Ok, this post was long overdue. I have been working ‘offsite’ for more than a year now, and I think the evidence so far is that it seems to work (rather I seem to work well, at a distance of more than 1000 kms from my office). I am relatively happy with my work, my output seems to be as much as it ever was before, and more importantly, my boss has expressed her satisfaction with the work.
This opportunity to work offsite came for me for various reasons. Yes, Society is still patrilocal, and there came a phase when I had to move away because of my husband’s career. But I don’t mean to say that we were sacrificing my career at the altar of my husbands. The decision was made on the simple calculation that what we would lose if I gave up my job and moved was not as high as what we would lose if we gave up this career opportunity for him. I would probably have been OK with leaving the job and looking for something else, but my boss presented me with this option, just to see if it works. I took it up, because I didn’t want to leave a job due to an external factor, when I still felt that there was so much left unfinished out here. If I had to quit, I would have felt better if it was at a time when I could feel there was nothing more me or the organization were gaining from our association.
Now, I know, working from home is hardly anything new. There are millions of freelancers out there, who have flexible hours, work with multiple organizations and are judged based on deliverables, rather than processes. But the terms of my working have been rather unique. I am not a consultant taking one off assignments. I have a full commitment to a job, which expects me to work the regular hours. I am not part of some research agency, where my work boundaries are completely delineated. Roles, responsibilities and boundaries are fairly fluid for all of us, and we can frequently be multi-tasking a mind-boggling list of tasks.
So here are some tips on how I have made this work for myself :
1. Keep telling yourself that you have a job and you are accountable to it. I know flexi hours are sought after, but I have also heard a lot of people who attempt working from home, who feel that it is quite difficult just to keep the discipline and work when we have to. The tendency is to slack. Flexi hours means no one is watching the clock for you, doesn’t mean you shouldnt watch the clock yourself, and delineate certain hours as definitely for work.
2. Establish a daily routine, a regular place for work. If possible, let it be a little different from the space you otherwise use during the day.
3. In your work day, set aside some time for tea/snacks etc which are regular. Even in an office we dont sit in one place the whole time, and take breaks for tea or coffee. But setting a specific time for it ensures that you dont overdose on caffeine.
4. Work is sometimes erratic, there are days when you have a lot of work, and days where you are twiddling your thumbs. The temptation is to of course do some other stuff on the days you twiddle your thumbs. Go ahead and do it by all means, but make sure you are always mentally prepared to get back to work at a moment’s notice. I sometimes do random google searches or blog while at work. But I can switch back to writing donor reports, or doing data analysis in a minute.
5. Flexi hours gives the temptation of using the day time for more interesting tasks. We can always work at night and cover it up right!! Or so we feel. But even with flexi hours, its good to keep to a rational and fairly regular work day. Don’t get into the habit of planning other things during the ‘work time’. Of course, sometimes we may need to do it. There may be a doctor’s appointment, or an urgent visit to the bank. Take it up. But if you feel like catching the morning show of the latest movie or wanting to go for a sumptuous lunch, avoid it. A common rule to decide what is acceptable and what is not. If you were still working in office, would you feel comfortable taking some time off, being truthful about the nature of your visit. If your boss calls you suddenly, would you feel comfortable telling her the truth of where you are and why you are not at work. If yes, then you may make that visit.
6. Set your work expectations very clearly before your family. Tell them what you are expected to do and how. Family needs to respect the work time, and not expect you to do random work, entertain visitors or make social calls during wor hours.
7. Keep in touch with colleagues, not just for work, but as people, as friends. Say hi to them on chat. Call regularly.
My experiment with offsite work would not have succeeded without the support of many people- my family, husband and parents in laws who respect work boundaries, and my colleagues, who don’t mind the irritation of bad connection and still try to get me on phone or skype for every important meeting. And I am glad with this evolving new way of working which doesn’t repeatedly pose the question to women : Marriage or Career?