Working from home: 5 top tips

Flexible working has great benefits for all involved, but it's up to employees to prove they can be trusted.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2016

‘If you need me, I’ll be in my home office.’

If there’s any early morning email likely to produce a severe outbreak of tut-tuts and head shaking in the office, it’s that one. The association between working from home and skiving runs deep.

For a long time, it was code for ‘I’ve decided to take the day off, so I can catch up with Game of Thrones and buy that flat-pack from Ikea’.

Yet increasingly, employers are recognising that occasionally allowing staff to work from home results in happier, more productive teams and opens the door to the many talented people for whom flexible working is a Godsend - and a deal breaker.

If you’re one of those people and your employer has tentatively said yes to home working, there are some things you need to know to make it work.

1. Be clear from the start

Setting ground rules is mainly the employer’s territory, but effective communication of those rules is a two-way process. As an employee, it’s up to you to make sure you know what they will expect and allow.

If in doubt about the ground rules, ask. ‘But you didn’t say I still had to come into the office for meetings’ isn’t a great excuse.

2. Who you gonna call?

If you’re going to be away from the team, it’s up to you to keep the channels of communications open. Email only takes you so far, so make sure you make a habit of calling whenever you need something.

‘I would go as far as to say that even if you don’t need [a call with your team or boss], make sure you put one in your diary every morning,’ says Julia Mitchell, CEO of Toast, a PR firm with two directors, 15 freelancers and a virtual PA.

‘It helps anchor your day and gives you a social aspect that keeps you sane.’ Additional contact through Skype, email or Slack brainstorms and at social events is also good for team spirit.

3. Demarcate

Keeping your home life and work life separate when they take place at the same venue isn’t easy. It helps to create a neat, tidy space, away from distractions, so you can work away. Think Roald Dahl’s shed.  

4. Plan, plan, plan

There are different reasons for wanting to work from home from time to time, and that affects which days you should do it on.

If it’s for the sake of your emotional wellbeing or mental health, for instance, then waking up feeling you can’t face the morning rush hour is a sensible reason to stay put.

If it’s because you want to crack on with a particularly chunky piece of work – ironically, given the association with skiving, many of us get far more done when we’re free from office distractions – then it’s wise to pick your days in advance.

‘Save "thinking work" for the days when you know you have a clear run and won't be disturbed as much,’ Mitchell advises.

5. It’s all about trust

Working from home can be great for productivity and wellbeing – so long as you are actually working. As a result, it depends on the trust of your employer.

Be sure not to violate that trust, because you’ll find a lot easier to lose than to get back. So if you do feel like a day off, just do the decent thing and book one in advance.

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