Remote Worker Awards

I’ve entered the Remote Worker Awards organised by Remote Employment.

The awards are open to anyone who works remotely or from home and any employer who employs remote workers. Prizes include a £15k home based franchise and a Garden Home Office worth £10k. Why not have a go!

There are several categories:

  • The Home Worker Award – Employees currently working predominantly from home.
  • The Remote Worker Award – Employees currently working remotely, out of office, field or mobile based.
  • Work From Home Award – Anybody who wants to work from home but is currently not doing so.
  • Freelance Consultant Award – Anyone working as a freelance consultant.
  • Helen O’ Grady Special Award – Anyone looking for a life changing career.
  • The Open University Skills Award – Anyone looking to re-train or re-skill possibly following redundancy.
  • The BT Home Business Award – Anyone running a Home Business, large or small.
  • The Vivid Green Award – All entrants are automatically entered.
  • The Remote Employer Award – Companies who have remote or home based workers included in their workforce.

Now I’m not one to enter myself in competitions but this one had my name written all over it!
😉

It’s also a really great opportunity for me to talk more about the support I’ve received from my employers (UKOLN), the support framework we want to share with other remote workers and to enthuse on the positive side of remote working (such as environmental factors and achieving that work-life balance).

Remote Employment recently sent out a press release to my local paper (Melksham Independant News) which led to many people I know (and don’t know) asking me more about my situation. A pretty common reaction was “Aren’t you lucky, I’d love to work from home“. It isn’t all plain sailing but I’m the first to admit that in my situation (a working mum) it really means I can give as much as possible to my two (very different) worlds, which makes me pretty lucky. It also means my children and my work get the best out of me – so they are lucky too!!

Melksham News

You can’t vote for the awards, there is a team of judges who’ll make the decision in late September. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed! That home office would look great in my garden! Not only that it would be an ideal place to hide from my family when the going gets tough!
😉

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A Few Extra Pennies…

When I first became a remote/home worker my mother kept going on about how I’d be able to get tax relief on certain things. I didn’t really take much notice of her until I had a free moment just before Christmas and did a little search on it. It turns out she was right (aren’t mothers always!) and home workers can get tax relief for household expenses. This includes:

  • the extra cost of gas and electricity to heat and light your work area
  • business telephone calls

As is probably the case for most home workers my work already refunds all my business calls, I just hand in a copy of my bill with the relevant bits highlighted. However I have been using quite a lot of extra heating (see my entries on Wifi Worries and On the Sunny Side of the Street) and electricity so thought I’d have a go at claiming.

The HM Revenue and Customs Web site explains that you can get either:

  • A flat rate deduction of £3.00 per week (from 2008-09) for each week that you’ve got to work at home. This doesn’t include the cost of business telephone calls.
  • A larger amount if your extra expenses are higher than £3.00 – but you’ll have to show how you’ve calculated the figure.

The flat rate can be applied for by letter and doesn’t require any extra proof (expenses forms etc.). It seemed fairly straightforward. I found out my local tax office using the online tax office locator and wrote them a letter explaining my situation and including my national insurance number, my tax code (found on my monthly pay slip) and my payroll reference number (also on my payslip).

I’ve just received a letter back from HMRC explaining that they have changed my tax code and upped my tax free allowance. I’m a little unsure of the numbers and wouldn’t mind having someone in the know explain it to me but I do seem to be getting more pennies for the pound. I have yet to see the effect on my pay packet but at the moment when every penny counts it’s surely worth the price of a stamp.

Are other remote workers claiming this?

Are Remote Workers Healthier?

Today is New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2008. Tomorrow morning most people will wake up with a cracking headache and possibly a few regrets from the night before. Luckily most of us don’t have to go to work. In fact with New Year’s Day falling on a Thursday many people won’t return to work till next Monday, me included!

This has got me thinking about if there is any difference between remote workers and on site workers health wise?

Many companies with telecommuting or remote working employees report one or two days less absenteeism per remote employee per year. As Zdnet points out:

“Teleworking is proven to decrease sick days, days lost to child-care emergencies and time taken for doctor appointments. Simply reducing the average employee absentee rate by one day a year can mean adding one or two points to a company’s profit margin, according to studies released by CIGNA corporation.”

It’s true that I am more likely to carry on working now that I work from home. I don’t have to drag myself into the office, nobody can see how red my nose is and I won’t be spreading my germs about. I’m also less stressed so probably stay fitter longer. That said I do sometimes feel isolated and probably don’t take enough breaks which might not be great for my mental health. I’m also not sure my eating habits are that great (see Top 10 Remote Worker Lunches). Definitely some room for improvement…. Will being healthier be on your New Year’s Resolutions list?

