When you imagine someone saying the term ‘work from home’ out loud you know they will probably make finger signs in the air to signify quotation marks. Because ‘working from home’ is predominantly seen as a bit of a skive; a glorified day out of the office where you reply to a few emails, waggle your mouse around so it looks like you’re active on Skype and then sit back and watch Loose Women and file your nails. If you work from home full time then you’ll know this is so far from the truth. You work just as hard (if not harder) then your office-based colleagues. If you don’t take care then the lines between work and home can blur and work can spill over into your evenings and weekends. It can also be lonely too as you can’t break up your workday with chats with your workmates or run-ins at the water-cooler.
Working from home is a great option for parents, providing flexibility to juggle work and family life. However, it’s best to take steps to make sure that the lines between the two don’t blur and you end up feeling frazzled.
Create a working space
Create a working space within your home. It can be a small corner with a desk and your laptop or a home office. It could even be a garden summerhouse if you’re lucky enough to have one. If you have a designated working space then you automatically switch into work mode when you enter it and, even more importantly, switch off when you leave it.
Don’t always work from home
It can help to do your work outside the home. Create your own office hour routine, where you head out to the library or an internet café to work. If not every day then often. Doing so lets you escape from the feeling of your four walls closing in on you and the distractions of household chores vying for your attention. You can even rent hot desk spaces in local offices.
Plan your working hours
One of the biggest advantages of being able to work from home is that you have the flexibility to set your own working hours, as long as you meet the requirements and get the work done. If you work better in the evenings then go ahead and knock yourself out. If you’re an early bird then put in a few hours before the rest of the household wakes up. If you do the school run, then you can take a couple of hours out between 3 and 5 to pick up the kids and make up the extra hours after bedtime. Find the working pattern that works best for you and carve out the time each week for work.
Stay connected to work colleagues
As you’re not together in an office with your work colleagues, you will naturally miss out on the chat and banter of everyday working life. Do your utmost to be in fairly constant contact with your work mates. Join in meetings and conference calls. Email often but also use Skype to maintain a constant daily presence. If you are constantly available via Skype you can fire off messages, ask for calls and be part of the office experience, albeit remotely. Throughout your day chat to your work colleagues just as you would in an office. If you take the time and put in the effort, you’ll be amazed how much you can get to know your colleagues. Even if you don’t meet often face to face you can still feel a valued part of the team.
Turn off the TV
You might believe you can multi-task safe in the comfort of your own home but there’s a reason why they don’t stream ‘This Morning’ into offices up and down the country. If you switch on the TV at the same time as you switch on your laptop then you’re setting yourself up for distraction that takes you away from your tasks.
Switch your phone to silent
Your parents may feel that because you work from home, you’re actually available for long chats at all times. Your friends might think nothing of contacting you above other friends who work the traditional 9-5 in the daytime. However, constant phone calls and messages can pull your focus away from your work. Ignoring them risks upsetting family and friends who don’t understand why you can’t chat seeing as you are at home anyway. So when you’re working, set your phone to silent and maybe put it in a different room to avoid distraction.
Take your lunch hour
If you were working in an office then chances are you would leave the office to go for lunch. You might share it with work colleagues or you might eat alone while enjoying the peace in a nearby park. We bet you would always break up your working day with your paid lunch hour. So when you work from home cherish your lunch hour too. You might use it to walk the dog, to meet a friend in a café or to just enjoy a sandwich in the garden. Even if it’s just popping out for 20 minutes, make sure you always take time for a break at lunchtime. It will mean you have renewed energy for your afternoon work.
Stretch and flex
When you work in an office there will be regular times throughout the working day when you leave your desk and get up and walk or change the scenery. When you work from home though, it’s easy to spend eight hours a day hunched up at your desk. That’s not healthy for anyone. Make it your mission to stand up and move often. Step away from your desk and whether you walk to the kettle to make a cuppa or go one step further and do some at home stretches, it’s all good for you. There are some fab apps you can download, which have 10 minute exercises to help boost your physical and mental well being.
