Could you just pick up my dry cleaning?

Working from home – or anywhere that’s not a ‘regular’ office – can be the ideal answer to any number of questions. But you’ll need to think hard before making the leap.

The number of people choosing to work from home, it seems, is rising. The benefits seem obvious: flexibility and control being top of the list.

On a dull drizzly winter’s day, who wants to battle the daily commute, whether on the roads or rails, by train, tube, car or bike? The concept of moving seamlessly from living space to working space, in no time at all, surrounded by all the comforts of home seems like the perfect existence. People seem to assume that whatever it is you’re doing, you’re not quite as serious as if you commuted to work

Doesn’t it?

…people seem to assume that whatever it is you’re doing, you’re not quite as serious as if you commuted to work

There are definitely joys to working from home; the commute is certainly one of them. The winter months bring relief at not having to wrap up and battle the elements, while the summer heat and resultant sweaty crush on public transport is enough to make anyone want to resign.

And there’s the flexibility and comfort. On a sunny day, what could be better than taking your laptop into the park or garden? On those cold and miserable days, why not put on a few extra layers and drape a blanket less-than-stylishly around your shoulders – who’s going to know?

But if you’re thinking of making the transition from office to home, either through flexible working, or because you’re thinking of setting up on your own, consider some of the downsides.

It’s lonely

You might have colleagues that make you want to poke your eyes out at times, but human interaction is important. The isolation of home working is not to be underestimated.

A day is a long time to go without conversation or human contact. Multiply that by five days in a week and 20 in a month and you’ll soon start to feel like Robinson Crusoe (before Friday turned up).

If you share your living space with someone who does commute, be prepared to find a balance between one of you wanting peace and quiet after work, and the other desperate to use up all those words.

People think you don’t have a ‘proper’ job

It’s difficult to put a finger on why, but by working from home people seem to assume that whatever it is you’re doing, you’re not quite as serious as if you commuted to work.

You’ll have requests from people with ‘proper’ jobs to run errands; to “just” pick up the dry cleaning; or to “pop” to the post office. Your neighbour may ask you to wait in for the plumber or to take in deliveries for them. You’re home all day anyway, aren’t you?

Your breaks aren’t really breaks

If you work outside the home, your breaks are likely to be quite definite. They might be formal ones, like going to the canteen for lunch, or more informal. Those ‘water cooler’ moments where you take five minutes to get up from your desk, stretch your legs and discuss who’s likely to be voted out of the jungle next are important.

Chances are, if you work from home, you may not even remember to take a break. If you do, it’ll be because you need to clean the toilet, empty the dishwasher or dash to the shops as there’s nothing for dinner. You might as well get another load of washing through…. Yes, all things that commuting workers have to do too, but if you’re not careful they’ll fill the time away from your desk.

The line between home and work gets very blurred

While cracking on with the day still in your jimjams is the fantasy of many a commuter putting off creating their smart self before leaving home each morning, it’s not a good idea in the long run.

Working at the kitchen table during the day and just pushing it aside to serve dinner makes it very hard to switch off. At busy times, the temptation to pick up where you left off once you’ve finished is strong. It’s particularly hard to resist if you’re on your own.

Even though modern technology means that we can bring our work home, while the daily commute may be the stuff of horrors for many, it does create a defined space between home and work.

But, before you change your mind, and that standing with your nose in someone’s armpit twice a day is a price worth paying, hang on.

By creating a few simple rules for your own workspace at home, you really can get the best of both worlds.

Make time for adult interaction

Don’t let work get in the way of other activities. Whether it’s a book club, sports club, volunteering or just a social, making it a priority will address your work-life balance.

Differentiate your space

If you have the room, create a separate work space. Even if you don’t have an office or shed at the bottom of the garden, pack your things up at the end of the day and put them away.

Define your hours and work time

Appreciating that most jobs require a certain amount of flexibility, pick a start time, a stop time, and stick to it. Whether you’re free to choose your hours, or are bounded by school times etc. it’s important to keep those lines defined between work time and home time.

Define your work self

However tempting it is, resist the urge to hang out in your pyjamas. Getting dressed and ready for work creates a mental and physical distinction between home and work.

Give yourself proper breaks

Use a timer if you have to. Leave your workspace and use at least some of your break to… well, do nothing, or at least do something you enjoy. Don’t see it as a chance to crack on with other jobs.

With just a bit of thought and a few self-imposed rules, working from home really can be the answer to modern working.

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