Let me start by saying that by no means am I a working from home expert; I do not have a degree in ergonomics or human resources or time management. I am just your normal IT worker that happens to have been working from home for a number of years now.
If you have just had that email from your manager or your Human Resources Department that says “Guess what! Time to grab a laptop and set up shop from home”, I thought I would share a couple of my experiences with you to ease the transition, and who knows? Maybe this will be the launch pad for you to pursue a remote working position full time with your current employer (or even a new one )
Firstly, when you start working from home no matter how much preparation you put into it, expect that things will feel different and perhaps even isolating for a little while. Yes, there will be video conference meetings perhaps and chat channels such a Slack/Teams/etc, but mentally it’s very easy initially to get sucked into a place where you think “I am missing all the water cooler discussions”, or be longing for the simple act of wandering around the office, bumping into people and giving them a cursory nod to acknowledge the fact that both you and they exist!
But be patient – this passes very quickly as you work out how to manage your day. Hence let me talk about what I find are the benefits of working from home.
1) Your time is now your own. Yes there will be meetings at particular schedules that you need to attend, but by and large, what you now have is the ability to reshuffle your time on a day by day basis, and any commuting time you used to endure is now your time. If your commute used to be a 45 minute commute, you could choose to spend that extra 90 minutes working extra on a given day, knowing that you can then get that 90 minutes back on a different day, and still be meeting the requirements of your workplace.
Similarly, you may opt to do small chunks of work on the weekend or other times when you would normally not work in order to gain free time elsewhere. I stress I am not suggesting you work flat out 7 days a week, but conversely I often find it very beneficial to do 5 days of work across 7 days if a particular week suits that need, and similarly sometimes put in a “bender” and smash out 5 days of work 4 days in order to gain some more free time for family events and the like. The key thing is – you now have more flexibility.
2) When working from home is it is easier to find opportunities to take those important mental breaks that we often skip in the workplace. In the workplace it is easy to get mentally bogged down at your desk because there is no obvious outlet besides just drinking more coffee! When working from home and you feel that need for a mental break, then yes, it is also easy to just grab a coffee, but you could also throw a load of washing on, or grab some food at the shops, or go for a walk outside. The opportunities for taking those five or 10 minute breaks are far greater, which I think keeps you more fresh than if you were at the office just guzzling down more and more caffeine, because often the kitchen area is the only respite from your cubicle.
3) You get more flexibility with gear. One of the big benefits of a home office is that typically you are not limited to the equipment that your workplace would provide. In terms of physical comfort don’t be afraid to treat yourself a little. My aging eyes are very pleased with the enormous monitor I have at home; something that would not be available in the workplace. Similarly I recently bought a high-end mouse on a whim, thinking that …well … after all a mouse is just a mouse. But I was pleasantly surprised with the productivity I have gained with it, especially with the fiddly precision needed when editing videos. I’m not commission but for anyone interested it is a Logitech MX master 3 and I highly recommend it.
Having listed the benefits, let me delve into perhaps some “rebuttal” of stuff I’ve read on the internet. Don’t forget – this is what works for me – your mileage may vary.
I see a lot of blog posts about working from home requiring a dedicated space that is away from the day to day living space. I concede that this is probably the best option for most people but don’t feel forced to do that. The most important thing is that you have a space that you feel very comfortable in. That might be physical comfort in terms of having a really good chair or a really good desk setup as I mentioned, but also it may just feel about your mental comfort. I work within an open space such that I easily have interaction with my children even if I am working. They are at the age now where they can easily interpret from my mannerisms whether I am flat out busy and perhaps should not be interrupted, versus when I am easily interruptible and it will not cause a fuss. So I prefer being embedded in the norms of the household rather than being separated from it, because the reality is when you are working from home, sometimes you can feel like you are missing out on time spent with family. To each their own.
In these times of virus outbreak, there has been a flurry of posts recently about the issues of having interruptions from children and family at home. Obviously this is very dependent on the age of your children – mine have just become teenagers but I believe it can be a beneficial thing especially in the world of IT. Let’s face it, often the rest of your family really doesn’t have any idea what your job really entails, so letting them into that part of your life, especially if you are passionate about it, is a good thing in my opinion. Surely it is always beneficial to let your family, children and partner see what you are passionate about even if there will always be the occasional throw away comment from them about why on earth you could be passionate about such things .
I sit on the fence in terms of the importance of communication mediums such as Slack or Teams etc. Don’t get me wrong – they are very useful and I utilise them regularly in my job, but the reason I say you should not put too much importance on them is that I work in a totally different time zone to most of my team, and most of Oracle. Yet I have not found that minimal chat interaction is a big problem on my day. However I also know that should I need to reach out to someone other as part of a work or personal communication then the onus is on me to either wake up a little earlier or stay up a little later at night in order to sync up the time zones. Your mileage may vary – if chat lines make you feel more comfortable about your remote location, then by all means dive in hard.
Anyway, that’s my brief thoughts on working from home. If you are new to this – Welcome to the club! As always if you have any questions, thoughts, ideas or are looking for guidance, then I can’t claim to have all the answers but I’ll happily help where I can.