Setting the context
Last year I wrote a blog post about digital nomads, those smug rucksack-toting, airport-surfing, life-work-balancing ninjas – the poster boys and girls for remote working. And, just 18 months later I’ve launched a company, hot-desked in an innovation centre and am now remote working. OK so maybe I’m not writing to you from an exotic beach hut, but at least I can see the sea and the beach* and have a 5 metre commute to me office!
*when not obscured by mist or lashed by former hurricane Ophelia or storm Brian (Cardigan Bay, North Wales)
The academic research-based bit
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that more of us have portfolio careers, or work part- or full-time from home. The statistics now support this, according to the Office for National Statistics in 2014 4.2 million people spent, ‘at least half of their working time … from or in the same grounds and buildings as their home’. That’s nearly 14% of the UK working population. This quote came from a really interesting article from New Technology, Work and Employment (Felstead, A. and Henseke, G., Assessing the growth of remote working and its consequences for effort, well-being and work-life balance, 2017). The article goes on to look at how successful and beneficial this, ‘greater spatial and temporal flexibility’ (ibid) is to both employers and workers. I will maybe come back to this in a later post.
Not all these new home-workers are a direct result of the information age and the shift from physical to metaphysical work, i.e. new digital and service industries and electronic communication technologies, there are also changing working patterns and new societal norms at play. He is my short list of some of the diverse range of factors that employers and the (self)employed need to consider:
- The desire for shorter commuting time (and the cost)
- Improving work-life balance
- More control over working pattern, e.g. flexible start-end times, juggling childcare and other commitments etc.
- The cost of business premises
- De-centalised and dispersed terms, suppliers, partners or collaborators
- (and others I’m sure you can add to this list?)
Do you recognise any of these factors, are you actively or potentially a home-worker? If so, read on…
Here is my updated advice on what to do and how to do it in this brave new world, that is, the whole world wherever you choose to lay your laptop and connect to wifi.
(1) Technology enablers and disablers
Technology was never really the problem, even before the information age; all manner of professions and occupations can be detached from, ‘traditional fixed places of work’ (ibid), from home-based artisans and travelling journeymen to teleworkers. The key is to pick and choose the technologies that are available to you and to the people you will be working with (customers, suppliers, collaborators), use the tech wisely, and learn what works best in different circumstances.
However, technology is one of the biggest problem areas when it comes to distractors – see Focus focus focus below. We all know that email, inappropriate web browsing (no it’s not valid research!), ditto social media/networking, can steal all your time and attention … and unless you are a games designer or TV producer, then also avoid your X box and widescreen during ‘working’ hours. There is an exception, books (real books) have a special place in my affections, so that are always acceptable 😉
(2) Being present
This is the big crunch for a lot of individuals and organisations, can you work effectively without face-to-face contact? And the answers good readers is a resounding ‘yes’, but also ‘no’. It does not come easily, technology helps when used in the right place at the right time (voice- and video-conferencing, instant messaging and shared electronic workspaces etc.), but there is a need for a lot more effort and discipline for individuals and groups to communicate effectively to get the job done. It’s no good just putting the hours in, if you could be doing something more fulfilling elsewhere with those precious hours. In the absence of physical presence and non-verbal communication, all our other senses and emotional skills such as empathy, intuition, social and political awareness, relationships and trust-building need to expand and fill in the gaps. That said, if possible schedule some events and meet-ups in the real world, getting a fix of human contact and engagement can give you a boost back in the virtual world.
An interesting debate has broken out recently amongst my fellow Business Analysts, responding to this very question, ‘Is it possible for a … to work remotely?’ Fill in the blanks for your particular business or profession. It has resulted in some strong views from the raging, ‘working remotely…is a deplorable substitute for the real thing’ to more positive and supportive comments. This blog post from the Virtual BA addresses some of the challenges:
(3) Only Connect
This is closely related to the previous point, but if you can be physically present some of the time it helps to stop even hard-boiled introverts going completely mad. Connection doesn’t have to be a mandated one-day-a-week at the office hot-desk or on a client site, it can be social and team-building, networking in your wider community, even non-work-based conversations go some way to replacing the water-cooler moments that you will miss. This is why shared work-spaces and jellies mentioned in the earlier post are excellent, and they might even result in unexpected bonuses, such as providing new insights, solutions or opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise found on your desert island.
No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main. John Donne
(4) Mental and physical health
I’m going to avoid saying work-life-balance (duh!) because it doesn’t really mean anything. Unpaid ‘work’ is still work, earning money is part of life for most of us, but there are also other things that we should find time for. For example, family, meeting friends, sport, getting outside, reading, cooking, playing games, laughing, watching boxsets, learning new things, doing something charitable, creative or challenging, being inspired or just taking time out to do nothing. Now if your paid day-job gives you any of these, then what price work-life-balance? The trick is do as much of the good, happy, fulfilling things as possible, and less of the other stuff…and I mean ‘less’ not ‘none’. Remember the mythical lotus-eaters, we all need challenges, even some stress and frictions in our lives to be on the top of our game.
(5) Doing if for yourself
As a freelancer I have been very conscious of the need, no the necessity, of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. And this means not just the big things like sorting out contracts, tax affairs and professional development, but also more mundane tasks like replacing ink cartridges. There are also any number of normal hygiene tasks that you may forget to do; like taking regular breaks, eating sensibly (the always-open kitchen may be tempting, but its no replacement for a meal break), keeping your workspace clean, tidy and safe. I read an interesting article about portfolio careers and home-working and the, ‘…appealing cocktail of flexibility, novelty and autonomy.’ (www.shortlist.com) That’s all very well but don’t forget the twinned towns of discipline, continuity and interconnectedness, i.e. doing what needs to be done as well as what you’d like to do. Which brings me neatly on to …
(6) Focus focus focus
To borrow a phrase, ‘procrastination is the thief of time’, especially relevant when you don’t have to clock-in every day to a traditional workplace, with the control imposed by a manager, deadlines or operational responsibilities. Not that all these can’t exist, but the likelihood is that your home-working or portfolio career gives lots of new and different potential distractions. My home office is probably more cluttered than most, but I still try to keep everything tidy, set weekly, daily and shorter-term targets, fundamentally you need to establish a work pattern, work space and personna different from the equivalent not-working time and space, this helps to avoid role conflict and enables you to switch off.
More of us are, and will continue to be, freelance or home-workers or work in some other non-traditional way that is remote from a physical office, factory or shop. This is a fact of life, like the coming of the railways, chain coffee shops, the internet and Brexit…so it’s time to make the most of opportunities to do things differently (leave your car at home, actually or metaphorically), take advantage of what’s available (use free Wifi and impromptu public meeting spaces), learn new skills (yes you do need to be comfortable with online banking, social media and managing your emails), and try not to bemoan the inevitable (ahem!)
Thank you for any of your personal stories and advice from your remote-working experience.
(c) 2017 IT elementary school Ltd.