Learning and the home-based professional

October 2002

Keeping up to date is important for all professionals. For the home-based professional, whether an employee or self-employed, there are some special issues to consider.

Often the reasons for choosing to work from home are related to productivity, for example, saving time by not commuting, not "wasting" time at the office with interruptions, extended meetings and chats by the coffee machine. In an effort to focus on our productivity, we sometimes focus on getting the golden eggs and not on looking after the goose that lays the golden eggs. In other words, by neglecting to look after our productive capacity, we will eventually lose our ability to produce.

One of the important aspects of our capacity to produce is learning and keeping up to date. Time is a very real issue here, simply because it takes time to read, communicate and learn.

Another problem with maintaining our skill level is the lack of informal contact with others. In a traditional workplace, a lot of infomal learning takes place just by being in the same building as others, not to mention the on-the-job or formal training that most employees get as part of their normal work routine. As a home-based employee, it is easy to miss out on the informal learning. Over time, this erodes your skill and therefore your professionalism.

As a self-employed home-based professional, the situation is often even more challenging. There is no one else looking after your professional development. It is completely up to you, and it costs both time and money.

So what are the answers? While there is no one right way, below are a few tips you might like to try. Everyone has a different learning style, so you might find some better than others. If you haven't tried one of them before, give it a try. Even if it sits outside your preferred learning method, your circumstances may not allow you to stick to your comfort zone. You may need to try something new, just to keep up.

  • Subscribe to e-zines (electronic magazines) and newsletters
    Short and easy to read, these often contain snippets of information you might find useful. Don't forget to forward them to business associates if the information is relevant. This is a great way of keeping in touch and improving your networking.
  • Seminars - both paid and free
    The quality of seminars can vary, but just because it is free doesn't mean that the quality is poor. Also, the networking is often just as important (if not more so) than the content of the seminar itself, so make sure you talk to people!
  • Industry or professional associations
    These often have programs aimed directly at professional development. Again, make the most of any networking opportunities these present.
  • Teach
    One of the best ways to learn is to teach. Offer to do a free presentation, write an article, or teach at the local TAFE or community education centre.
  • Formal courses - you have a choice here between courses that offer assessment, and those that are for information and training only. Information is useful, but is passive. Putting the effort into producing the required assessment tasks is active and puts the information into context. With current assessment standards, you can often negotiate an assessment task to be directly relevant to your work, making it far more useful as a learning tool, and keeping you productive as well.
  • Tapes and audio CDs
    For any busy professional, tapes and audio CDs are a very useful tool, especially for motivation and inspiration. Traditionally listened to while commuting to work, they may not seem as relevant for the home-based professional. But what about time preparing dinner, or putting away the washing? Not much brainpower required for that, so there's plenty left over for listening to tips and techniques from the experts!
  • World wide web
    The information available on the world wide web is astounding. Almost every subject is covered. For general awareness and access to thought-provoking material, the Internet is hard to beat. For serious research, you will need to check the credibility of the information source.
  • Books, magazines, newspapers and television
    Let's not forget traditional media. It is a lot more comfortable sitting on a chair by the fire and reading the newspaper than staying glued to the computer screen for hours on end. Traditional media remain an important source of learning and a basis for interesting conversation with friends, which brings us to our next point.
  • Talk to people!
    Don't forget to make the most of informal social contacts for keeping current. You can even identify some of the strengths and interest areas of your friends and colleagues that may be useful to you. Make a conscious effort to ask them about these areas - it's a great way of getting the condensed version from someone who has got the time and interest to research the information. Try to offer something in return, or offer assistance first and see what comes back. And wherever you can, talk to the experts. The gems of wisdom you might get from a few minutes with an expert are often invaluable.

Most important of all, make the time to learn, expand your mind and be open to new ideas. Working from home has some tremendous advantages, but it is all too easy to become isolated and out of touch.

You are never too old to learn and you can never know all there is to know. Learning is fun, motivating and helps you to keep your momentum and professionalism. So take on the challenge and try a new way of learning this week!