Returning to STEM
Returning to STEM

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Returning to STEM

2.4 Remote working: when home is your workplace

Working from home can be an attractive option for anyone thinking about returning to work after a career break. It solves the problem of having to commute long distances, and can combine well with responsibilities of family life such as dropping children off at school.

Of course, home working is not really a new way of working. However, with advances in communications technologies many more jobs can be carried out in locations other than the traditional office. For some people, this means being home-based, but for others it may mean working on the move or in a number of locations. There are also different types of home-based working. You may be employed entirely as a home-based worker, in which case there are different terms and conditions to someone whose substantive place of work is in an office or company building, but who works part of the time from home. Many employers will offer the flexibility to work from home some of the time, although the job itself would not officially be a home-based contract.

If you are thinking about working from home as a possibility (either for all or part of your contract), there are a number of things you will need to think about:

  • Where will you work? Do you have a dedicated space?
  • Although it may seem like a good way to combine work and childcare, how can you realistically work if you have other people in the house demanding your time?
  • Would you work full-time from home or only part of the week?
  • How will you cope with working alone? Some people are more people-oriented and benefit more from day-to-day contact with colleagues and the bustle of an office or other workplace environment. This may be especially true if you have been out of work for some time; working from home may continue your sense of isolation and being peripheral to the main workplace.
  • How easily will you be able to separate out and keep boundaries between your work and home life?

Rachel Stanley was able to negotiate with her future employer about working from home when she returned from her career break.

‘I like the challenge my work gives me. I’m doing engineering research, where there’s always something new to discover.’

Rachel saw an advert for full-time roles at a large energy supplier. The advert included a sentence that attracted her attention: ‘If you require more flexibility in your career, we also have freelance opportunities.’ Now Rachel is an associate electrical engineer, working from home and choosing her own hours to fit around childcare.

‘I work from home, but go into the office as required for meetings (usually only once every four weeks) and visit other places from time to time. [My employer] provided me with a laptop and router and I’m networked from home – I know that other associates work very flexibly too. I can also choose my own hours – up to 20 per week – and can reduce them over the school holidays.’

Rachel was very open with the employer about her preferred working hours from the very beginning. After making an initial phone call she was contacted by the Head of Electrical Engineering to discuss possibilities. ‘We talked things through from there,’ says Rachel.

‘Previously, I’d applied for full-time roles, with the aim of negotiating hours further down the line. I’d get to the second interview stage, but felt that my lack of enthusiasm always showed.

I feel so lucky. Even though I’m working from home, I work very closely with my colleagues in the office and get a real buzz from the teamwork. The area I’m working in is low carbon energy, so the role I’m doing has a real potential to make a difference to the world.’

Activity 2 How can working from home work for you?

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

What practical considerations would you need to take into account if you were working from home?

Discussion

Here are some adjustments you may need to make to your home:

  • ensure that you have the right equipment; for example, computer, internet access/work network access if required, webcam for video meetings
  • have a good desk and comfortable chair, with decent lighting
  • designate a place to work and make sure you have privacy from other people in your household
  • create storage space for your work documents and files

Some other things you might need to consider include:

  • security issues for equipment and data; for example, passwords, firewalls, secure place for confidential data
  • agreed core hours – when colleagues/clients can contact you
  • how to avoid being lonely – keeping in touch with colleagues.

The 2014 Characteristics of Home Workers report [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Office for National Statistics, 2014) indicated that 4.2 million people in the UK (out of 30.2 million people in total at work) are home workers (see Figures 1 and 2 below.) This shows the highest rise in home working since records began, and an interesting feature is that almost two-thirds of home workers were self-employed in 2014. The report’s statistics allow you to see which occupations/sectors have the most home workers, where such workers are found geographically and average pay differences between home workers and non-home workers (see Figure 2 - a rather surprising result!).

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Figure 1 Number of homeworkers in the UK 1998 - 2014 (ONS 2014, p. 2)
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Figure 2 Median hourly earnings of home working and non-home working employees (ONS 2014, p. 9)
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