Working from home as a parent
Working from home means you can arrange your paid work hours to give you more time with your child(ren) in the morning or evening, while cutting out the expense, time and faff of commuting
More and more employers are embracing the idea of working from home as a way of helping parents return to work after having a baby, or to make childcare easier for them. When it goes well, it can be an arrangement that really makes life simpler for working mums and dads.
However, anyone who thinks working from home is an excuse to laze around in pyjamas, eating cake at 11.30 on a Wednesday morning could not be more wrong. Most work-from-home (WFH) parents say they work twice as hard during the hours when they're at their desks, without so much as a tea break and a chat around the water cooler.
Can I ask to work from home?
If you think your role could be done from home (the authorities tend to take a dim view of open-heart surgery performed in the living room) you can make what’s called a “Statutory Application”, as long as you have worked continuously at the company for the last 26 weeks. Some companies will allow you to make a flexible working request even if you haven’t been there for 26 weeks, but that is at your employer’s discretion. Being based at home is ideal as I get to hang out with my daughter until 9am and then see her at lunchtime and am here for her when she gets home in the evenings.
You’re allowed to make one request a year and permission should not be unreasonably withheld – that means there must be a business case for it being declined. When putting in your request, make sure that you present it as a business case and bone up on your company’s HR policy. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes and be prepared to be as flexible with them as they are (hopefully) with you.
If you think your request has been unfairly declined, you can appeal the decision and if you’re still unhappy with the result after attempts at conciliation you can take your employer to a tribunal, according to ACAS.
Is working from home right for me?
At first glance, the advantages of WFH seem obvious. Here are a few of the benefits of having your office chez tu.
- You lose the commute. This must be the biggie – not just the time but also the money saved on the commute. If you commute for even just half an hour to work, that’s five hours a week you’ll get back. You can also kiss goodbye to juggling multiple cups of coffee and sippy cups, as you’ll no longer have to multitask the commutes to work and nursery.
- Greater flexibility of hours. Some employers will allow you to be flexible with your working hours, as well as your work location. This means you might be able to do the school pick-up, for example, and work after they’ve gone to bed for fewer distractions (in theory). Or you could take your child to an appointment in the middle of the afternoon without having to book an entire day off work.
- You don’t feel you have to ‘pretend not to have kids’ – a common bugbear among working parents who feel as though their colleagues aren’t as supportive of family life as would be ideal. You can even take breaks from your desk to rescue Thomas the Tank Engine from down the back of the sofa without Sandra from accounts giving you the stink-eye.
- You’ll be able to see more of your children – whether you like it or not. Although if your children are pre-school age, you’ll very likely need to have them in nursery or with a childminder anyway, as there aren’t many jobs you can do effectively while weaning a baby or changing 10 nappies a day. But being able to trot down the road to nursery at 5pm rather than doing battle with public transport for an hour in order to make the nursery’s 6pm close time is so much less stressful.
- You can mix it up to get the best of both worlds. Home-working can be a full-time gig even if you’re not self-employed. And if a full-time working-from-home agreement feels too isolating, you could work from home on certain days only, so you might well be able to tailor an arrangement to you and your childcare needs, while still reaping the benefits of office life. After a few days at home, sometimes a day in the office is an absolute tonic. And you get free tea and loo roll, too!
- You might well be more efficient. Lots of home-workers say they waste less time in the day. You’re never going to be made late to your desk by traffic, you don’t get waylaid at the water cooler by someone wanting to ask what you thought of Bake Off last night, and you don’t have to get embroiled in office politics.
Are there down-sides to working from home?
Being a home-worker certainly isn’t a bed of roses. Here are some things to consider before you take the plunge.
- It can be lonely. Some people find WFH isolating enough even when they don’t have children. Pair that with night-wakings and friends who all work in offices and you are at risk of feeling a bit out of touch. If you’re the sort of person who thrives on the buzz of an office, the social aspect and being part of a team, working from home may not be for you. If it’s possible, try to leave the house and work in a cafe or library while the kids are at nursery or school so that you have some contact with at least one person who doesn’t have chocolate biscuit down their front during the day.
- Your ‘co-workers’ at home. Although you’ll be free from the idle small-talk and the dull whirr of the photocopier, you will have to deal with a whole new set of three-foot-tall, snotty workplace distractions. Most parents find they can’t work from home with a young child there, unless they have someone else in the house to help out, so you may find you have to shell out for childcare anyway. Once your children are older and can be relied upon to sit in front of the TV or (preferably) do something improving by themselves, things become a lot easier, and they’re at school most of the day, too. However, you will have to think about how you’re going to work things in the school holidays.
- You feel you have to work twice as hard. You might find colleagues in the office are unhappy about your work arrangement. They’ll have to get over it, but you can feel as though you have to be ‘visibly’ working harder than ever to prove you aren’t sitting around watching Jeremy Kyle.
- It’s hard to separate work and home. If you’re working in your own home it can be really difficult to ignore the laundry, the dishwasher, that drawer that needs sorting… but it’s vital you don’t let the job you’re not paid for overtake the one that pays the bills (during office hours at least). Shut yourself away where you can’t see the chores you need to do, or get good at ignoring them.
- You miss out on the peripheral stuff. Lots of work takes place in the office when you’re not at your desk. You won’t be able to come up with a new idea with a colleague as you do the coffee run and you’ll miss out on any impromptu meetings that come up. But you may also find you’re all the more productive for it.
The five golden rules for working from home
As with working in an office, there is definitely a best-practice code of conduct to follow when it comes to working from home.
- Be disciplined and don’t faff. If you wouldn’t abandon a client report to go and do the Hoovering at work, then don’t do it when working from home.
- You need childcare. You wouldn’t let the kids run riot around the office and you certainly won’t be doing yourself or your clients any favours if you do this at home during working hours.
- Get a proper work space and be disciplined about starting and finishing on time. As well as needing to shut ‘home’ away and concentrate on work during working hours, you need to be able to switch off at the end of the working day.
- Set firm boundaries. Make sure you let everyone around you (including your own children) know that you are working from home so you don’t become the default childcare provider/free cafe and counselling service/post office box for everyone this side of Hull. And make sure your mum knows you won’t be able to answer non-work calls during working hours.
- If you have one, get your partner on board. If they work outside of the home, they can look after the kids while you finish up if you work non-standard hours.