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Is working from home the future of business?

Over recent years, we’ve seen a growing trend in people favouring a remote-working set up over the traditional 9-5 office routine. So much so, research by the TUC (Trades Union Congress) revealed that 321,000m people in the North of England worked from home on a regular basis in 2015.

Looking at the financial and psychological impacts of the daily commute, it’s easy to see the appeal in conducting your business from the comfort of your home. Thanks to disrupted train services and congested roads, workers in the North are now facing an average commute time of over 50 minutes each way – the equivalent of an extra day’s travelling a year compared to ten years ago . And with advancing technology making communication easier than ever, it’s perfectly feasible for many companies to operate beyond the confines of an office.

So, could working from home be the future of business? Small business insurer Hiscox, sought the thoughts and advice of occupational health specialist Gail Kinman, interior designer Cathy Phillips and entrepreneur Helen Lewis, about how to create a home office that will help you work smarter and achieve a good work/life balance.

How has remote working changed?

There was a time when all business communications were conducted in person or via the phone. If you were lucky, you might have had a pager or a fax machine, but the instant, on-the-move communication that the internet and smart phones afford us today was a vision of the future.

If you were to work from home in the pre-broadband days – which was rare – you would have to provide an alternative phone number for colleagues and clients to reach you on, and sharing official documentation was problematic.

Fast forward 15 years and the rise of WiFi, 4G, video conferencing, instant messaging, project management tools and cloud-based file sharing means that workers can move seamlessly between the office and a remote location, with as little as an internet connection and a digital device. In a study by GoCompare, it was found that Manchester is the second best connected city in the entire UK in terms of 4G coverage and average download speed , making it the ideal spot for telecommuting.

On top of this, smart phones allow us to check our emails and respond to work correspondence on the go, around the clock – even some airplanes offer WiFi onboard these days, meaning we can stay connected from 35,000 ft.

According to Michael Page, alongside London, the North West has the highest proportion of workers working from home at least once a week.

The advantages of working from home

Flexible working has lots of benefits for employers and employees alike. While it means that leaders can attract top talent regardless of their location and build teams across the world, for employees it can reduce stress and improve work/life balance.

The daily commute, for example, can not only become expensive and stressful for employees, but it also takes up time that could be used more productively. In fact, remote workers often say that they are more productive at home and happier to work longer hours than in if they were in an office and had to factor in travel time.

The commute it just one reason why flexible working is now one of the most sought-after perks that a company can offer its staff. In a survey by PowWowNow in 2017, 58% of workers said that working away from their office would improve motivation levels and 67% of employees wish they were offered flexible working.

Helen Lewis, who has worked from home for 14 years, says “it’s the chance to be who I want to be, when I want to be, where I want to be. I choose who I work with, the hours I work (pretty much) and how I manage my day.”

Creating a productive environment

While technology makes it possible for many jobs to function smoothly beyond the office, there are other factors to consider when working from home.

Firstly, to maintain focus and motivation, it’s essential to have an allocated workspace that drives productivity. The home is full of opportunities for procrastination and for a remote set-up to prove worthwhile for the employee and employer, there must be a shared confidence that work is going to get done.

Some believe that there’s a psychology behind creating the perfect working environment. For example, an organised desk equals an organised mind, and a muted colour-scheme can help to foster a calm and collected mood.

Gail explains that “having everything in its place, and furniture arranged in a pleasing and practical way will make for a calming environment. If you can’t find what you need, or you can’t reach that all important file, your mood is bound to be affected.”

Maintaining structure

Setting boundaries between your job and your personal life will help to maintain a healthy work/life balance and avoid getting side-tracked. Gail advises that you should “set firm boundaries in terms of working space, working time and focus.”

Maintaining structure can help you to stay on track during work time and relax in your free time, without the two blurring into one. For example, waking up at the same time each day and getting dressed as though you’re heading to the office can help you get into ‘work mode’. Be sure to factor in a few breaks throughout the day though, as it’s important to look after your mental and physical wellbeing.

With the growing popularity of this style of working, could we on our way to becoming a nation of remote workers? The benefits are clear to see, but is it feasible to banish offices altogether or is striking a healthy balance between onsite and remote work the best option for all parties? With a few ground rules in place, it’s proving itself an effective option for many workers across the nation.

For more expert advice on working from home from Gail, Cathy and Helen, check out the full article on the Hiscox blog.