The work life balance is a bigger issue today than ever, with UK staff working longer hours than their European counterparts. So over the past few months I have tried working from home one day a week.
Initially, I only did this on the odd occasion. I soon found, however, that unless I planned ahead and booked a day to work from home, the space in the diary was filled. I didn’t want to book the same day working from home every week as that might give the impression that I was working a four-day week. It would also have reduced my availability, if, for instance, I was always working from home on Wednesdays.
Working from home on a regular basis is unusual for someone at a senior level. I’m not sure why this is the case since directors more than most are judged not on the hours they put in, nor the number of meetings they attend, but on their effectiveness in managing the budget, hitting performance targets and influencing key figures in partner agencies.
The problem is we all have this Protestant work ethic instilled in us. Somehow we feel we must be showing others we are working hard – it’s not good enough just to deliver.
The other day the executive director was looking for a volunteer to cover a meeting on Friday morning. That was a Friday I was due to work from home so I could have covered the meeting without rearranging my diary, but I was reluctant to knowing all the work I had planned for the day. I didn’t want people to think that working from home days were empty spaces in my diary that could be filled. On the other hand I felt a bit uncomfortable. Are meetings more important than other pieces of work? Anyway my dilemma was resolved by somebody else volunteering.
People who work from home will be familiar with the distractions and expectations that go with this. For instance, that I will walk the dogs, collect the dry cleaning, get something in for tea on the basis that I am at home. And I didn’t realise just how many phone calls you get during the day from companies who want you to swap your utilities provider or sign up to a credit card. I have to answer all these calls because it might be work.
Then there’s the gardener – I say gardener, he just cuts the grass, but apparently he gets a cup of tea and a biscuit as well. And the parcel for next door – they are always getting parcels and they’re never in. It’s my responsibility to empty the dishwasher. This goes some way to explain why some people get a response to their e-mails dated Sunday evening.
The other week I had my haircut on the day I was working from home. I tell myself this is OK because I’ll make up the time later. However, I am reminded of what my son who works shifts said when he appeared at lunchtime: “Have you got the day off again?”
Blair McPherson is director of community services at Lancashire Council. He is the author of An Elephant in the Room, an equality and diversity training manual, Russell House Publishers
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