For many years now there has been a trend towards working from home. This has mainly been driven by advances in communication technology, the worsening in commuter-traffic, the growth in skills-based businesses, and a global drive for more flexibility in work and in life generally. Right now though, in April 2020, there is a new and powerful driver here: Coronavirus. In almost all countries all non-essential workplaces have closed and so for many of us, if we do not work from home, we do not work.
For many people working-from-home is a new experience altogether. For others it might not be new, but the extent of it (all the time, every day) surely is. So let’s offer a few tips on how to work effectively from home.
Before we get to the practical tips, let’s just remind ourselves of the basic idea in our work: we are paid to add or create value. Companies exist to create value, which might be in the form of tangible physical products, valuable services, abstract ideas, or combinations of these. Company revenue ultimately depends on offering value. All employees are paid to add or create value, or at least to support those who do. We all need to understand what value we need to add, because ultimately this is how we measure our contribution, and this is what we are paid for. This point becomes especially critical when working from home – because managers cannot really micro-manage (small task by small task) remotely, we have to do that bit (the micro-managing) ourselves. And that starts with a clear understanding of what it is (what measurable value) we need to deliver. If you’re not clear on that, we suggest you read no further and rather contact your employer or manager to discuss just that, first.
Now, how about some practical tips on working from home:
- Set goals. We’ve all heard this advice before, whether to do with exercise, weight loss, savings, dream-holidays, or whatever. Clear goals are important. When it comes to working from home we suggest you have clear goals for each week and for each day – you could (and probably should) discuss these with your colleagues and managers but either way, you should start each week and each day with a clear list of what you want to complete.
- Create a home “office”. Most of us do not have a dedicated study or home-office but it is still possible, and important, to have a dedicated work-space. It may be a corner in the lounge, part of the dining room table, a spare bedroom used as an office, but in some way you should create a work-space that is only used, for work! Ideally you’ll want an upright chair and a solid surface (desk or table).
- Have a schedule. It is true that there is some real flexibility when working from home. You can have time to collect the kids from school, attend to chores, and do some exercise, etc. But we really would suggest that you have a daily schedule that you stick to, at least mostly. Many will find that 2 work-sessions of 3-4 hours each day works quite well, while others break up their work into smaller slots of perhaps only an hour or two at a time. Any approach can work but something consistent day-to-day will really help. It’s probably best to start with a schedule that is similar to your in-office schedule, and develop your preferences from there.
- Do not cheat. We know how tempting it might be to take a few short cuts now that the boss is not watching. Start late, finish early, take off Fridays, etc. We have all thought about it or done it at times. This is a bad idea. The reality is that your employer knows what you can and should be delivering and is able, usually, to measure your contribution quite accurately. Cheating will catch up with you sooner or later and once your employer loses trust in you, you’ll struggle to recover. Better to see this as an opportunity to demonstrate just how mature and committed you actually are.
- Minimize distractions. Which distractions tend to affect you most? Maybe you get caught up doing household chores, or suffer interruptions from family. Beating these distractions could be as simple as shutting the door for a while. What’s important is to discuss this with your family and have clear “house rules” about managing work-time.
- Control your social media. Think carefully about which notifications to keep on, and which to mute until later. Allocate time slots for checking your phone. And, if you’re still struggling, see if you cannot mute your phone for a few hours on intervals. This is a big one for many people and so we strongly suggest you give careful thought to this area.
- Dress for success. It’s tempting to work in your pyjamas isn’t it? Most experts suggest that you should avoid this. Having a work dress-code, even when working from home, helps us to focus on our work. Now, we’re not suggesting you need to wear your best business suit, your high heels, full make-up, and shiny shoes every day, but some sort of “home-work-dress-code” helps many to be comfortable, focussed, and productive.
- Master your tech. It’s inevitable that working-from-home means using technology. You’ll almost certainly have a computer, perhaps a printer, an Internet connection, etc. You’ll be using the standard email, word-processing, spread sheet and presentation software, just like you do at the office. But you’ll also be using communication apps like Skype, Zoom, Whats-App (we strongly suggest you try the desktop version), and more. Your “IT guy” is not at home with you so you’ll need to manage and maintain all this yourself. There are ways to get remote support (Team Viewer for example) but you will need to manage on your own more than before. This is actually an empowering opportunity to embrace.
- Communicate. Working from home can lead to a sense of isolation, which may be a problem for some of us and certainly for those of us who work in teams. You’ll need clear communication channels but managers will generally put these in place (e.g. weekly telecon meetings, brief daily updates, regular one-on-ones, etc.). But you’ll want, and sometimes need, to bounce ideas around with colleagues and you should still do this. It’s just a question of doing it differently, so instead of a quick informal chat at the coffee station, you’ll make a phone call or send a text message. Don’t become a work-hermit!
- Back up. It is possible that your work-computer was automatically backed-up by the IT team. This might not happen now you’re at home, which is quite a big risk – ask anyone who has lost their work computer and they’ll tell it is a life-changing catastrophe. It may be that your IT folks can arrange remote back-up solutions but you might just need to resort to the “old school” approach of using a simple external hard drive to back up your files. Either way, back up your work!
- Switch off. Do not over-work. Sounds crazy? Well it isn’t. Many people who work form home, especially ambitious people, struggle to stop working once work is at home, all day and every day. They end up checking email at bed-time, working on Saturdays, working late into the night, etc. Do not fall into this trap. Create a reasonable schedule and stick to it. If you intend to knock-off at 6pm, do just that and leave your computer alone until the morning. There is nothing wrong with a bit of extra effort now and again but do not let work take over your whole life just because it is always there at home.
This is undoubtedly an incomplete list – whole books have been written on this topic! So please add your own ideas and comments below and let’s see if we can learn from each other, even as we’re physically far from each other.