Working from home is a win for employers who want productivity and women who want balance (or to work in their pyjamas). But it can be professionally and socially isolating.
The biggest benefits that teleworkers report, according to McCrindle Research, are “having the flexibility to juggle other things” and “creating the work-life balance to enjoy life more”. For mothers of young children, this can also mean the flexibility to actually get to work: a third of working women with a child under two years work from home to help with childcare.
But freedom comes at a cost, with three out of five people who work at home wanting more social interaction. Research published in the Australian Journal of Communication reported a number of common communication difficulties for telecommuters, including managers who don’t trust you and colleagues who don’t consult you. One participant said: “Once people knew I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t ring me at home; they would make decisions without me!”
So what can you do? Check out the advice below some on some of the most common forms of ‘working from home.
What to do: You usually work in a big office, sometimes work from home
To avoid things happening without you, remind people you’re just on the end of the phone or an email. Tamma Sorbello, an Organisational Development Consultant, spends most of her days in her University office but occasionally works from home. On those days she scans her email regularly for messages from her team, and often returns the email with a phone call. “That way my team know that I’m still accessible and connected, and that they will get a response from me.”
If you still feel left out, shoring up your relationships when you are in the office is the best form of prevention. Take time to touch base with each team member when you get back. Sorbello says: “I make sure I connect before and after my work from home day to get info to feed into my work or check in on what I missed while I was away.”
Another way to build relationships is to make time for morning teas and team lunches. If you’re due to work at home that day, it might not seem like you’re missing much. (Heck, you might even be glad to skip it.) But it’s this informal networking where you can pick up useful inside information, and remind people who you are and what you do. Do your best to make it along and talk to as many people as possible.
What to do: Your home IS your office
Be the life of your network. Tania Bell is a designer who runs Green Room Interiors from home and, among other things, makes over home offices. She sometimes feels isolated but takes an active role in monthly meetings of the Melbourne Designer’s Group to get information and support. Between meetings, she says, “We communicate via email and if anyone ever needs any help, we all come up with a solution for our colleagues. I took over the co-facilitation of the group at the beginning of last year, and even though it is an extra load to my already big workload, I get so much more out of it!”
Smith also makes an effort to replace the proverbial watercooler. She says: “During the month, I try to attend two networking events – not necessarily to generate business – just to speak with real business people and keep me connected with what is happening in the real world.”
Technology works. Heather Smith works from home as a cloud accounting consultant and author, but misses having co-workers. “When I want someone to run a second set of eyes over something I’m doing, or to help me brainstorm or work through a problem.”
For Smith, social media comes to the rescue with up-to-date information and expert advice. “I use Twitter, and I monitor a Hootsuite dashboard, divided into lists of what I am interested in: News, Writing, Accounting, Business, and Friends,” she says. “I can quickly scan it and keep abreast of what is happening, and specifically ask experts questions – they don’t always answer – but when they do it’s marvellous! I also utilise some select forums, such as the Australian Writer’s Centre, Flying Solo, and Problogger, to ask specific questions.”
For important conversations, Smith swears by video conferencing. “I think using video is essential to keep in contact with remote colleagues as it gives you the opportunity to have a face to face conversation and pick up on the body language that may not come through in email.”
Just remember to change out of your pyjamas first.