7 Instances When Home Working Doesn’t Work

Photo by sbat65 on Flikr Creative Commons

Photo by sbat65 on Flikr Creative Commons

The recent decision by CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayers, to ban her employees from working from home has prompted many of us to reflect on what it is that makes working from home work. The internet is a tool of outstanding usefulness when it comes to remote working and it seems ironic that a company whose business is the internet should be involved in such a backward step in the move towards sustainable working. However, this news does highlight how even the most successful and sophisticated technological advances will fail when the mindset and values are not in place to engage it.

Having worked from home myself for the last 23 years and coached others in doing the same for the last 8, here are some of the key instances I’ve defined for when it doesn’t work and how to work around that:

When there is lack of trust.

I suspect this is the ‘real’ reason for Yahoo’s change of working regime. There needs to be trust on both sides, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean setting up monitoring systems, but rather focussing on effective collaboration and communication to make it as easy as possible for both employer and employee to make the best of the numerous potential benefits of home working, such as increased productivity, employee fulfilment, stress reduction, reduced operating costs and lost hours due to travel and stress related illness.

When you’re not self-motivated or are unclear on what your motivation is.

This can apply, I think, to both employer and employee. An employer who depends on face to face contact with employees to micromanage will find it challenging to switch to trusting remote contact. Similarly, if both parties are unwilling to acknowledge and express what their aims and objectives are in engaging with home working, then it will be tough to implement as neither will have the bigger picture. Work is then likely to feel purposeless. It’s far more effective, in my experience, to own the gap in understanding  and alignment and arrange to have the ‘aims and objectives’ conversation.

When you are addicted to gossip and offic politics.

Mayers cites conversations round the water cooler where co-created ideas can arise spontaneously as one of the reasons for calling all employees back into the office. Whilst I respect that this kind of creativity does occasionally happen, it’s what happens the rest of the time – life negating conversation – that gets in the way of meaningful productivity. Gossip and office politics are not life serving activities and they can be tricky to avoid in any business, but particularly where face to face contact is the norm. working from home can be a great opportunity to raise awareness of how one is communicating and to consciously foster mutually beneficial relationships.

When you are not willing to intend and create your own social life.

For many, the workplace can provide a ready-made source of social activity and friendship. When working from home, it can require much more of an effort to create a social network that suits us. However, one of the benefits of this is that we can be prompted to reflect more deeply on who we do and do not wish to spend time with. It becomes a more aware and rewarding decision.

When communication is poor.

If we are not good communicators ourselves, then working from home is only going to make this more challenging as we lose, or reduce, the face to face contact with colleagues. If your employer or up-line is not a skilled communicator, then you might not have the fall back option of catching them face to face.  For some this can be a major hurdle.  For others, it can actually stimulate taking action to improve their communication skills.

When competition outweighs collaboration.

Being physically alone at home, rather than in amongst fellow workers, can wreak havoc with the imagination if there is already any kind of paranoia in the workplace. If I don’t value my worth in my job and am unsure whether others do, then being physically removed from them, and where I can’t keep an eye on them, is likely to fuel my self-sabotaging thoughts. The key to succeeding with this is to reflect on the source of the paranoia and competition  within ourselves and shift our intention and focus to cooperation and collaboration, whether in the office or at home.

When you don’t know how to balance work and personal life.

When the work and home environments are physically and socially separate, it can be easier for some to switch off from work out of hours and focus on personal life, and vice versa. Once those two environments are combined in some way, then it’s more important to be self-motivated to create separate physical, mental and emotional space at home.

If you’re currently working from home, how are you getting on?

8 Responses to 7 Instances When Home Working Doesn’t Work

  1. Amanda March 12, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    Something I continue to learn as a self employed home based worker is balancing productive, focused work time with me time. It’s easy to spread a few challenging tasks out over a week because the thought of addressing them is uncomfortable, but once into it, it becomes a flow.

    To me, the best thing I ever did was create a hit list before opening the computer and then sticking to it rather than prevaricating in Facebook eg!

  2. Sally March 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    HI Amanda – I like your strategy for reducing the prevarication! I tend to spread challenging tasks out too, and schedule them for when I’m feeling at my best and most ‘switched on’ – usually mornings or early afternoon. I find it all too easy to get absorbed in email and then not get around to the important tasks, unless I’ve actually set an intention of doing them within a particular timescale.

    As you imply – important to have some me time too and to balance that with other things. I find it helps to regard me time as restorative and something that supports me giving of my best. As my work has gradually become more closely aligned with what genuinely feeds me, I’ve found the delineation between the 2 has become more blurred.

    BTW – have enjoyed revisiting your beautiful website!

  3. Ross Mountney March 15, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    Just to say it’s nice to find you, been checking out your site and enjoying the articles! this one interested as I’m just working at home full time now (writing) and have many issues like isolation and work/recreation balance to address. I’ve always been okay motivation wise – must be the home educating! We have much in common! I look forward to reading more. Best wishes. x

  4. Sally March 16, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    Lovely to meet you, Ross. Have been enjoying your writing too and have added your blog to my blogroll –>

    Interesting to hear that you’re working at home full time now and great that you’re ok motivation wise. I can relate to home educating helping with that – it certainly seems to be a call to examine motives and intentions closely!

    What are your thoughts on feelings of isolation and addressing the work-recreation balance?

  5. Ross Mountney March 16, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    Thanks Sally – in answer I’m still learning about dealing with these issues. We live very rurally which is great if you have to work in company, but different now I live and work in isolation so I’ll have to find new ways of interacting. And that’s the same with recreation really. You get to the stage where life’s changing and you realise your needs are changing with them and you’ve not noticed that you need new things to do as some of the old ones are past their sell by date – or maybe that’s just me! :) Life always needs awareness and mindfulness I think to feel complete!

  6. Sally March 18, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    No, I don’t think it’s just you.What you say reminds me of the John Lennon quote: ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’ In my experience, it can be quite usual for some things to change unnoticed (as you say – need for mindfulness!) and then for some uncertainty to arise around how to proceed.

    I wrote a blog post a while ago about buidling a mutual support network. It’s here, if you’re interested:


    I’m aware there are other writers subscribed to this blog. Maybe they’d like to share some tips with us too.

  7. ranju roy April 15, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Thanks Sally – sensible and inspiring stuff!!! Keep up the good work!

  8. Sally April 16, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Thanks for the encouragement Ranju :)

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