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Column: Most would jump at the chance to work at home, but it has its downsides

Working at home is not as relaxing as one might think, writes Ann-Marie Scully who says she even misses the morning commute.

Anne-Marie Scully

IF GIVEN THE opportunity to work from home (WFH), most people say they would jump at the chance. For who would miss the tedious workday routines of ironing shirts, sitting in traffic, standing on crowded trains or buses and eating breakfast on the go?

Until recently I was an office based employee and while it was common practice in my company to WFH, I chose to do it only very rarely.  The reason I didn’t take advantage of this perk was because although it was permitted, there was a perception that when people were WFH they weren’t really working as hard as they were when they were in the office. As long as they sent around an email in the morning, afternoon and evening they were covered and could have spent the rest of the day in bed for all anyone knew.

On occasions where I did have a WFH day, I would enjoy an extra hour and a half in bed, linger over breakfast, read the news on my phone and still be able to start work at 9am. I could continue through to lunch time uninterrupted by pointless meetings or by idle conversations with my colleagues about what they had watched on TV the night before. Once 6pm came I could down tools and immediately start enjoying the long evening ahead.

Home office

According to a recent Stanford survey over 10 per cent of US employees now regularly work from home (WFH) at least one day a week. It is a shift welcomed by many companies eager to cut costs. The objective of the Stanford study was to determine if employees working from home were more or less productive. Following an experiment with a 13,000 employees, NASDAQ listed, Chinese multinational it was found that home-working led to a 13 per cent performance increase. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction and their job attrition rate fell by 50 per cent.

Based on the successful findings, the firm gave their employees the choice of working from home or working from the office but surprisingly, only half volunteered. The main reason they said no was fear of loneliness. These days I am self employed and every day is a WFH day. While I am delighted with the freedom running my own business offers, the novelty of working from home has well and truly worn off and I can relate to why the Chinese employees turned down the offer.

Working in an office, there are inevitably going to be people that drive you crazy as portrayed so accurately by Ricky Gervais as David Brent in hit BBC comedy series The Office. When I was office based I would do everything I could to avoid getting stuck in a conversation with someone like this but since I’ve been WFH there have been days when I haven’t talked to another human being at all. Of course I interact with people all the time over chat, email and phone but I miss the human interaction, even that of annoying ones, more than I thought I would.

Being social

Lunch is another challenge. When I was office based I was lucky to have a canteen onsite I could avail of or if I felt like going out there were lots of restaurants nearby and plenty of colleagues whose company I enjoyed enough to eat with. In any case, I didn’t have to put a lot of thought into what I did for lunch. When you are WFH lunch can be a lonely affair and if you want to eat anything other than beans on toast you are going to have to put in some effort.

Running into technical issues while WFH can be a nightmare if like me you are not technically savvy. Recently I lost an entire morning trying to fix a paper jam in my printer and another over internet connectivity issues. When I was office based there was always someone to fix these problems so I never had to learn for myself.

Going through my morning grooming routine was something  I had come to resent while working in an office, mainly due to the fact that if it wasn’t for it I would have had an extra forty minutes in bed, but at least I looked presentable for the rest of the day. These days I can often be found still in my pajamas at lunch time.

I miss the commute

Although I hated the monotony of it at the time I also miss the familiarity of my daily commute. I miss getting on the same train carriage every day and sitting in the same seat, looking at the familiar faces of my fellow passengers who I have never actually met. I miss the buzz in the office on Friday’s talking about what everyone has planned for the weekend and the Monday morning debrief of how it all went.

I am also finding it difficult to adjust to the fact that home has now become a place of work instead of a sanctuary away from work. Maeve Binchy the recently deceased Irish writer said that she kept “upstairs for working and downstairs for living” and I understand why. Working and living in your home at the same time is not easy.

Like Maeve I have found that in order to make working from home work, you have to set yourself some rules. I make sure I am up early enough to be showered, dressed and at the computer at 9am, I take just an hour for lunch, finish at 6pm and I take the weekends off.

Ironically though, most of the rules I have set are the same rules I had to live by when working in an office.

After a seven and a half year career in Google, Anne-Marie has recently set up the digital publishing company Orchard Wall Publishing, whose goal is getting great writing read. Orchard Wall Publishing is currently accepting submissions from authors.

Read: 10 tips for working effectively at home>

Read: No more 9 to 5: Average Irish workday ‘is now 8am to 8pm’>

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Anne-Marie Scully

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