While organisations are more willing to offer flexible working, and employees see it as a top perk, it brings with it a conundrum. Flexible working was – and to some extent still is – perceived by some as a license to slack off. The stereotype is that those who work from home sit around in their pyjamas, take big long lunches and waste the day away with whatever activity they feel like, so long as it is not work. To counter this, flexible workers have found themselves putting in many extra hours or emailing their colleagues at all times of the day or night just to show how committed they are: a virtual presenteeism comes in to play.

So, how do you avoid this trap? Clearly you want to demonstrate your contribution to management and to your colleagues but you also want to ensure you don’t end up negating the very benefits of flexible working – that is being able to better balance work/life commitments and reduce the stresses that a traditional working pattern and the associated commute bring.

Setting targets

 

Both the employer and employee need something of a shift in mind-set if flexible working is to be successful. The attitude has to change so that employee value is not seen in terms of the hours put in but to output and deliverables. Setting targets are vital in creating a successful flexible working arrangement. This helps motivate the employee and demonstrate how much they are contributing to the firm.

Communicate regularly

 

Update managers and colleagues about your progress. The temptation is to wait until a project is completed before making contact but frequent communication is key. In an office environment, colleagues will stop by your desk or have a quick catch up by the coffee machine but that is lacking when someone works from home. Team communication tools such as Slack can provide a quick and easy way to check in regularly without the formality of an email. But it is important that everyone uses the same tools otherwise you’ll find yourself checking countless formats.

Maintain a high profile

 

Don’t let yourself be forgotten. Attend as many face-to-face meetings as you can– offer to dial in if you can’t make it in in person, and keep up with social events, which leads on to the next point…

Don’t underestimate human interaction

 

Okay, so maybe one of the reasons people feel they can be more productive away from the office is because colleagues are not interrupting them all the time. But if you are regularly working at home, it’s important to make sure you’re talking with people every day. It’s hard to work successfully in a vacuum: interaction, brainstorming and conversations spark off ideas and inspiration. 

Set a schedule

 

So you may not have to work 9 to 5, but still set your working hours, whatever they may be, and stick to them. Get dressed and mentally ready for work. If it takes a while for your mind to wake up fully get up a little earlier and get any distracting non-work-related chores out of the way for the day.

Identify your daily peaks and troughs: some people are at their best first thing in the morning, others in the afternoon or evening. Save your peak times for the more demanding tasks.

If you’re working with a colleague in another time zone problems can arise as you may be logging in at odd hours in order to communicate. Even so, it helps to set aside a time that you will dedicate to it rather than trying to juggle when you’ve finished your set hours and you have other demands on your time. Schedule it in and you’ll feel less resentful and be able to give it your full attention.

Avoid interruptions and digital distractions

 

A home office can help here, as it helps to be able to close the door as a sign you are working and not to be disturbed by family members. Even if you don’t and are working at the kitchen table, let family and friends know that you’re not available during a set time. By the same token, make sure you ‘leave’ work. Physically switch off the computer and mentally make yourself available to your nearest and dearest.

Online ads can be the downfall of many a home-worker – there you are diligently researching your current project when a banner ad pops up to entice you away from the task in hand. But you probably wouldn’t click on links to holiday deals nor salacious celebrity stories in front of the boss. Same goes for checking emails every five minutes, unless the task requires it.

Take a break

 

A study found that the most productive people work for 52 minutes, then break for 17 minutes before getting back to it. These people work intensively for that time, then rest completely before the next sprint.  

A 17-minute break every hour may seem somewhat excessive but such an approach can work well. Look into the Pomodoro Technique, a time management theory where you give yourself 25 minutes to work on a task followed by a three to five-minute break. After four 25-minute sessions, you can take a ten to 30-minute break. There are various timers online.

Once you know that you have incorporated these breaks, you’ll feel more motivated to stick to the task – and not check Facebook, wander off from your desk to do the laundry or get lured towards the biscuit tin.

In the office, you have water-cooler breaks and sociable chats with colleagues so don’t feel guilty for taking time away from the task.

Dull Jacks and Jackies

 

Of course, all this said, there is a school of thought that believes we are entering into a new era in terms of careers where our work and personal lives combine – with increasingly blurred boundaries between the two (massively helped if you find a line of work you genuinely enjoy).

But you still sometimes need to switch off. And while work-related ideas and collaboration can come from anywhere and at any time – talking to another parent at school drop-offs, at the gym, down the pub, etc – the brain needs some downtime. As the proverb says, all work and no play can make you very dull indeed.

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