Working Remotely – challenge or joy?

For more and more of us the prospect of working remotely is becoming a stark reality for many and varied reasons. It could be that the commute to work is becoming more onerous with busier roads, a change in job role or personal circumstances or indeed space starts getting tight in the office which often happens in a thriving business.


Whatever the circumstances that caused it, if you are faced with having to work from home or are offered the chance to work from home, it begs the questions how will you deal with the practicalities of doing this? For the purposes of this piece I’m only going to focus on the worker and the challenges they face and not the boss, who undoubtedly faces a whole different set of challenges.


We can also make the assumption that if you have been afforded the opportunity to work from home then all the necessary due diligence has been done in terms of the viability of doing so. Your employer has a system in place for providing a good line of communication, agreed targets and outputs, clear reporting lines and you both know exactly what is required. This means that your job role and type of work you do lends itself to remote working and you can ensure accountability. Now the only thing to consider now is how you are going to adjust to it.


Only this morning I’ve had an email from a client whose opening line was ‘the weather is great and to make it even better I’m working from home’. Now it’s not my place to question what exactly that means to them but I think you may agree that it is certainly open to interpretation. So let’s examine that statement, first in a cynical light, and then a more optimistic and positive light and see how it looks.


They could have meant that the sun is out and, “I’ll be spending most of the day on the patio with a long cold drink thanks very much!” or, and I’d much rather prefer to think that this is the case, it meant something like this, “I’m so glad that I haven’t got that horrible 60 minute drive to work and back in this heat as it would be stifling and I would be much more productive at home”. Let’s hope so, but it does illustrate some of the challenges with perception faced with working from home.


There is lots to distract you from doing your job when you are at home. This comes in many forms including daytime TV, binge-watching box sets, food, finishing the garden from the weekend or just succumbing to your weaknesses and guilty pleasures (gaming, online shopping, surfing the web etc.).


It’s important to create strategies and rules for managing these things. Imagine you are writing a rule book as though you were instructing your children for them doing their schoolwork from home unsupervised (10 minutes of on-line time a day only, gaming at lunchtime only, no daytime TV at all! Etc.). Then apply it to yourself. Also add in ‘I must speak to at least one person face to face every day’ to stay sane.


When you speak to people who work remotely one of the most common challenges they tell you they face is simply one of trust; that is to say, ensuring they receive plenty of it from their boss. It is just as difficult for the worker to adjust to working comfortably and efficiently at home whilst no longer under the constant gaze of a line manager as it is for the manager adjusting to you not being there on hand at all times.


For the boss, perhaps they can be forgiven for having dark thoughts every now and then about how much is really being done, especially when your subjects, who had previously been in plain sight are now only available by phone, video call or email. There’s nothing worse than being spotted in a supermarket at 4pm and your boss finds out through the back door. They then face the conundrum of confronting you or not about it. However, what they didn’t see was you sitting at your desk at 6am to get an early start. Which is why it is vital that an appropriate way of measuring outputs is essential in your arrangements.


However, for the subject, assuming all output measurement criteria is in place, they must banish all thoughts of not being trusted and get on with doing their job as there are more important issues they face which they must overcome.


Some challenges to working from home fall into the ‘obvious’ category. Such as, well, actually getting out of bed in the first place! The newfound (at least perceived) freedom afforded to one can certainly put a strain on the notion to ‘get up and get to it’, which would normally be our attitude when going to the office and can sometimes lead the worker to being a little too relaxed.


So it’s important to still have your routines like setting the alarm clock as normal, washing, dressing and behaving as though you are going to work ensuring that you maintain a ‘get up and go to work’ attitude, even if you are only going into the study or spare bedroom/office to do it.


There is an old adage that says, if you dress the part and you look the part, then there is a much better chance that you will act the part! So resist the temptation to be lazy and spend half the day in your dressing gown. If you are tasked with making video conference calls this may remove the temptation for you (assuming you don’t cheat and feel you can get away with dressing from the waste up!) It’s better to look and feel like you are going to work and this will help you to mean business.


Also, it can be lonely on your own all day especially if you are not careful about managing this. You may find it difficult to adjust to the lack of human interaction by working at home alone. So try to build some way of ensuring that you talk to others face to face into your day.


Whereas previously you may have stayed at your desk all day and not taken your lunch break out of the office, you may want to consider actually taking your lunch break when working from home in order to have the chance of speaking to someone. You could go to the shop or speak to a neighbour which will help to ensure you do have interactions with others.


Undoubtedly biggest single factor to ensuring that you are successful and happy working from home is ‘communication’. Get this right and most problems will seem less of an issue. Even if there is a clear reporting line and agreed guidelines for communication, the system will only be as good as the people working it, so you still have to work the system so make it work for you. Make sure that you do what is expected of you in terms of communication even if your boss isn’t there to receive any messages. Be as transparent as you can be and stick to your agreed schedules and check-in times if that’s what you have arranged.


There’s much to get wrong when faced with working from home. However there’s also little doubt that if you get it right then remote working can be very productive and worthwhile. You will enjoy a much better work/life balance and can certainly be much happier in your work, even if all it does is remove a dreadful and arduous commute to work.


Maguire Training deliver a course to help delegates navigate their way through remote working. You can see the agenda for this programme by clicking this link.


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