With Marissa Mayer’s diktat about remote workers, the debate on the pros and cons of working from home came to the fore, making it evident that the trend of remote working still has a long way to go. Remote workers, for instance, are often deemed unreliable and a liability. Many organisations believe that people do not perform without supervision and that they will lose precious time and patience following up. People who choose remote working are often looked down upon because they do not seem to prioritise work and thus choose to take the ‘easy way out’! These myths need to be dispelled.

The benefits

Very often talented and trained employees opt to work from home due to personal obligations, physical infirmity, creative impetus, or just to be their own boss. Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms, enumerates some of its advantages: “Working from home means lesser commuting time, more availability towards family matters—especially important if you are a caregiver, better use of time and better work-life balance. It also means higher concentration, lesser workplace noise and interruptions, and greater proximity to one’s own thinking space. It works great for people with definitive process-oriented tasks or creative need for solitude.”

It’s not all play

In spite of these obvious benefits, working from home is hardly the cakewalk it is made out to be. People who are serious about working from home cannot even think of slacking; they need to constantly and consistently go that extra mile. Even today, physical presence at the office is so fundamental that many work-from-home employees have to work twice as hard for a relatively lower compensation. They also need to spend time trying different methods to let their colleagues and managers know that they are at it. Most of the corporate world and society is still into cubicle worship, so you need to set the rules on how to go about it.

Get clarity before you start

Remote working requires a certain amount of readiness, both from the employee and the employer—paramount being the clarity of larger goals and short-term expectations.

Both parties need to be clear on the measure of success:

  1. What will the daily/weekly/project reporting be like?
  2. What is the support required for the remote worker to accomplish the job at hand?
  3. Who are the people who need to be communicated to?
  4. What are the communication protocols and processes?
  5. Is the infrastructure adequate? Is there a back up?
  6. Does the person have a decent workspace/equipment and the right degree of skill to achieve the tasks?

These are questions every work-flex arrangement needs to answer before stepping up.

SOHO

Small-office-home-office can make a huge difference as physical boundaries help create mental boundaries. This space, no matter how small, will not only allow you to work better in a more peaceful and organised setting but will also get you into the office mode. Once there, it will work as a check of sorts—for both, you and your family—that it is office/work time and you are off-limits. It will help you detach yourself from the nitty-gritty of the house and focus on the work at hand. Your family will also learn to respect this and will not disturb you unless it is unavoidable.

Fix your ‘office hours’

It is best to set a list of dos and don’ts for yourself as well as for your family. It is essential for family members to understand that just because you are physically present does not mean that you are ‘available’.

Working from home also does not mean that you can attend to the plumber and electrician and every other household problem during working hours. Schedule those tasks as per your convenience. In households where all adults work, there is no one available at specific hours on weekdays. Deem your household the same and people will learn to respect it. Maintain this same rule with regards to guests inviting themselves over or wishing to have extended telephone conversations during your work hours. If people can respect the fact that they should not disturb anyone at their workplace, they should do the same for you.

Social isolation

It is not easy for someone who has enjoyed coffee breaks and water-cooler gossip to find him/herself staring at the laptop, for hours on end, without a soul with whom to share his/her thoughts, inputs, and work worries and woes. You tend to miss the office buzz and the surrounding silence may get deafening at times. Sairee Chahal says, “Communication challenges and professional loneliness are some key issues when working flex. One cannot shout across the hall to find a solution or walk up to a colleague to brainstorm. You need to resolve most issues at your own level and be responsible for communicating at all times. Making sure that the task is accomplished is your responsibility alone.”

Also, you will need to cull out time for networking. Networking is essential, irrespective of where you work and your area of expertise. Knowing the right people and a certain amount of face-time with clients and even in the organisation can work wonders to further your career.

Take a break

In office, we do not think twice before taking a coffee break but while working at home, since we do not have a colleague to chat up with, we often find ourselves working for hours without having moved an inch as we try to cram in as much work as possible within a limited time frame. This is not only bad for our physical health, but may also adversely affect the work we are doing. Sipping coffee from a flask [if you don’t want to waste time in brewing it] while looking out of the window or surfing aimlessly for a short time may go a long way in rejuvenating you and helping you concentrate better.

Swipe out

Just because there is no physical difference between your home and workspace, do not fall into the rut of being unable to get ‘office’ out of your system. Once you decide to call it a day and shut your laptop, it is essential to mentally switch off from work. Also, learn to give weekends and holidays their due importance. Unless one consciously decides not to do any official work on weekends, the distinction blurs easily—especially if there is a deadline to meet.

This was first published in the June 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Debina Chattopadhyay is a writing and editing professional with extensive experience in print and digital media. Currently juggling freelance assignments and deadlines along with the demands of motherhood, this Masters in English Literature has not let go of her passion for the written word.

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