Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Belshaw's World - trials of working from home

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 3 August 2011. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011.

Yesterday morning my wife left for Perth on a short business trip, my eldest daughter for a longer trip to Kununurra via Darwin. Helen’s boyfriend is a pilot with Alligator Airway and she hasn’t seen him since before leaving for her semester in Copenhagen.

The Kimberley region has always fascinated me because of its remoteness and very different history. However, while I have researched the area and even written some pieces on its history, I have never been there.

Eldest has promised to take some photos for me, so I will be able to add these plus her reactions to my store of knowledge.

With two of my three girls away, the third busy for much of the day, I largely had the house to myself. I also had a long list of things to do, including this column.

Do you ever have one of those days when you can’t concentrate? That is what happened to me. I was restless and bored.

Sydney has been cold and wet. Not Armidale cold, but miserable because Sydney houses are not really designed for the cold.

Living in Armidale or Canberra, there was always one place in the house that was really warm. Not so in Sydney I find. We do have heating that more or less warms the whole house, but it’s somehow unsatisfying. It’s also very expensive.

There have also been days of high wind.

I came out one morning to find our clothes’ line demolished, dumping all the wet clothes onto the ground. The owner who now lives in London finds it hard to believe that wind could do this, so doesn’t want to pay for the line.

This adds to my feeling of gloom.

I do sound grumpy don’t I!

Anyway, yesterday I sat down with my list and tried to motivate myself.

We all play games with ourselves. At least I do.

I broke my list up into small chunks, saying to myself if you complete this you can then reward yourself with that. Often this works, but not yesterday. I wandered restless around the house, finally ending up back at the computer just roaming the internet and answering some of my email back-log.

Since we came down to Sydney I have worked a fair bit from home. It was just easier that way because it meant that I could do child-care things.

When I first started working from home, it was much talked about, but still unusual. Today it is much more common.. For that reason, I have a written a number of pieces explaining the best ways of home based working.

This may sound odd given my complaints about yesterday. However, my own problems provide part of the raw material that informs my writing.

Thinking about it over the period, I have boiled my advice down to three key points.

First, you have to set things up so that you can work effectively.

This is in fact one of my problems just at present. Since we moved house in March, my home working environment has been somewhat chaotic. I just haven’t got things re-organised.

Second, you have to create a proper working structure. By this I mean simply things like proper working hours that provide a framework and especially a separation between home and working life.

You own family is often the greatest problem here, for they think that if you are home then you are available. Would you mind doing this, dear.

Blast. That reminds me that I haven’t taken my wife’s dry-cleaning to the cleaners!

Third, you have to get out to see people and to do new things. This actually requires discipline.

Working from home can be a very isolating thing, for you don’t get the type of interaction provided by a more structured working environment. Apart from the loneliness that can afflict the home worker, you can also lose professional touch.

I didn’t recognise this properly when I started working from home. Depending on the work you are doing, you actually have to create for yourself the type of networking and professional development that tends to come automatically with a more conventional working environment.

Well, I will have to finish here. I really need to take my wife’s clothes to the dry-cleaners!

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