As the UK and many other countries around the globe grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak, the push for people to work from home has never been greater. Remote working is rapidly becoming the new norm for many people. But how do you make a success of working from home? After over eight years of home working from a spare bedroom on the isle of Lewis, Taylor Edgar - now living and working in Viet Nam – gives his top ten tips for surviving the transition from office to home.
Read more of his blog on https://hanoi177.wordpress.com/
1) Create a proper work station for yourself, preferably in a spare room if you have one. Do not be tempted to set up camp on your sofa or at the kitchen table. For one thing, the ergonomics are all wrong, and you will end up with a sore back. Trust me on this. A desk and an adjustable chair are much preferable. And more likely to get you to focus on the tasks at hand.
2) Get into a working-from-home mindset from the outset. Remote working is not a skive from the office or a licence to slack off. Set a proper routine and work normal office hours as far as possible. Get dressed in the morning. Do not slob around in your pyjamas all day. I heard of one man who would put on his business suit, work around the block for ten minutes, then go back home and straight into his home office in work mode. If it works, why not? While working remotely offers a fair amount of flexibility, it does require a significant degree of self-discipline to be successful. My routine was a 20-minute walk with the dog after the school bus, back home to make coffee and a shuffle in my slippers to my home office with the dog. She would park herself under the desk until 11 am, which apparently was coffee time. To be fair, she had a vested interest. I would take my coffee mug outside and throw her tennis ball until I had finished drinking.
3) Pre-COVID-19, remote working was often viewed as somewhat of a novelty by many people. From the get-go set boundaries for your family, neighbours and friends. Decline requests to keep an eye on the washing if it rains (I wouldn’t notice unless the rain was fire hosing on to the window), dissuade people from popping in for a coffee and chat during office hours and get used to saying that you are not on holiday when spotted walking the dog at lunchtime.
4) If you are using your personal laptop at home, rather than an office supplied device, create a separate login account to keep your work stuff separate. It will prove much less messy later and makes it easier to keep track of your work files and documents. Your company may have a policy in place regarding remote working, so study this carefully.
5) Working from home can be isolating. Keep yourself in the loop at work by ensuring you respond to emails as soon as you login in the morning. Make sure you are visible by having Skype, or whatever instant messaging service you use at work, load at startup. It’s easy to forget and then wonder two hours later why no one has messaged you. Create a separate Skype account for work, if you haven’t done so already. It’s the cleanest solution and you can log out at the close of business. Ensure your mobile phone is switched on, charged up and that the ringtone is not set to silent or plane mode. That said, don’t get bogged down in a protracted group chat or texting with your mate at work. Touch base, discuss what you are planning to do that day, and then get on with it. Be responsive to business-related messages throughout the day, or people may assume you are lying on the couch watching a box set on Netflix.
6) At the end of the day, be sure to drop an email to your line manager to sign off and flag up what you have achieved and what you plan to do the following day. From a business perspective, it helps your employer to monitor who is doing what and when, and plan accordingly.
7) With fewer distractions, particularly if you are home alone, you will be surprised just how much more you can get done. However, be careful to close the door on the office at knocking off time or you discover that you don’t switch off completely.
8) Make proper childcare arrangements. You cannot work from home and be a childminder at the same time. One summer school holiday when my kids were young, I began timing the frequency of their interruptions. It averaged out at one interruption every five and a half minutes. Nothing meaningful can be done in five and a half minutes, so I gave up on my work that day.
9) Don’t rely on your dog as a sounding board. Every idea will be fantastic. It’s important to talk occasionally to a real person face (mask) to face (mask). When I was remote working, I could go all day not speaking to a soul after the kids left on the school bus as I would use email or instant messaging. It’s important for your state of mind to maintain good connections with your network and not let the highlight of your work week become the arrival of the Stag Bakery van. Pie Wednesday was a thing.
10) Be aware, too, of procrastination and distraction creeping up on you. Remind yourself that no one is paying you to contemplate your navel, follow that interesting thread on Twitter or look out the window. A mortgage is effective in focusing your attention in these circumstances. But, on the other hand, don’t get too anxious or stressed out without the comfort blanket of office banter and coffee time chats. Eat healthily and keep hydrated. Be aware, too, that working from home can be a rollercoaster of emotions. One day remote working will be the best thing ever and other days a dark pit, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
If you can implement these ten things effectively, there’s no reason you can’t make remote working a success, and keep your mental health intact.