suffer what you’re given in an office! Make sure you have adequate lighting for the tasks involved. Also make sure that your chair, computer and keyboard are in the correct positions to enable you to work safely and comfortably. See the topic on Posture and Comfort at work.

Equipment

You need to think about all the equipment and materials that are necessary for you to work at your best. These might include a computer or laptop, docking station, printer, backup facilities, filing cabinet, stationery and so on. You will then have to negotiate and agree with your organisation as to what can be made available.

Phone and digital communications

It will almost certainly be necessary to have a separate phone line for work, or you will have to keep a log of personal and business calls. For complete flexibility, you will also need an answerphone.

A reliable internet service provider (ISP) is also essential for email communication with the office and, should your work require it, access to a virtually limitless research tool.

Security

Your company should provide you with guidelines on the security of data and equipment. If guidelines are not available, follow these simple rules:

  • Don’t allow anyone else to access your company’s equipment or files
  • Make sure your computer is password-protected
  • Securely lock away any confidential papers
  • Don’t leave documents displayed on the computer screen for others to see
  • Ensure that you back up your data on a very regular basis.
Tip

Be proactive – set up your own support systems so that you feel in touch with the office even though you’re not physically there on a daily basis.

Personal factors

There are many personal characteristics and skills that it helps to have if you decide to work from home (see What kind of person best suits home-working?). Here are some more ideas on how you can get the most out of working from home.

Personal development

Ensure that you still have access to the same training and development opportunities offered to people who are based in the office. Don’t miss out just because you’re not on the spot. It pays to be proactive in this area as it can be easy to get left out if you’re not physically present in the office. Maybe you could establish a buddy relationship with someone in the office who would tell you about forthcoming events and day-to-day happenings.

Technical support

Don’t wait for things to go wrong. Find out in advance what happens if you have an equipment failure. What’s your first port of call? What’s the backup if you can’t use your computer? How can you ensure your equipment is regularly serviced, just as it would be at the office?

Team support

Whenever possible, take the opportunity to attend team meetings or go into the office on a fairly regular basis just to be seen to be a part of the team, as well as catch up with what’s going on. This reminds people of your existence and can help you feel that you still belong to a team. Failing that, maintain regular contact with other people via email and the phone.

Time management

Having a flexible schedule is great but good time management is still the key to getting the most out of your working day. For specific ideas, see Time management for home workers; for more in-depth information, see the topic Time Management.

Managing interruptions

Some interruptions will be outside your control, but you can take action to minimise the disruption to work.

Educate your family and friends so that they know when you’re going to be working and that you don’t want to be interrupted, except for emergencies.

Having a separate workspace that can be closed off is ideal – just shutting the door will usually be an adequate deterrent. The less visible you are, the less likely you are to be visited! However, if your workspace has to be in a dual-purpose room, choose a room that is not otherwise needed during the day. The kitchen table may not be the best place for work if the rest of the family are in and out of the kitchen all day. If you need to reinforce the message, try a ‘Do not disturb’ sign.

During work hours, keep any interactions with family or friends short and to the point. If a friend turns up on the doorstep (or rings), you may need to remind them that you must get back to work. Suggest a better time when you can get together for a chat.

Separating work from home

A dedicated workspace will also help you to separate work from home, and vice versa. It might help to imagine going through a ‘decontamination unit’ as you pass from work to home or from home to work, so that it helps your mind to separate the two.

When you ‘go’ to work in the morning, imagine that you are actually going to somewhere different so that your mind changes focus to work.

Once you have finished work for the day, literally shut the door if you have one or imagine that you are actually shutting a door on your work, so that you can turn your focus to home life.

For more ideas on getting the right balance between work and home, see Work-life Balance.

Clothes

At first it might feel strange not having to wear formal office clothes. Some people prefer to carry on getting dressed as though they were going into the office; others enjoy the informality of dressing down. Find out what suits your working mood the best. You’ll be amazed at how clothes can affect your efficiency and productivity!