Don’t email out of office hours
One of the hardest things about working from home is that it’s all too easy to never switch off. You can just check emails in the evenings and just do a little bit more work late after the traditional working day ends. Even if it helps you to work out of the traditional 9-5 office hours, make it a rule to never send or reply to emails out of this timescale. Once you do then the lines between work and rest blur. You also open yourself up to your employers seeing you available 24/7. You work from home so surely you won’t mind just quickly replying to an email at 8pm. Would you? Well, actually yes you would. Lead by example and write or respond to work emails between 9-5. Make that your mantra.
You don’t have more to prove
It can feel easy to feel that because you work from home and are not visible in the workplace that you have to work harder to prove your worth. Chances are you are just as focused and productive as your office based colleagues. Don’t fall into the trap of working silly hours to prove your place as a work from home mum.
Pick a clear finishing time
You may not respond to emails out of office hours but the temptation to do a little more work at midnight still prevails. When you work from home the whole idea of ‘taking your work home’ is a bit skewed. You already take all your work home and if you don’t watch out it can eat up all your free time. Make a strict rule not to work past a certain hour in the evening and do your utmost to stick to it. If it helps, remind yourself that all your office-based colleagues are probably watching the latest Must-see drama on BBC i-player or having a bath with a Lush bath bomb. You’re not getting paid any more so why shouldn’t you switch off too?
Working from home can be lonely. Emails and Skype calls go some way towards keeping you connected with your work colleagues but it’s not the same as face-to-face interaction. Try to build in times in your working day to get company. Go for a walk in your lunch hour and meet other walkers, arrange meet-ups with friends for coffee in your lunch breaks or after work whenever you can.
Don’t let other parents take advantage of you
If you work from home then others can see it as a non-job. They can presume that you have all your days free and ask for you to cover for them when they, themselves, are called into the office. They might have an important business meeting but because you ‘work from home’ they ask if you can look after their kids. Make it clear to others that you work but the only difference is that your office is at your home. That you’re busy and just because you’re at home it doesn’t mean you are off duty and can babysit other children
Protect your weekends
Chances are that one of the main reasons you chose to work from home was to be able to juggle and carve out more time with your family. You don’t get paid to work at weekends but if you work from home it’s hard to resist the pull of your laptop and check emails or just do a little bit more work. Stay strong. Make it a rule not to go near your phone emails or your laptop on the weekends. If you do resist temptation then ignore any work requests until Monday morning. You and your family deserve your will to do so. Weekends are for family. Step away from work and enjoy them.
When the kids are at home
However well you plan your working hours there will inevitably be some times when your children are at home and you still have to work. It could be because they are poorly, because of inset days or because they are on school holidays. This requires a whole new level of juggling. Trying to sound professional on a work call with a small child shouting ‘Muuuummy, I need a wee’ in the background or trying to write up an article with Peppa Pig blaring, is not easy. If you can, rope in help in the form of a babysitter. If not then TV and lots of quiet activities will provide you with some bits of peace to focus on work. Sometimes you just have to admit defeat and make up your hours once the kids are tucked up in bed. If you’re ever feeling a little wrung out by trying to juggle kids with your work from home then take heart in the fact that so many other working parents will have been in the same position. Like the time his children interrupted this dad’s live BBC interview.
Why working from home can be the best option
Working from home is often a very real and positive way for parents to juggle work with family life. It allows mums and dads flexibility to shape their working day around the needs of the children. They can take their children to nursery or school and then start their working day when they get home. They can set their own working hours so that they can put down work and be there for the after school and teatime hours and pick it up again once the kids are in bed. There are no hours wasted in a commute that could be spent with children and you will never miss a school nativity or sport’s day again. It requires a bit of planning, a lot of organisation and a heap of juggling but, if you can get all that right, then it’s a brilliant way to find the balance between work and family. More and more companies are offering the option of remote working and realising the benefits. It’s time to stand up and to own it. And to recognise work from home mums and dads for the heroes they are.