Five myths about working from home

It's not proper work, really, is it?

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young female working at home in ...

Earlier this year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced that she was banning working from home, saying it was critical for the business to have everyone in the office.

"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side," she told staff in a memo. The announcement came in for some pretty harsh criticism - particularly when it emerged that Mayer had had a nursery built in her office to ease her own problems with work-life balance.


However, Mayer herself conceded that working from home makes people more productive - and many employers are happy to let their staff do it. According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), more of us are working from home than ever before - 4.2 million people, or nearly 14 percent of the workforce. Around a third are employed by someone else.

It's an appealing prospect, and most of us must have sometimes dreamed of escaping the stuffy office to work in the garden on a summer's day. But as many people discover, home working can be a route to all-day pyjamas, social isolation and an ever-expanding waistline.

So will you be able to keep sane, make sure the boss doesn't forget you, and avoid raiding the fridge every ten minutes? We bust a few of the home working myths.

Myth One: You'll be less productive
Stanford University graduate student James Liang was interested in the productivity of home workers - and was in the convenient position of being a cofounder of the Chinese travel website Ctrip. He, along with economics professor Nicholas Bloom, offered staff the chance to work at home for nine months - and found that they completed 13.5 percent more calls than the staff in the office did. That's almost an extra workday a week.

"The reason may be that office workers take natural breaks talking to their colleagues either about work or the weekend. Natural breaks are important to help boost productivity. But homeworkers may feel they have to overcompensate for working from home because the suspicion that they are taking time out," says Bill Little, European Director of Freelancer.co.uk. "Yet research shows office workers are more likely to get away with not doing work than home workers. Presenteeism - being in the office but not working, is a far bigger issue for companies."

Myth Two: You won't need childcare
Unless you can officially restrict your work time to school hours, you won't be able to do without childcare. Trying to combine your home work and your seven-year-old's is a recipe for disaster. Your baby may sleep occasionally, it's true - but you can count on her to wake up and need a feed just as you're talking to your most important client. You may at least be able to get away with a little less baby-sitting now you don't need to cover your commute - but that's about it.

Myth Three: You can get on top of the domestic stuff
Don't for a moment imagine your house will get any cleaner. Quite the reverse, in fact, now you're in it all day leaving cake crumbs all over the worktop. Unfortunately, your partner will never, ever take this on board - though this doesn't matter, as you'll hardly ever see one another any more. Instead, you'll be hunched over your keyboard every evening delivering all that much-appreciated extra productivity.

Myth Four: Your colleagues will forget you
You can rest assured, your colleagues will think of you every time they're stuck in the office on a sunny day. It is important, though, to do your best to stay part of the team. Get to meetings at the office whenever you can, and create a regular system for staying in touch - instant messaging and webcams work very well. These days, more and more interaction is moving online; the water-cooler matters much less than it did.

Myth Five: It's only for senior staff
From plumbing to chiropody, there are some jobs that won't ever lend themselves to remote working. But it's not just for software developers and journalists: there's a greater variety than you might think. There are always plenty of vacancies for telesales staff and recruitment consultants - even estate agents and PAs.

Indeed, at the end of this month, new regulations come into force requiring employers to consider requests for flexible working from anyone with 26 weeks' continuous service. Just don't bother trying if you're a firefighter.

...And one truth: Home working can lose you promotion
A study two years ago by MIT Sloan Management Review found that telecommuters get poorer performance evaluations, smaller pay rises and fewer promotions than their office-bound colleagues - even if they work just as hard and just as long.

The answer, say the authors, is to get in to the office whenever possible - and make sure you're very visible when you do. Ask for regular meetings with your boss so you can deliver progress updates. Many workers told MIT that they made a point of emailing the boss late at night or very early in the morning to show their dedication - though they didn't say whether they went back to bed afterwards.

And bear in mind you'll need less money anyway if you're working at home. There'll be no more season tickets, no more expensive coffees - and no clothes to buy bar your pyjamas.