Home is a land worth exploring

Guest blog posts are like buses…none for ages, then three at once! Anyway I’m not complaining! Hearing about other people’s remote working experiences gives me a real boost, it’s great to feel I am not alone, and of course steal all their ideas!

Alistair McNaughtToday we are lucky enough to hear from Alistair McNaught. Alistair works at JISC TechDis where his role includes developing advice and guidance on accessible and inclusive teaching and learning practices. He works
across a range of sectors from FE to Adult, Offender learning to Work based learning.

For Alistair there is no such thing as a typical week except that he usually spends 2-3 days at home and 2-3 days ‘on the tracks’ using trains as mobile offices en route to or from events. Alistair thinks that the average train carriage is more conducive to real work than the average office… see below for details.

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Ten years ago the allure of home-working piqued my imagination. My five children ranged from 1 to 18 and I desperately wanted to shake off the shackles of high pressure teaching and win some lifestyle flexibility. I went part time with half a location based job and half a home based job but it soon became apparent that half time status refers only to pay, not hours…

Ironically, I ended up working longer hours with less holiday ..but increased flexibility. I got to sports days and assemblies, I was around when the older kids dropped in with friends in a free period but there is a difference between being around and being present.

Even when I was around I was haunted by the unfinished email and the laptop stayed on from 8 in the morning to 10 at night. It’s odd that employers fear home-workers spend all their time watching TV or gardening. My experience is exactly the opposite. Over my career, the occasions worked in an office were always notably less efficient due to the amount of time wasted chatting about trivia. Maybe I’m not good at multi-tasking… A day at home is worth three in the office. I always track my weekly hours, but I use the time tracking to avoid short changing my family. There is never a remote risk of my employer being short-changed.

A joy of homeworking is the reduced travel. There is something weird about a business model that requires hundreds of employees to physically transport themselves to a central office where they work all day surrounded by distractions, using technology that enables them to communicate instantly with any part of the globe… including the bit it takes an hour to drive to work from!

Since using technology to run online workshops and meetings I have roughly doubled my capacity to say ‘yes’ to requests for events / meetings and, in the process, significantly reduced my Carbon footprint. A bizarre outcome of this modus operandii is ‘assymetrical acquaintance’ where strangers greet me as if they know me because I trained them in an online session. They regard me as a fond familiar face (they watched me for an hour!) and always seem vaguely disappointed when I don’t recognise them. It’s hard to get past that feeling that because you can see someone on a screen they ought to be able to see you
as well, whether or not you have a webcam.

In conclusion, working from home has undoubtedly benefited my productivity, my carbon footprint, my employer and – on balance – has benefited me as well. It’s not for everyone and can be very lonely (or wonderfully uninterrupted) depending on how you are wired. It can present huge distractions or unhealthy over working depending on your personality. It should certainly be encouraged and for many teams could result in big productivity benefits but there needs to be realism, creativity and honesty for it to work well. Home is a land worth exploring.