A fractured success

What does it take to make working from home a success? It took a fractured knee to find out.



commentary What does it take to make working from home a success? It took a fractured knee to find out.

Ha ha, I have been off work for the last couple of weeks due to a knee fracture (skiing injury) and my first day back in the office just happens to be our deadline day, and I am plied high with so many drugs that I just can't imagine what the rest of this column is going to contain.

It might not be the drugs though, it could very well be the amount of television I consumed that is currently affecting my brain. I am not sure if the headache I have is from watching too much television, or withdrawals from not watching any today.

Aside from becoming very used to Judge Judy and daytime drama, being housebound I became used to a lot of other things which surprised me when I came back to the office. For a start I am wearing work-type clothes today rather than pyjamas, and it took me 20 minutes to get to work today rather than two minutes (by the way the walk from my bedroom to my loungeroom doesn't usually take two minutes but crutches have slowed me down somewhat). And the fact that our office building has no access for the disabled also came as a surprise, and makes arriving so much more interesting -- who knew walking up steps could be so risky and death defying?

However, my time at home wasn't all TV watching, I managed to squeeze in a week of work as well (which just proves how bad afternoon TV really is). I have always been a fan of working from home, envisioning the day when I could just decide to plug in the laptop and sit on the lounge whenever I felt like it, but last week's experience was a disappointment. While there are lots of benefits, besides the clothing and lack of steps, but also the lack of the phone ringing was high up there as an advantage, there are drawbacks as well. Everything went swimmingly for the first couple of days when all I was doing was catching up on e-mail and communicating with colleagues via instant messenger, but when the work came down to the nitty gritty things started falling apart.

I still think working from home can be a success but there are a few factors that can make it a good or bad experience.

For a start the version of the software I have at home is different to the versions we have in the office -- mine was more up to date, and it was not backwards compatible. This caused a few issues. The second was how to actually get me the work, as I am unable to access any data from work servers other than e-mail, which meant I had to get a lot of files e-mailed to me, only for me to update them and have to e-mail them back. And unfortunately not everything can be sent electronically which left the option of either sending couriers or having staff that lived in the same suburb stop by my house on the way home laden with documents.

And if it wasn't all getting a little bit too hard already, then my ADSL connection went down -- problems with my ISP -- and unfortunately it seems when your ISP has a problem it isn't usually down for an hour, it is down for a day.

All of the problems aside, I did actually find myself working hard all day long, there are just less distractions and it was more comfortable. I still think working from home can be a great thing for both the employee and the company but my experience has opened my eyes a little to what needs to happen to make it a success. It comes down to a few factors: the technology you have at home, the reliability of your ISP, and how much your company is willing to support and provide access to the mobile worker, or in this case, the immobile worker.

For a start, broadband is a must. There is no way you can compete with the efficiency of working in the office when you have a 56K dial up connection at home. You also need the company to back you up a little financially, by this I mean ideally the company can provide you with a computer loaded with all of the right software, and finally the company also needs to support you by providing access to all of the files you will need -- you just can't be efficient if you can't access the required documents. And that is just to get you started, for long term use you also need to sort out other issues like security and back-up. Is this all sounding a little bit too hard?

As for my future of working from home, it isn't likely to happen again, well at least not until the end of the next ski season. Maybe afternoon TV will have improved by then, but that probably is as likely as finding a reliable ISP.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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