Anna Chambers: Home working can provide competitive edge

When I quit my local authority press office job almost two years ago to join a PR agency where I'd be working mainly from home, I got all sorts of reactions.

Those who work from home will likely be more productive and focused, says Anna Chambers. Picture: Ken Wramton/Getty Images

They ranged from unadulterated envy (“you’re so lucky!”) to disbelief (“how do you get anything done? I’d be too tempted to just put a washing on!”) to misunderstanding (“I couldn’t possibly work from home – I’d feel too isolated.”)

As I converted a spare room in my house into an office in preparation for starting my new job, I couldn’t help feeling a little nervous. What if I do feel lonely? What if I really can’t focus, and the pile of dirty dishes that I know is festering in the kitchen turns out to be too much of a distraction?

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Well, it turns out I had nothing to worry about. I don’t feel in the least isolated – if I need to bounce an idea off someone, my colleagues are at the other end of the phone or on Google Chat.

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At least two or three days every week I am either in the office – which we use as a hub when we need to get the whole team together – or have a meeting with a client, so I’m never alone all week. And I am most definitely far too busy to do any housework!

The opportunity for home working was what attracted me to my job in the first place. Without a doubt, the best thing about it is the extra time I can spend with my children. Although they are never in the house while I’m actually working, my daughter is in Primary 2 and her little brother is at school nursery, so I can drop them off in the morning and still be at my desk for 9am.

As someone who is the complete opposite of a morning person, this is worth its weight in gold as mornings are now a much calmer and more relaxed affair. I didn’t realise how much stress commuting caused until I stopped doing it! I have also found the time and energy to exercise again – which had been another casualty of the daily commute.

The past two years, I have rarely been ill – probably because I don’t have colleagues feeling under pressure to come into work when they’re sick and passing on their bugs to the whole office. And if I do have a minor ailment I can cough and sneeze to my heart’s content without feeling guilty about infecting anyone else. Organisations worried about staff sickness absence levels should take note – there are a lot of conditions that might prevent someone making it into the office, but would not necessarily stop someone from doing a day’s work at home.

As you can probably tell I’m a complete convert to home working and don’t understand why more companies who could embrace it choose not to.

If they are worried about loss of productivity, this is another misconception – if you have an employee that you trust and who is self-motivated, the chances are they will be more productive and focused at home. Perhaps this could even be one of the reasons why such a large proportion of our new business comes from client referrals?

Rather than “skiving off”, evidence suggests that home workers are actually more likely to devote more time to their work, which makes complete sense to me.

When there’s a deadline to be met, as there inevitably is from time to time in any job, a little extra work from the comfort of your own home once the kids are in bed hardly feels like work at all when compared to being the last one out of the office on a cold dark winter’s night, with a long drive home still ahead of you.

A 2016 study by the Institute of Inertia, a partnership between Comparethemarket.com and the University of Sheffield, found that a quarter of British workers would give up a pay rise for the chance to work just one day a week from home. By offering home working, companies might find themselves with an edge over their competitors when it comes to attracting staff. They might just find that their existing team becomes healthier and happier too.

• Anna Chambers is PR and social media manager at Perceptive Communicators