Flexible working

I am compelled to put down my thoughts on home working amidst fresh discussions on the subject with quite a few people recently.

I still get the impression that there is a general feeling that home workers spend a lot of the day doing anything but work.  Following recent discussions, I frequently hear an underlying tone that suggests the person I am talking to thinks home working is a way to shirk the work and kick back.

I don’t doubt there are a minority that abuse the option of flexible working but, for me at least, home working provides many benefits, most of which subsequently benefit my employer.

I have spent a lot of time working from home.  In my previous positions with Sendo & Motorola, I spent several years working an office/home office split (3 days at home, 2 days in the office with the flexibility to chop and change as business demands required) and a couple of years working full time at home (due to office closure).  In that time I found several benefits to home working.

Less Distractions
At home I can lock myself away in the office, I can play music and, most importantly, I can concentrate on the task in front of me.  In the office there are many distractions.  A colleague may decide it’s time for a chat, someone may visit the office, I may get called into an ad-hoc meeting, something might happen that needs my attention (which invariably are always important… unless you are not there, in which case they can almost always wait until you are back…. funny that).  Whatever it is, there are typically more distractions in an office environment that at home.  That is not to say there aren’t distractions at home but they are more manageable.

Yes, one of the big wins for home working is flexibility.  If I need to clear my head I can take a short, brisk walk outside.  If I need to attend an appointment I can arrange it around my work, perhaps working later to make up time or starting earlier.

Better work-life balance
A huge benefit of home working is that whole work-life balance thing.  I commute to the office, a drive of one hour each way.  I leave home at 7am and I get back home at 6:30pm.  That means I generally don’t see my kids in the morning and only very briefly at night.  I hate that, a lot.  Working at home gives me an extra two hours a day to spend time with them, to help my wife get them ready for school, to help with the school run to see more of my wife, to talk about more things with her.  It makes me feel like I have a life outside of work.

My productivity is generally higher working from home than in the office.  It’s because of those things listed above.  Less distractions means more focus which means more work done.  More flexibility and a better work-life balance makes me happier.  Being happier makes me work harder and more conscientiously.

Yes, of course there are.  I have worked from home for a long time and, as such, I’ve whittled down the disadvantages to just two.  Those are the lack of human contact and those back in the office forgetting that you exist (I worked full time at home, reporting to a manager based in Chicago).

There are a number of things you can do to minimise these disadvantages.  Firstly, don’t get too reliant on email.  Pick up the phone more and talk to people.  This helps you to feel more sociable as well keeping you fresh in their minds.  Secondly, arrange physical meetings occasionally.  This forces you out of your home office and gets you back in front of people.  Thirdly, get involved with projects outside the scope of your normal role and duties.  This ensures you have regular contact with a wide audience.

As usual, these are just my musings.  I know this is a well debated topic but it’s something I’m talking more and more about lately and I clearly needed to dump my thoughts.

I am @craigt44 on Twitter and you can find me on Google+ here.

By icraigt

Craig Thornton (@icraigt), Geek Dad, husband of @linsthornton, Principal Engineer at JLR, tech addict. All views my own.