How to work effectively from home.
Working from home can be one of those “grass is greener” situations. From a distance, it looks ideal. No travel; loll around in your nightwear and take breaks whenever you feel like it.
That’s OK if you’re freelance and working for yourself.
It is definitely not OK for a regular paid job.
Many companies are rolling out obligatory work-from-home policies to protect you from COVID-19. Inconvenient as it may be, you need to treat that situation as the privilege it is. It is not a punishment or a perk.
To stay productive and contribute to the smooth running and well-being of your team and the business that employs you, you’ll probably need to work harder, smarter and more professionally than ever before. This may well be in an environment that’s far from ideal. And the key to it all is communication – staying in touch!
If you’re a seasoned work at home pro with a proper office and work routine, you’ll be all over it.
But, first-timers will find there are countless contradictions.
- You’ll experience the exhilaration of ‘freedom,’ but you may also feel untethered, isolated, ignored and lonely. And, loneliness can make people feel less motivated and less productive.
- Or the reverse will happen. And everyone you live with – or those from your extended family – will decide your at-home presence is their signal to claim your attention. And that’s not only children! Be careful: giving in to this can cost you your job.
- Communication fallout is a menace. You’ve set up your lines of contact. But then, the cracks appear. You have work to do and need another piece of information to begin. Why isn’t anyone responding to your request? Where are they? What’s going on? Frustration builds …
- Temptation abounds. Unless you set a clear schedule and focus unerringly, there will be endless enticements to fight off. Another cuppa? “ A few minutes” with Twitter, Snapchat or FB. A bunch of personal phone calls – things you’d never consider doing in the office. It’s time stealing, unethical and dishonest. And again it can cost you your job.
- You’ll miss conversation, collaboration and competition. Humans are social beings – and working alone is not an ideal situation. The urge to overcompensate by distance chatting can be a real danger …
But there are some simple ways to make working at home almost as good as it’s cracked up to be.
Start by setting up a dedicated area for work. It needs to have a table for your devices and a chair for you. Good lighting and relative peace and quiet are also mandatory. (It’s hard to work when next door is renovating and over-the-road is ripping out the landscaping!) Soft music helps mask outside distractions. Oh yes, and ideally you need a door that shuts.
Draw the line and stay professional. This IS your job. So, present casually but just as smartly as you would for your normal office. Get up and get ready for work in the usual way.
Start on time. Keep a timesheet where you mark start & finish times, breaks, any major interruptions and the work you have done that day.
Sort your communications from Day One. You might begin each day with a quick virtual meeting with your supervisor; there may be someone who can provide you with a list of what’s expected from your desk that day. Or you may have a WIP, huddle or touch-base meeting with your group.
Make sure that some of the time when you do communicate with your boss and team from home, it’s face-to-face via video calls or Skype. Take the time to send off quick messages to others in your position – even if you have to do that outside of regulated hours.
Think about Plan B. Situations can change rapidly: ISP’s and laptops do go down so you may need (private) phone numbers for key people – perhaps even your boss.
Also, make sure you have a Technical Help Desk or person that you can reach even when there are ISP outages. Nothing is more daunting than when you’re working at home; your equipment goes down; you don’t know how to fix it and the only resources are on-line (which of course you no longer have!)
Think security. Your employer will direct you here but make sure you take every precaution and make use of every resource offered. This is not a time to be slack about systems and procedures. And you must back up, back up, back up.
Set sensible breaks e.g. for lunch. It’s likely these will need to be more flexible than usual. So, make sure that your manager and others know when you’re breaking and when you’ll be back.
Set boundaries. BBC News says: “With a dedicated workspace where you can concentrate, it becomes easier to unlock the benefits of remote work. In a survey of 7,000 workers last year by FlexJobs, 65% said they’re more productive working from home, citing benefits like fewer interruptions from colleagues, minimal office politics and reduced stress from commuting.”
Clear the decks. It’s almost impossible to work effectively with young children in the house. But if you must, make sure they are under good supervision (so you’re not distracted) and that they’re trained to understand what the closed door to your office means. Of course, this is all another unknown that will change radically if the schools and kindies are closed.
Look on the bright side. According to the experts, any difficulties experienced through mandatory working from home are likely to get worse rather than better, the longer the situation is sustained.
Some predict that ‘stir crazy’ sets in after about three weeks. But as someone who has worked both sides of that fence both in numerous work situations and off-site – frequently for years at a time – that’s actually arrant nonsense.
Stay cool, remember you’re a professional, do what you need to maintain optimum focus. Keep both the professional ‘water cooler’ lines of communication open, alive and well and the rest will take care of itself!