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Dream of escaping the office and workingfrom home? Read this first.


By Eric Barton
18 April 2017


When Ian Wright started working from hishome in London last November, he thought he had the ideal setup.


He could spend time with his two-month-oldbaby while he worked for his brand-new company, British Business Energy, whichhelps companies compare rates for electric and gas suppliers. From atwo-bedroom home in the borough of Greenwich, he set up at his dining roomtable with big plans to master being an at-home dad and business owner.


None of it worked. “There was a momentright at the start where hopes and dreams end and reality sets in,” Wrightsays. “I quickly came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t working.”


Two months later he tried putting the babyin full-time childcare. He returned to the dining room table, certain this timeit would work. House repairs, chores, the postman, all of it, just seemed toget in the way. “Those little things would just break up my flow,” Wright says.“You get to the end of the day, and you scratch your head and wonder, where didall the time go?”


One reason work from home fails: too manydistractions (Credit: Getty Images)


A month later, Wright realised he justcouldn’t be productive working from home. He rented a desk at a co-workingspace near the London Bridge, and finally, he was cranking away.


Working from home has its benefits,with researchshowing that it generally increases happiness and productivity. But a new study also shows that youought to be careful before making the break with your office.


First, the training


Flexible schedules are likely to become farmore commonplace in the coming years; already some companies have adopted“hot-desking” providing fewer desks than there are employees in an effort tosave money and encourage remote work days. Laws in the UK allowmany workers to ask for more flex time, and companies across the globe areusing work-at-home policies as a way to recruit.


But the problems with working from homebegin right from the start. That’s because we think everybody can do allaspects of their job away from the office.


That’s what Esther Canonico found in a recently published study of514 workers. Canonico, a fellow with the London School of Economics Departmentof Management, says the at-home workers in her study didn’t receive anytraining or guidance in how to pull off the transition. It added up sincenearly half of the 514 people she studied either worked from home full-time orhad some flexibility in their schedules.


To make working from home successful, avoidhaphazard setups and opt for a designated office space (Credit: Getty Images)


If you’ve done it yourself, you know thatworking from home is not as simple as opening your laptop and getting down tobusiness. Training—something some of us loathe and others of us can’t getenough of—can make the difference between failure and success away from theoffice.


“There is simply not enough active managingof the procedure of working from home,” Canonico said. “What happens when youdon’t actively manage the practice, is that it gets out of hand.”


So what, exactly, would that sort ofmanagement look like in our lives? Well, for starters, we’d likely be told weneed a dedicated office or workspace, withboundaries for our families and other interruptions. That’s easer said thandone. (Just ask professor Robert E Kelly, the “BBC dad,” who became anInternet meme after his young children burst into the room during a live TVinterview.)


If you don't make the effort to be"seen" you could be passed over for prize assignments (Credit: GettyImages)


Then there are the everyday pitfalls thatcan lead to serious career damage or stagnation, Canonico said. For instance,if you aren’t in the office and your presence isn’t felt, you’re likely to missout on new projects and opportunites as they’re doled out to someone the bosssees every day.


In fact, new research from the Universityof Arizona shows 40% of employees who were working from home feel disconnectedfrom the company’s strategic direction and one-third feel like they don’t getsupport from bosses, according to Joe Carella, assistant dean of executiveeducation at University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.


“People working from home become professionallyand personally isolated,” Canonico says. “They say ‘out of sight, out ofmind’.”


Small steps toward flex


But, you might be thinking, working fromhome is the holy grail of office life—no required face time, performance judgedby results not presence in the office, and no two-hour-a-day commute.


It can feel professionally isolatingworking from home often (Credit: Getty Images)


Mitigating the downsides that come withremote work is key. That’s what Tim Campbell has learned as both a part-timeat-home employee of Alexander Mann Solutions, a global outsourcing andconsultancy firm.


Campbell, who was the 2005 winner of the BBCOne show The Apprentice in the UK, has helped advise other businessesduring a transition into flexible schedules and was part of his own company’smove two years ago to allow at-home workers. Now, 10% of the firm’s 3,500employees work from home. It doesn’t always go smoothly.


“We talk about how much moreproductive workers can be, but we ignore the steps it takes to get there,”Campbell says.


Instead, we ought to think of it like anynew venture, with an embedding process. Work from home for two or three days aweek at first, before going full-time away from the office. Continually analyseif you’re as productive as you were previously, before the bosses make thedetermination for you and revoke the privilege—or, worse, write you off aslacking potential.


Tim Campbell's company does meetings byvideo conference for at-home workers (Credit: Alamy)


Find ways to stay relevant in the office.At Alexander Mann, Campbell says that’s done with meetings held by videoconferencing, making sure even staffers working at home have regular face timewith the bosses. The company also uses achat service called Yammer that means you’re never far from aconversation with the higher-ups. And it helps to stop by the office now andagain and show up in person for the big staff meetings, rather than always bethe disconnected voice on the staticky speakerphone.


“The assumption for many people is thatwhen they start working from home they’ll just morph into the same person theywere at the office, just in a different environment,” Campbell said. “That canhappen, but only with a lot of work to get you there.”


When it doesn’t work


Combining home and office didn’t work forPedro Caseiro, who tried working out of his London flat after co-founding acompany called Obby last year. Looking to save money, he and his partnersdecided to work from home while developing an app that helps people findclasses in things like pottery, cooking, and photography.


Caseiro quickly realised thatinterruptions, like a visit from the plumber or cooking lunch, added up to toomany distractions.


“It’s all these micro things that take timeout of your day in a way that wouldn’t happen if you were in an office,”Caseiro says. In June the company committed to an office space.


Caseiro isn’t against working from home,though. In his line of work, Caseiro says many talented web developers expect aflexible, at-home schedule. His main developer, in fact, lives near the beachin sunny southern Portugal, and yet still nails all of his deadlines.


“I look at my own productivity and know I’mbetter off working out of a traditional office,” Caseiro says. “But I know Ialso have to be flexible in hiring. I try to look for whether people can do thetasks we need them to do and not think about where they’re going to do themfrom.”