Above: ready to start another day
For millions of people, home is now the office. The days of commuting are over. Welcome to working from home.
Some of us have been doing this for years, although in my case just a day or two a week. COVID-19 has made it permanent – for now.
It’s a very big change, and we shouldn’t assume that the switch to home working is just using your laptop on your kitchen table rather than the office desk. Here are my top tips for effective home working.
Create a suitable home office
Find a suitable quiet spot to work. (Obviously this is easier in a large house than a bedsit.) Ideally this will be a room with a decent work surface, such as a desk or table, and where you can shut out any distractions of home life.
If you share your home with others, make sure they understand that just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you are free to play. (Though this is easier with adults than small children!) Unless you have the whole place to yourself, you might want to wear headphones to avoid that conference call booming across your home.
Make the most of technology
Home working is so much easier now than it was in the past. We have a huge choice of collaboration and communications technology available to make us as effective working from home as in the office. If you work for a company, you’re likely to have the choice of tech made for you. I have found Microsoft Teams excellent, with its mix of video conferencing, file sharing, chat and more. It’s much better than Skype, VMR and Intercall, which I’ve used in the past. Others swear by Zoom. My 11 year old son is now using Teams for remote schooling, and Zoom for online music lessons.
How many of these can you get?
Getting to know how your video conferencing app works will help you, and others!
Effective communication is more important than ever when you can’t meet your own team in person. Don’t rely too much on email. This is a time to talk to people, whether by phone, video calls or chat. Replicate the best practices of office life such as having a (now remote) catch up over coffee. And get rid of the worst aspects of office life, such as those endless email exchanges that could be settled in a fraction of the time with a call.
If you share work within a team, make sure everyone understands who’s doing what. If your team is used to bouncing ideas around across the office, replicate this through your chosen chat and collaboration apps, such as Whatsapp, Slack or Teams.
Take a break
If you’re like me, you’ve suddenly found an extra couple of hours in your day because you’re not commuting. Make the most of any ‘extra’ time you may have. Build a routine that works for you and those around you.
Feed your body and mind: take a proper lunch break, away from your computer. Keep hydrated – by all means have that morning coffee but sip water regularly through the day. And if you have a well stocked kitchen, be careful not to overdo the snacks.
Above: the pleasure of taking a break
I find that I get less exercise working from home – I’m not racing upstairs for meetings, or to the high street for lunch. (And that riverside walk is a fading memory.) This was a real challenge in the crazy first week at home, when my day was full of calls about COVID-19. As soon as I could, I set aside time for a bike ride or walk. (Observing the social distancing rules, naturally.) It makes such a difference when you are feeling stir-crazy. As I blogged recently, treasure your daily exercise, even if it’s on an exercise bike at home. Time to re-start that 30 day plank challenge? And do set boundaries to your working day so far as the crisis allows, and devote quality time to those you live. And remotely with those who don’t.
Dress for success
It’s really important that you dress formally for work, even if your office is now your kitchen table.
Some people will tell you to dress in a suit or similar formal clothes even when you work from home. That seems silly to me. Wear what you feel comfortable in, provided it’s appropriate for any video calls.
Be kind and look after each other
These are worrying times. Apart from fretting about the health risks associated with coronavirus, millions are facing financial turmoil because of the shutdown of normal life. It’s more important than ever for us to look after each other and be kind.
Recognise that people will be under great stress – especially those who find change and uncertainty difficult. In your working life, check that your colleagues are OK. Drop them a message and arrange 1:1 video or audio calls rather than communicating just by email. One of the most thoughtful messages I have had during the outbreak was from a colleague in Milan. She had been in lockdown for some time, and urged me not to take any risks with this awful virus. Knowing how badly Italy had been hit, that message hit home.
Above: Hamster and me
On a lighter note, many teams are arranging virtual fitness classes, meditation and Friday drinks. Not to mention sharing pet photos. Here’s my son’s hamster keeping me company.
None of us knows how long we’ll be working from home. But for now, let’s make the most of it!