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OPINION17 May 2019

Remote working isn't remote – it broadens your horizons

Opinion UK

The idea of working from home may seem glamorous, but the reality is more nuanced, finds Katie McQuater, who has just relocated from London to Glasgow.

‘Working from home sounds like the dream.’ ‘I’d just stay in my pyjamas all day.’ ‘How do you get anything done?’

The phrase ‘working from home’ has a glamorous, dream-like quality. You might conjure up ideas of long, homemade lunches, coffee breaks with friends and mid-afternoon yoga classes. For others, it sounds like a bit of a cop-out. You’re not really working, are you?

The reality is that when you ‘WFH’ all the time, any illusion of novelty wears off very quickly. It’s not about sitting around in your PJs and slippers or having Netflix breaks. Coffee with friends? Well, they all work in offices in town, so that’s out.

At the risk of sounding blindingly obvious, remote working is just working. And more often than not, it’s working during the time you’d previously spent commuting, meaning you start earlier and sometimes finish later. It’s relying on technology for interaction with colleagues and your own ingenuity to deal with any internet problems that may arise. It’s setting clear boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’, and sticking to them.

I started working from home full-time three months ago, when I moved back to Glasgow from London, shifting to remote working in my role as deputy editor of Impact and Research Live. Aside from trips to London every couple of weeks for meetings and time in the office, most of my work is now done in my home office.

In the weeks since the move, I’ve renewed my appreciation for the following things:

  • WhatsApp – for conversations with colleagues and keeping up with what’s going on in the office
  • Gifs – in lieu of facial expressions to accurately express emotions on said WhatsApp chats
  • IT departments – I took you guys for granted
  • The office treat box – it feels weird and indulgent to buy snacks just for myself
  • Amazon Prime – for delivery of obscure cables I previously didn’t know existed
  • Conversation (with anyone – the elderly neighbour, the shopkeeper, the woman in the post office, delivery drivers, the man who fixed my washing machine…) – the home working life can be a solitary one.

I’ve also had to pick my battles – domestically, that is. When your home is also your office, every detail is magnified. An overflowing bin that would have previously been out of sight and out of mind now calls to be emptied. So as far as I’m concerned, aside from my office, the rest of my flat is essentially out of bounds during working hours as I resist falling into the role of ‘flat caretaker’ just because I’m at home.

But while working remotely can be a bit… well… remote, there are obviously plenty of benefits.

For me, the biggest one is living back in Glasgow, the city where I went to university, where I started my career and where most of my friends live. Glasgow is a fantastic city – for one, rent is almost half that of London and a round of drinks won’t leave you pining for payday. Parks and other green spaces are in abundance – it’s not called ‘Dear Green Place’ for nothing – the food and music scenes are incredible and it’s got some of the best people on earth.

The flexibility of remote working is also clearly attractive. I’m not talking about the mid-afternoon yoga class – if I’m honest, I’m not zen enough. For me, the appeal lies in the boring stuff – it’s just so much easier to get your life admin done! Running to the bank or post office doesn’t need to be crammed into your lunch hour, and you’re always at home to sign for deliveries. 

I also find that my work is more focused. While I sometimes miss the background buzz and random conversations in the office, as a writer I can’t deny that I often feel more productive without distractions – particularly when I’m on deadline. And although I love my MRS colleagues, I still see them every few weeks – and because I’m not always in the office, it feels more like quality time.

It isn’t for everyone. As someone who is happy working alone and has a very understanding editor (who doesn’t mind Skyping in for the morning coffee catch-up), it works. MRS has been so willing to test the water with me – for that I feel enormously grateful.

Arrangements such as mine are still the exception, but I think that will start to change. Alongside the important arguments around the need for greater working flexibility to accommodate personal wellbeing and childcare, there’s also the simple fact of broadening your horizons. Because while London is still undoubtedly the political and economic heart of Europe, from the perspective of someone working in journalism – or indeed research – widening your focus can only be a positive thing. In fact, maybe we need a new name for ‘remote working' that doesn't imply disconnection.

So, I don’t think remote working should be the exception to the rule. My question to other companies considering adopting more flexible approaches would be: if you’re thinking about what you might miss out on, have you considered what you stand to gain?

1 Comment

3 months ago

It's good to hear about an experience of working remotely. It would be great to hear about people who work remotely (from home) who are freelancers. I'm just stepping into that world after many years in the corporate world where remote working was a day (or two) at home trying but mostly office-based or travelling - primarily for yet another 'meeting'.

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