How to switch off when your workplace can be anywhere

This week is Small Business Advice Week. IPSE is contributing to the conversation throughout the week by offering articles of advice for the small business community. For more information on Small Business Advice Week visit their website here or follow the hashtag #SBAW on Twitter.

An explosion of intuitive technology, combined with an immersive 24/7 culture, has enabled mobile working to soar to new heights. The latest smartphones, super cheap laptops, increasingly accessible 4G and faster broadband, all mean you can work from anywhere, anytime. Pretty much.

Availability is a keyword here. Availability of mobile devices and of their system security has made working anywhere possible. It is hard to quantify the total impact this has had on our attitudes towards work, but as recognised by OFCOM we are certainly well beyond the ‘tipping point’ of broadband use on mobiles overtaking broadband use on PCs.

It’s great news, surely, as we all become far more productive, agile workers. And it has undoubtedly fed into the stark rise in self-employment in recent years – now reaching 4.79 million in the UK. However, there are obvious downsides. According to recent research from The Work Foundation into mobile working in the UK, the biggest cited downside is working longer hours. The 9-5 routine we still know from the industrial era has in many ways become a distant figure of the past. This may not be a bad thing, but it becomes far harder to divide work from life.

As an organisation which represents freelancers and the self-employed, IPSE hears of all the ups and downs of choosing a flexible working lifestyle. Aside from the positives of being your own boss, controlling your own finances and choosing your own clients, it can be tough.

Here are some top tips on how to ensure mobile working works for you:

Work smart, not long

Most importantly, be clear to clients when you’re unavailable. The downside to this 24/7 world is that people think you work 24/7, and that’s not possible. It also does no favours to your mental health.

Sticking with the technology theme, there are some amazing apps out there to track how much time you’re spending on certain tasks/projects. Having the ability to look back on this is not only good for pricing projects, but can be a trigger to let you know to have a break.

Make sure to set out-of-office replies when necessary (perhaps even for a half a day of serious admin work) and think about having a cut-off time for responding to emails.

Co-working spaces are growing in number – use them

Do some research into local co-working spots, and be sure to find a few which have quiet spaces for meetings. Do not undervalue the importance of face-to-face meets while working away from an office environment, and encourage clients/colleagues to meet you as a way to cement relationships.

As Freelancer of the Year 2016, illustrator Emmeline Pidgen mentions “Freelancing can be lonely: we don’t have office gossip, weekly meetings or group brainstorming sessions – so we need to break out of the studio, network, collaborate and connect.”

IPSE is calling for Government to remove business rates from shared workspaces so that they can flourish in the UK and provide supportive environments for the growing number of self-employed.

Have a business plan

Creating a business plan, no matter what stage you are at with your business, can clear the runway to success. There are various set-ups and guides available, and it’s important to find one that suits you. But on a basic level: set out how much time the plan will cover, and review it at regular intervals; record analysis of the market you are targeting and decide ways to approach them; set clear goals and objectives.

A business plan can be as detailed as day-to-day activities. Whichever format you choose, it can act as a means to assess how much time is spent on what.

Mobile devices and connectivity

When you’re working on the go, it can become a burden to switch between devices. If you’re working on a document on your mobile you don’t want to be constantly either moving between software/apps or emailing it to yourself in order to access it on your laptop. Choose a method and stick with it. Whether this be dropbox, Google drive, Microsoft 365 or otherwise.

Be careful not to over-use mobile data – a top tip to reduce this is to disable ‘push emails’. This prevents emails to be sent directly to your phone from the server, which uses data each time the email is ‘pushed’ and can mean you’re pushed over the limit. It also means you don’t have a constant influx of communication. Otherwise when does work stop and life begin?

It’s important to make considerations when working flexibly while running your business. Ultimately, it will be a personal decision as to which format works best for you. Take some time to set out some ground rules, and you can avoid being overburdened and feeling underwhelmed. As top tip number one is titled – work smart, not long.


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