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29th Jun 2015

Why working from home is the business: Office Mum Diarist spills

Over the years, I’ve had the conversation time and again. “Did you ever think of working from home one day a week?” I’d ask the fraught friend who was having trouble balancing work and kids. The answers varied but the theme didn’t.

“No, I’d never be able to concentrate at home,” or “I wouldn’t have the self-discipline,” or “I don’t see what’s so great about it?”

Then on the odd occasion someone decided to give it a go, the answers were always the same too. “Oh my God I get so much more done at home – it’s the best day of the week!”

So why exactly is working from home so good?

The most obvious benefit is the lack of commute – whatever time you normally spend travelling is now yours to use as you see fit. If you usually take an hour to get to work and an hour to get home, that’s two full hours that you can use to spend with your kids, or to catch up on work, or split between the two. Or have a lie-in or go for a coffee or sit quietly in your bedroom painting your nails and ignoring the world – your time, you choose.

Another marvellous thing about working from home is that there’s no dress code. You can ditch the suit, and stick on a pair of jeans. Or even stay in pyjamas. And the work-from-home grooming rules are much more flexible than the office version – there’s no need to wear make-up if you don’t feel like it, outdoor footwear is unnecessary, and actually, do you really need to shower?

An additional benefit is that there’s usually a little more time with the kids. If like so many of us, you’re plagued with working mother guilt, some of it can be assuaged when you work from home. It might mean breakfast with the kids for the mum who is usually gone before anyone else gets up, or lunch with the kids for the mum who has a childminder in her home.

If you have children in school, working from home could mean you can do the school-run – a huge bonus for parents who ordinarily can’t drop or collect (and a raised eyebrow “why is that so great?” look from the parents who do it every day…).

There are some sneaky benefits too – like sticking on a wash when you’re making a cup of coffee or tidying your bedroom while you’re on a conference call. It’s not cheating – you’re not working any less productively by doing these bits and pieces, but they’re not the things to boast about at work.

Most of all though, the huge benefit of working from home is how much work you get done. A win for you – the person who must get the work done somehow, somewhen, somewhere. And a win for your boss, who gets all that extra productivity. Most people who work from home will tell you that they work harder on that day than any other. There’s an inbuilt determination to avoid slacking off – you’ve been trusted to work from home, and you don’t want to let anyone down. Or perhaps more honestly, there’s a determination to be seen to be working, and not get caught dossing.

When I worked from home once a week, I used to bring my phone to the kitchen with me when grabbing a cup of tea, in case a call came through. That’s not something I ever did in the office – taking a few minutes to make a tea is an acceptable break. But at home, I was always on – always reachable, always trustworthy. Because any work from home agreement is tenuous and based on trust, and any perceived breach of trust could lead to a swift recall to the office desk, and no prospect of future flexibility. In simple terms, it’s best not to rock the boat.

So how do you go about convincing your boss to let you work from home?

  • Put together your case, focusing on how it benefits the employer, not how it benefits you.
  • Explain that losing your two-hour commute means you have more time to spend working – perhaps you can get started earlier in the morning.
  • Choose a day that suits the employer – a day when there are fewer meetings for example.
  • Be flexible – if Thursday is your work from home day, be prepared to swap if there’s an important meeting or client visit in any given week.
  • Make sure you have a proper workstation – sitting on the corner of your bed doesn’t count. Some employers come out to check your workspace.
  • Ask for a trial run. It makes it more difficult for your manager to turn down your request – it seems unreasonable to say “no” if it’s just for three months, to see how it goes. And chances are, at the end of three months, it will slip into being the norm.
  • Make sure you have your usual childcare in place – working from home doesn’t include minding your children.

And if the answer is no, leave it for a while and then ask again. Sometimes tenacity pays off, and when your boss sees how productive your trial run is, she’ll (hopefully) be delighted to make it a permanent deal. Just don’t mention the laundry.

Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after the kids, Elissa, 7, Nia, 5 and Matthew, 3, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.