Shhh – don’t tell anyone, but working from home is great
It’s coming up to my one year anniversary of working from home. When I tell people that I work from home they assume one of two things… one, that I work part time (I do not) and two, that I “work” from home (they always bring out the inverted commas). The truth is working from home is fantastic and I am privileged to have this lifestyle.
The flexibility and empowerment it brings is life changing and for me, there are no downsides. However, I have had to learn a few new skills to thrive in this new working environment.
1 – Find your space
Working from your home is exactly that… working from the place where you relax, where you engage in hobbies, where you spend time with friends and family. One of the first pieces of advice I received about working from home was about ensuring you create a division between work and home life.
When I first began this journey last year my husband and I were both working from the dining room table or the sofa. The BBC news would be on the TV in the background and occasionally the dog would wander in and demand a walk or food, not to mention my energetic son coming home from school at 3:15 every day.
It took us about 3 weeks to realise this was not an ideal situation, nor was it conducive to productivity. My husband was already using co-working spaces so I tried a few in the local town. It didn’t work for me personally. I found trudging to town to sit in a noisy coffee shop that billed itself as a co-working space difficult to settle in to, at least when I was in an office the coffee was free!
That being said I did accompany him to a few of the co-working spaces in London. Secondhome and WeWork were much easier to work in and I would absolutely recommend them. I could see the benefits of having a subscription to a dedicated workspace but as a self-employed marketing consultant who was just starting out it seemed like an unnecessary expense.
So, it was back to the drawing board. Eventually we decided to turn our shed into an office space. After a couple of weeks of insulating and painting we had a useable work space. It is by no means perfect… the temperature during the heatwave in our office peaked at about 42degrees and during the winter we run a small heater on full pelt to keep us toasty but actually it’s very comfortable, and most importantly – functional! This is where I spend the majority of my working days. The space is large enough for us both to work effectively and it has given us the division from the house we needed to focus on our work.
Everyone is different and every job will come with its own set of needs for a workspace. It can be romantic to think of home working as a never-ending parade of hipster coffee shops or Pinterest worthy office nooks but in reality you have to try a few options and be honest about what you need. If you need to take phone calls and focus then that local coffee shop, as good as the coffee may be, might not be the answer.
2 – Communication
Communication is so essential when you work from home. It’s important when you work in an office but being isolated and away from team members can be a real culture shock. In many of my previous roles the reliance on email has been high but if you needed a chat about a project or want a bit of light-hearted conversation you could always swing by the coffee machine or someone’s desk.
Working from home instantly meant losing out on building those relationships, and I can see how it could be a lonely experience. For me I had three essential tools (in addition to email) which helped me build relationships with team members all over the world:
The first was WhatsApp. Seems obvious but there was something quite nice about being able to contact colleagues directly and personally on their mobile. It has also led to the development of friendships outside of work. I will share good restaurants or recipes with colleagues/friends now on WhatsApp as well as asking if they have approved the latest whitepaper. It just feels like a personal connection and I am glad that my boss suggested it as a means of communication when I first started working with the team.
The second one whereby.com (formally appear.in). This is one of the best tools for video chat, and by far my favourite way to organise a conference call, mainly because for anyone who hasn’t used it before they click the link (no need to download software etc etc) and the first thing they say is “Gosh that was really easy!” (In your face Skype!). I just love it and the free version was perfect for what I needed.
The third is Slack. Slack has been a really good way of maintaining and developing professional relationships with agencies, partners and freelancers. I find it useful for informal chats around projects rather than one on one conversations and as a bonus it keeps things organised. Most creatives I work with are already on Slack too so it’s a no-brainer.
3 – Routine
There is no routine… When I read about hacks to working at home there is endless advice about setting a routine, making sure you have a working day etc. My experience is that one of the major benefits to home working is the lack of routine and the flexibility you have. I am lucky in the fact that my colleagues are (mostly) in the same time zone and so the working day is pretty standard but I am also trusted and able to perform my role in a manner that I see fit. If I need to pop to the bank or if I need to visit my son’s school I can take my “lunchbreak” at whatever time suits. The hours still get done.
Over the Easter holidays I worked around my son’s holiday time. I would work for two hours in the morning (catching up on emails and planning my day) then I would be available for my family for a couple of hours. I would check in with progress over lunchtime but the bulk of my work I carried out in the evening. It was a week of flexibility that really sums up what flexible and home working is all about.
I wouldn’t be able to do a good job if I was always on that routine as I need to collaborate and be available to the wider team but for one week it wasn’t a problem, it also meant the world to my family being able to participate.
For me the past year has helped me to mentally and physically thrive. My work is fulfilling and I am proud to be a full-time home worker. It was nothing like I imagined. I don’t think I ever once been distracted by the mountain of washing (as my husband will verify!) or spent a day slobbing in front of Netflix.
The fact is that if you love your work, if you are passionate about doing a good job, then you will work out the right place, the right tools and the right “routine” that works for you and your business.
It’s highly unique and individual and that is of course the benefits of this kind of job.
Laura is a freelance marketing strategist working from home and all over Europe.
The dog doesn’t work.