Working from home, the buzz words of 2020. I used to be in a minority and now “everyone” is doing it. We’ve seen debates about increased productivity, decreased productivity, interrupted zoom calls and now we’re seeing talk of decreased pay for those working from home and even ideas of increased tax as thoughts turn to money saved.
Working from home in 2020 has been a completely different experience to every other of the 12 years I have worked from home. I do think we need a little longer to judge whether it’s right for people long term and of course what may work for some won’t work for others.
Given 2020 hasn’t exactly been a fair test, I’m reflecting on the first 11 years of working from home and what it really means.
I’ve worked from home for two national employers, one large company with hundreds of employees, another smaller company with less than 50 employees and now I run my company largely from home. I spent 8 years with the larger of those two companies and 3 years with the other. My homeworking experience, despite being at the same desk doing pretty much the same work in each of those companies was very different.
One thing to mention about cost, prior to homeworking I worked in London, travel was costing me around £4000 per year. Coming out of London was a saving, not only in money but also lifestyle as I lost nearly 4 hours of daily commuting.
Personally for me I decided very quickly I would never be going back into an office, I loved my setup at home. As my family grew I realised my cost saving was only going to go elsewhere, into the cost of houses. When you work from home full time, you quickly decide you need a working space. You need somewhere you can shut off at the end of the day, a start and finish, a place that indicates you’re at work and doesn’t bring work into the family. That costs money, homes with office space come at a premium. I’m not at all surprised the housing market has benefited from the increase in homeworking.
Once you’ve spent the extra on a bigger house, going back to the office becomes an even more distant possibility as now you need to cover the additional housing costs as well as the commute.
One of the biggest challenges I have experienced in 2020 is working at home surrounded by the family. I’m used to being the only one, they leave the house in the morning and return in the evening whilst I get the house to myself for the day – quiet when I need it, music when that helps me and no one in the way when I use doing the hoovering as a break.
Not only have I had the family around me but also had to homeschool primary children, they don’t “self-start” they need constant supervision and help. No amount of office space to shut myself into helps when the children need you. I really do feel for those who have had to do this without being used to it and without office space.
Office space in the home for me has always been a must, a desk I can leave ready to sit down at the next day while not intruding on the family. One thing I have been reminded of this year is the importance of leaving the house even just for a walk. It’s easy to get trapped indoors with no reason to go out. I’ve tended to walk my children to childcare or school at the beginning and end of the day which has provided me with a leave the house/commute type experience and during lockdown we walked most days around lunch time. If for some reason we didn’t walk for a few days I really felt the impact on my mood and motivation.
A huge change this year has been the rise in video calls. Over my time of working from home most of my work has been on the telephone and email and it’s balanced with work on client sites. That for me has meant dressing up to visit clients but when I work from home I work best in my comfy PJs. I know there is plenty of advice out there for getting dressed in the morning and I can see the point, especially if you’re working on the sofa. For me, sitting at my desk in my PJs is perfect, it’s comfy and because I have the set work space I’m still in work mode. So 2020 has been a shock to the system having to get dressed for a “call”.
Whilst where I work, leaving the house and working in my PJs have been consistent in all my working from home, the overall experience of achievement, motivation and feeling part of the team hasn’t. My first 8 years were brilliant, we didn’t have anything other than telephone, email and occasional conference calls but the team environment was great, I learnt so much in this role both from colleagues and the role I was doing. The difference between the two roles:
In the first role, we were well provided for – desks, chairs, internet, telephones, laptops, docking stations, multiple monitors. We met regularly and knew when it would happen (4 times per year centrally and a further 4 local team meetings). We had monthly 1 to 1 meetings with managers, bi-weekly team conference calls, an internal phone system for speaking to colleagues and regular training both in person and via conference calls (that’s tough training via conference calls). It worked well, the experience was positive and I learnt so much. In the second, I had a laptop with not enough memory, a mobile phone (not even a monitor or keyboard), face to face meetings maybe twice a year and we didn’t know when, no conference calls, no training and hardly any communication with the team. As a homeworker this felt lonely, I never felt connected with the company, never felt proud of the brand or particularly motivated. I wasn’t learning or developing.
These are the things that made a huge difference to my experiences and they would have made the same difference if I worked in the office. It isn’t the homeworking that’s the issue, it’s how we manage it and make it work. I plan to build Silk Helix as remote first, I think the benefits outweigh the challenges. There are challenges, onboarding new people and getting to know each other can be more challenging, communication has to be worked on. But with a little effort all these things are possible.
Homeworking isn’t new, many of us have been doing it for years. There is plenty to learn and definitely ways to get it right.