Tuesday, December 16, 2014

At home, at work

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Shefali Tripathi Mehta, Dec 13, 2014, DHNS:


Do you wear flip flops? Can you cook and take a conference call simultaneously? Working from home is certainly not for everyone. Shefali Tripathi Mehta debunks myths associated with the phenomenon.

Have you noticed how men don’t get asked “Are you working?”, like women do. While an office-goer replies in the affirmative, the rest shake their heads, half-embarrassed, like most homemakers seem to be, even when they are doing the important work of caring for their families. But, *in society, it does not qualify as a job; it is not paid for. The whys and wherefores of this is another debate altogether. Between the working and the non-working, there is this fuzzy field of those ‘working from home’ – neither this nor that; difficult to explain and defend; and even more difficult to sustain.

People have innumerable preconceived notions about this arrangement. Most think if you are working from home, you have an ‘inconsequential’ job; that you must not be important enough for your organisation. 

So if one’s not careful, guarding this work space and time can become a challenge. When people call someone at office, they politely ask if it is a good time to talk, whereas a working-from-home person is plainly asked, “What were you doing?”  One needs to be ready at all times with excuses to fend-off random work-day requests for movie or lunch, because everyone thinks you can always do your work later.

Most often, we are ourselves to blame for how casually we take our work from home arrangement. It is like if one doesn’t have to go to office, it directly translates into a lack of schedule and working while lying **in bed with your pyjamas and unkempt hair.

When I first told my boss I was quitting my full-time job to work from home, he was incredulous. For him, like most people, it meant I was retiring from work. But when he realised I was in earnest about ‘working’, he gave me the advice that has stood me in good stead through years of work, that could have easily tumbled into a disorderly heap of frustration and disappointments. “Wear work shoes and sit at a table,” he said to me. I did not wear shoes and did not sit at the table at all times, but I did beat myself up into a strict routine, and stayed reasonably groomed even though no one saw me all day. To stay at home and get work done is the ultimate test of self-discipline.

Drawing out a timetable

The basic requirement this sort of arrangement demands is a punctilious routine of starting work at an appointed hour each day. Having a dedicated place to work – a corner, if not a home office, is mandatory. Next, one must aim at clocking a certain number of hours every day, even if the work requirement is qualitative and not quantitative. It is a great morale booster to look back at the day’s work and know that one has not whiled away time. Most people are able to work effectively only for five to six hours daily. Those that are working for themselves, will soon realise they need more hours to do all that they want to than what a regular office-goer puts in.

 In a familiar, relaxed, self-owned set-up, it is easy to lose sight of daily goals. So it is crucial to create and maintain a sense of urgency. It is imperative to monitor one’s progress at the start and end of each day. Making to-do and check lists for oneself are not just helpful in monitoring one’s progress, but also very gratifying.

This arrangement is ideal for those who work alone – digital artists, translators, programmers, writers, editors, those running home businesses, life coaches and counsellors. If one is working for an organisation, one needs to maintain the delicate balance between timelines and deadlines.

Things are more difficult for those who are doing their own work and those that are doing creative work that cannot be quantified. Loose or non-existent deadlines require tremendous self-motivation.

When one is working from home, it is inevitable that you will get sucked into the one million things that you had always wanted to do ‘one day’ – the irresistible need to rearrange the bookshelf; sort the closet; wash the windows or try baking those oatmeal cookies – everything you thought you would do if you didn’t work full-time.Remind yourself – you are working full-time. So you still have to look for after-hours to squeeze in that wish-list, unless of course you are extra efficient and find yourself some well-deserved free hours.

That’s the other important thing for self-motivation – rewarding oneself. A pedicure, a walk, some therapeutic cooking, music or reading as time out, whenever one completes scheduled work on time and satisfactorily. It helps to keep the heart in the job. Do this guiltlessly.

Boosting your morale

Other family members have to respect the personal work space the one working from home needs. Expecting family to and making it clear that they contribute by keeping their voices and TV volumes low, should not gnaw at one’s conscience.

Lastly, my favourite peeve – people grudging my time on social media. Considering this is our only connect with the ‘real’ world out there, how about giving the virtual workforce a little leeway on this? It’s like office-goers stopping by at the desk of someone for a howdy, having a teeny-weeny water cooler gossip or an extended lunch. We do miss that, you know. We are denied the delights of buying a new dress because we cannot wear it to work the next day. We need double the encouragement to get those new fuchsia hair highlights.

On a serious note though, this arrangement is clearly not for the loosely motivated. Those that need to minimise their Candy Crush or Vigil Idiot windows when the boss chances by may please stick to the time-tested office going rigour.

* Not mine;
** in your PJs
The making-little-sense subheads

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