About.com have provided a useful guide to staying healthy at work. Their top tips are:

  1. Wash Your Hands. Often.
  2. Keep your workspace clean.
  3. Eat balanced meals every day – including breakfast!
  4. Avoid coworkers who are sick.
  5. Drink AT LEAST 8 glasses of water a day.
  6. Take frequent breaks throughout the day.
  7. Use your vacation days.
  8. Quit smoking.

I’m going to have a go at number 7 and enjoy the last few days of the holiday!

Happy New Year!!

Quantum of Solitude

I’ve been reading Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. One area that I’ve found particularly interesting as a remote worker is his proposition that solitude is good for us and key in encouraging creativity. This idea is based on Dr Esther Buchholz’s theories on ‘alonetime‘:

Life’s creative solutions require alonetime. Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems. Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.

Obviously one can have too much alone time and as a remote worker I often miss having people to chat with and bounce ideas about with (however there is an increasing amount of technologies that can help you stay more connected), but I do enjoy my own company. I also find that taking ‘alonetime’ away from my PC can be really helpful – one of the Sarah Houghton-Jan’s time management suggestions. I want to try taking more time away from the PC and use this time to read articles and ‘think’ as a precursor to writing papers, presentations and articles.

As James Baldwin said “The artist must actively cultivate that state which most people avoid: the state of being alone.

So, on this All Hallows Eve, maybe it’s time to find your quantum of solitude!

Happy Hallowe’en!

The Credit Crunch and Remote Working

It hasn’t been a good couple of months for the UK economy. The credit crunch – rises in petrol costs, fuel costs and the basic cost of living have affected us all.

The government’s £37bn bailout policy was recently revealed and apparently us taxpayers now own about 60% of RBS and 40% of the merged Lloyds TSB and HBOS.

I’m just wondering how all this will affect us remote workers. Here are a few thoughts on possible scenarios:

1. The Upside
Remote working might be encouraged as it reduces an organisation’s resource costs. Everyone will be after better value for money.

A recent article in ZDNet on What the credit crunch means for IT states:

As companies shut office buildings and sell off business real estate to raise cash, more businesses can be expected to adopt a remote-working model.

With changes to the flexible-working laws expected soon, companies could find themselves with an additional reason to allow their staff to do their work without tying them to an office.

The growing penetration of broadband and the various secure virtual private network offerings will only make the model more attractive compared to the expense of running an office.

Also have a look at Home-working to fight credit crunch and climate change.

2. The Downside

Remote workers could potentially be the first with their head on the line when it comes to making redundancies because ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – a remote worker’s presence is felt less. There will also be less money to spend on remote workers kit.

An article entitled Remote working is back in Computer Weekly says:

The research attributes a recent fall in the number of staff working flexibly to the credit crunch. People feel they need to be seen to be working, perhaps as recession talk stokes the fear of redundancies. Based on interviews with more than 1,000 UK office workers, the survey claims that fears about job security and the overall deteriorating economic outlook are prompting workers – especially middle managers and their minions – to turn away from mobile working, with just 10% of workers in 2008 feeling they have the freedom to work remotely as part of their day-to-day job. This despite the fact that more than half of all UK firms offer mobile working programmes.

Some other side effects for those working in IT could be:

  • Move towards open source software – it’s cheaper and you don’t have to pay the support costs.
  • Companies may move from employment of staff in the UK and US to low-cost alternatives in the East.
  • Contract workers are likely to be the first to go.

It’s difficult to know what to make of it. As I don’t have any options really I guess I’ll just have sit tight and hope the tornado doesn’t sweep me away!

The Balancing Act

I became a remote worker in April 2008 when I returned to work after my third lot of maternity leave (yes, they love me at work!). My oldest daughter had just started school and trying to get into Bath for 9am (we live about 40 minutes away) after an 8.45 drop off was just not possible. I was going to be late every day. UKOLN already have a number of remote workers (in Yorkshire, London, Edinburgh, Manchester…) so it seemed like a possible option. Our admin manager mentioned that I could put in a request under the University’s Parents and Carers Flexible Working Policy to work primarily from home. This was fairly straightforward and accepted straight away.

There are a lot of benefits to working somewhere other than your office, but at the same time there are downsides. I tried to list the main ones in an article I wrote for Ariadne web Magazine entitled A Desk Too Far?: The Case for Remote Working. These pros and cons apply to both employee and employer. While at times you might feel like your organisation are being extremely generous allowing you to work remotely it is worth remembering that there is a lot in it for them too. Remote worker guilt is something I mention in the article and something I’m hoping this blog will help ease a little!