I have had the somewhat enviable position of being able to work from home for a decent part of the last couple years. During my various stints (which could be largely split into 2 major chunks) I’ve become familiar with the various trials and tribulations that come with more flexible working arrangements. For the most part I’m still very much in the positive camp however there were a few gotchas which I feel could catch many people out. Indeed it wasn’t until I stopped working from home that I realised some of the destructive habits that I had fallen into, many of which curtailed any benefits that could be derived.
My initial bout of working from home was on a very large government contract that was still in the tender stage. This meant that I was, for the most part, spending a lot of my time on the phone and email. Like any government contract things didn’t move quickly and I spent the better part of 3 months barely ever leaving the house. Now this isn’t really much of a problem for me, I do fine by myself, however what I had found was that I struggled to break myself away from the feeling of being “at work”.
Recent studies have shown that this is a common problem that many people face when working from home. For me it manifested as a relapse into depression, something that hadn’t happened to me in the better part of a decade. Indeed I only came to the conclusion that that was the cause after I had returned to a normal work schedule. During my second run of working from home however I found several things that helped stave off those potential problems, most of which seem rather obvious when you think about it.
The first and foremost was getting out of the house. Whilst I’m fine with social isolation what really put a toll on me was the lack of time spent anywhere else but home. Whilst this is fine for a week or so over time you begin to associate your environment more with the activities you primarily do there. For me this meant feeling like I was “at work” whenever I was at home and thus I wasn’t able to fully disconnect myself in order to get a break. During my second work from home run however I spent far more time at client sites, meeting with colleagues and generally switching up my scenery far more often than I did in the past. Thus my home felt just like that, not my office where I felt obligated to work.
Probably the most important factor though was having work that I was engaged with. During my first spell I wasn’t fully engaged as the vast majority of my time was spent on long calls with lawyers or the prime contractor. These weren’t the most enthralling things and were often discussions around definitions, limitations, exclusions and all sorts of other words that will send you to sleep. By contrast during my second stint I was meeting with clients, designing solutions and working through the internal machinery of my company to make things happen. Being engaged is the key to being happy at any workplace however it becomes crucial when you’re in a flexible working arrangement.
Once I avoided those pitfalls though the benefits of working from home are numerous. I’m more easily able to manage my professional and personal schedules together, enabling me to dedicate more time to both without feeling exhausted. I spent far less time travelling as I’d be on the move during off-peak times rather than battling rush hour traffic each way. I was able to set up my work environment the way I wanted it to be, allowing me to be far more productive in the same amount of time. I could go on but there are so many more benefits, both tangible and intangible, that come from such flexible working arrangements.