Homeworking – But not as we know it…

Many people have suddenly found themselves working from home amid the current COVID-19 pandemic. When this started I like many others thought this was great for homeworking, perhaps the start of better things to come with regards to inclusive workplaces and homeworking. 

I still think good things could come of this, I still think it will open up many peoples minds to the possibilities of homeworking. But, we must recognise this is not homeworking as many of us know it. This is not a normal situation. I’ve been working from home for over 10 years, for two different employers before starting my business, Silk Helix. This homeworking is different, this homeworking has challenges I’ve never had before. 

I’m an advocate of homeworking, for me personally I love it. It works for me and for my life. I was homeworking before I had children and I carried on after. I’ve experienced the best and some of the not so great. Homeworking meant having the house to myself, having peace and quiet when I wanted it, turning up the music when that suited me, not being interrupted, I had lunch and made tea when I wanted! This homeworking is completely different. 

I love having my partner as my new coworker, on the desk next to me, but it does come with it’s challenges. Suddenly I no longer have complete selfish freedom over the music. I get offered a cup of tea, but actually as a homeworker leaving my desk to make a cuppa is an important part of my day. Then there are the times both of us need to be on the phone at the same time, I’m just not used to blocking out other noise when I’m on the phone. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, in the circumstances these really are 1st world problems, but it is a change, it does take some getting used to. Home situations can be complex, as a long term homeworker my home is set up for this, for many people this isn’t the case. 

There are a lot people now working from home who haven’t chosen this and weren’t prepared for it, they may be facing a whole host of problems and challenges at home. This will impact work in this period of transition.  

At then, just as we were getting used to our new coworker arrangements, children got thrown into the mix as schools closed. Working from home whilst also having to home-school/entertain and keep safe primary school age children definitely isn’t in my normal working from home plan. 

Most of us who work from home in normal circumstances won’t be effectively trying to do two full time jobs at exactly the same time. Add to that children who are out of routine, worried by what is going on around them and can’t be sent out to play with their friends. This is a challenge that definitely doesn’t come with most peoples normal working from home. 

Whilst for some mixing working and childcare will be an issue, others will have lost their professional role and found themselves in the unplanned position of stay at home parent. Like homeworking, when it’s not planned for and schools are closed being a stay at home parent is quite a different position. Sudden changing roles in the family may put strain upon those directly impacted as well as those still in employment. 

If that wasn’t enough, life has added stresses right now. Many families and individuals will have financial worries, even if still employed they may worry about job security. We’re also worried about the health crisis. None of us want to get ill or worse lose loved ones. Those with caring responsibilities may have additional challenges in providing that care. Most of us have never experienced anything like this, even questions about when and if we can do our next trip to the supermarket. This just isn’t “normal” life. 

The circumstances in each household will vary, consider the individual circumstances of the people you work with, circumstances you may not even be aware of. Check in on them, ask about home, find out how you can support them to make it work.

This is a period of change and uncertainty. If we were in a normal homeworking situation we’d have on-boarded people into that culture, we’d have policies and practices that support homeworking. We’d have teams used to homeworking. Unless you’re already a remote first organisation, this stuff is all new to everyone. 

Understand that productivity may be impacted as people settle into new situations. This is important even if you (or your employees) were already working from home, their lives may have just changed too.  

If your working life has just changed suddenly, It’s OK to find things difficult, it’s OK to be challenged by this situation. Working from home has many benefits, I do believe many more organisations will be open to homeworking or even move to remote first following this pandemic. However, we must recognise this isn’t homeworking as we know it. This isn’t business as usual. This is adapting to a crisis and that is great, it’s great so many people can work safely in their homes. Now we’ve started it, it’s time to step back and work out how to make homeworking work!  

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