The effects of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) are really beginning to take effect at the moment, with one of those being that many people who previously commuted to and worked in an office are working from home, some for the first time.
While this ‘working from home’ scenario may only last for a relatively short time, don’t be surprised if many businesses and companies embrace the whole remote working idea in future forward.
I have worked from home for over 10 years now, and quite frankly I love it. Along with setting up in business, it was always one of my ideals It suits my style of work, personality, and role with my clients.
However it is not for everyone and in my experience there are certain traits you need to have to make it work. So if you are about to start working from home, here’s a few useful tips for adapting to a remote work environment.
This is the probably the most important aspect and will go a long way to being happy, productive and successful.
Working from home introduces a whole host of new distractions and situations that may entice you away from your job and tasks.
There is the common idea among many that you won’t actually work – or as much as – than being at the office if you are at home. The whole ‘oh, you are working from home are you’ with a slight hint of sarcasm and insinuation that you will not actually be working. However, if you can stay on task then you may find you actually get more done at home compared to being in the office; if you can avoid the distractions.
One big key for new home-based workers is the ability to shift from home to work mode, while not actually leaving the house. The daily commute and office setting help people make this transition. But, if you work from home, your commute may simply involve getting out of bed and walking to your home office or kitchen table. Yes, it may feel a bit strange initially and this is where discipline needs to first kick in. You have to make the switch and be able to stay focused during the day, especially when distractions like the TV, dog (or in my case, Bruce the cat), kids, wife/husband/partner are right there.
Yet there is also a flip side to this. People who work from home can also fall into a situation where they are now at the ‘office’ all the time. It may suddenly become easier to work earlier and later every day (and I have to admit I have been guilty of that in the past, largely to client demand more than anything).
The solution? Simply stick to the same work hours you had as if you were in the office, that way you find a way to keep some level of balance between your work and home life. The danger otherwise is that you may find your evening family time might now be pushed aside in order to answer emails or generally working on work. Find ways to stay focused while you are ‘at work’ but also unplug after hours.
Set up your own office space
To help with being disciplined – and to help separate your work from home life - is to set up a specific place in your home to function as your dedicated workspace. Ideally you may have a dedicated home office with a door you can close off from everything else. However not everyone has a spare room so look for another area of your home that can feel separate from the rest of the house.
There is obviously the opportunity to have laptop and work from the couch in your living room, but that presents the chance for the most distractions during the day. So perhaps look at setting up a small desk in the corner of your bedroom, or in the dining room (the latter of which I first started from all those years ago). Whichever space you can find and choose, try to set up a semi-permanent location that you can class as your ‘office’ and it should help you with the separation from the rest of your home.
One challenge that many remote workers encounter is feeling disconnected from their company and co-workers and potentially even loneliness. For one, you are not going to be able to walk over to a team member’s office (or vice versa) and have a quick chat about a work matter or anything else.
However, in addition to email and the good old medium of telephone, there are many communication and collaboration tools that can help keep people connected. Platforms like Slack or similar chat-based systems are great for keeping team members connected on work-related topics, plus providing a social outlet for just catching up and chatting about personal topics.
Then there are the various online meeting and conferencing platforms out there. See more on this recent article here. Skype and Google Hangouts are probably the most well-known to everyone, but Zoom is also a very good platform and from personal experience and usage one I would recommend.
While all these don’t make a complete replacement for in-person contact, they can go a long way toward helping home workers feel more connected.
Take and enjoy the positives
Whilst it may seem there are several challenges to working from home, I have found there are also plenty of benefits; in fact more than I first anticipated.
One of the biggest boons about working from home in my opinion. If you spend 1-2 or more hours per day in the car or on a bus or train (even a plane) just getting to and from work, you get all that time (and cost) back into your day. The thought of doing the commute 5 or however many times a week fills me with dread and is enough motivation to keep me working from home effectively and efficiently.
No dress code
Want to wear shorts and a t-shirt to work every day? Chances are you have that option when you work from home. Admittedly you may want to make more of an effort if you have a conference or video call to co-workers or clients, but essentially be comfortable. Whilst some days I am very much a sport shirt and shorts man, there are some days where I opt for a shirt and trousers or jeans, and it does make a difference to your demeanour and output.
You choose your office environment and atmosphere
Like a bit of music to get you through the day? Or want the heat turned up or down or window open? Your home environment is now also under your control for your work environment.
Those are just for starters. Other benefits that now present themselves by working from home include a quick trip to the shops or town centre, doing a load of laundry during the day, or taking care of other quick household jobs. These and many other stoppages are great for when you need a short break to refresh the mind and thinking, and to break the day up. You do need that time away from work and the laptop or PC sometimes, simply just to recharge and refresh. It does make a difference for when you get back on task.
Unless work demands it, I go out for a lunchtime swim most days, often combined with a bike ride or a walk out in the back fields or by the canal. And there have been plenty of times when the kids have forgotten their lunch and books for school that a quick bike or walk to drop them off is needed (although that won’t be required for a while with schools now closed too). All of these benefits – and you will probably think of more - you don’t find available when you are in the office.
Working from home simply isn’t for everyone and many people who are now required to work remotely in the upcoming weeks – possibly months - may find it not to their liking. In fact they might be glad when lockdown restrictions are eased and they are able to go back to their old working routine at the office. On the other hand many will enjoy the experience and see the positives from working from home. They may even look to continue working from home either permanently or at least more often than previously, and companies may see it as a positive move for the future too.
If you have started to work from home or are about to, I hope the points I have mentioned help you along the way.