Working from home can seem like a luxury to many who do not get the chance to do so often, or indeed at all. We are sharing our 7 tips to help you be productive and to work successfully from home. Many people will not have had to work remotely before and it can be a challenge to change from an office to the home environment to work. There are distractions, pressures, communication issues to sort out. Our tips will help you navigate the questions you should ask in order to start working from home.
The impact of COVID-19 globally has triggered businesses to invoke their business continuity plan (BCP), the prevention and recovery from potential threats to a company. The plan ensures that staff and assets are protected and are able to function quickly in the event of a disaster including asking staff to work remotely from home.
TIP 1 – Set up a space that feels like you’re working in an office
Many people will not have a space at home that can be used for work. The couch may seem like the most logical and comfortable place, but in reality, it puts pressure and stress on your body and does not allow you to feel like you’re fully focussed.
If you have a dining table clear everything off it except your work needs. It can be helpful to add something green like a small plant to allow the table to be seen as more than just where you eat (or store lots of your things!). It is helpful to have a keyboard and mouse plus a larger computer screen if you have one available, or your company can assist you in securing these items.
Find the best chair that you have available to keep you comfortable and sitting as ergonomically correct as possible. You may need to carry out a risk assessment on your potential working space to make sure it will be sufficient to work in.
If you do not have a laptop, you will need to address this with your office before working from home. We strongly advise you not to use your own devices to work – there are security and liability issues. If you do plan to use your own devices, talk to your company about liability and responsibility. Be wary of using your personal emails to forward work information. You may not have the same facilities such as printing at home as you do in an office, but you should never forward work emails to a personal account for the purposes of shortcutting your work procedures.
We recommend you check your insurance policy and update this to include a home-working element. Don’t be liable for your company’s property whilst working from home. Agree in advance with your company of what responsibility you have for working from home and your liability for company property. Accidents happen so keep yourself protected.
TIP 2 – Keep to your normal working hours
The danger of working from home is the temptation to change your working hours as you have a lot more flexibility of time. We recommend you keep your hours as structured as you can as it will help you to feel like you’re in your usual working environment.
Your household chores should not be done in work hours. It’s tempting to pop on a load of washing or clean something, but only use your break times to deal with anything personal.
Finish work at the same time at home as you would if you were leaving the office. Don’t accept calls out of work hours, or feel that you should do more hours the usual just because you have access to your work.
If you have deliverables to meet you may find that you struggle to focus, or you may end up delivering ahead of schedule. It can take months to get used to being able to focus while working from home, and it can be very difficult to adapt to the freedom of a home environment. Try to keep yourself as focussed as possible by keeping as much of the normality of a standard working day.
There is a lot of flexibility around working from home and if you can focus during your most productive hours you can really get the most out of home working. But, if you struggle to keep yourself focussed because you have a lot more flexibility and distractions, stick as much as you can to your work routine (including breaks).
TIP 3 – Make sure you can access all the files you need remotely
Working from home requires the ability to access your work as if you are there. Traditional office-based roles are now in the age of being able to work almost completely online, so wherever you work you should be able to connect to your information. If you cannot access your information remotely, there is no way you can be effective outside the office.
Even with the ability to use large external drives to take a copy of files, you still need to have a process of tracking what you update and re-import it – this is never a good solution, causes file conflicts, overwriting data and is ultimately a security issue which can be a sackable offence.
If you need to do a home-working test run first, agree on this with your manager and check you have the capability to work from home. If your company closes its office due to COVID-19 or any other emergency and you are not able to deliver your work from home adequately, this needs to be discussed in advance. You need to be very clear what your ability is to deliver and your responsibilities to your company.
TIP 4 – Check your internet connection is fast enough to use for work
Not only do you need access to your emails, work files, etc. but you also need to make sure your internet connection can handle your ability to work. It needs to be able to allow you to access files, hold calls via online tools and operate multiple systems together. Companies will pay a lot of money for top connection, but your connection at home is likely to be much less robust. A call to your internet provider should give you clarity on what strength of connection you have or need to work without interruption. You can also check your connectivity speed using Speedtest.net.
TIP 5 – Get dressed!
The joys of being able to work in your pyjamas when you’re at home… until there is a request for a video call and then you’re a bit stuffed! Have a shower and get dressed – this will help to get you in a frame of mind to work. Not only does it make you feel more prepared for the day but you will act differently when dressed for work versus an outfit you sleep in.
TIP 6 – Keep in contact with your co-workers
Although you may think you’ll feel isolated working from home, it’s really not true. If you speak to people throughout the day in your office, keep that process from your home. Agree on a tool to communicate throughout your team and stick with it. Skype, WhatsApp, Slack, Microsoft Teams are all programmes that will allow you to chat and call easily online to others in your team. Make sure you have phone numbers, email addresses and/or communication IDs in advance of starting to work from home!
If you don’t usually get calls during the day, then suddenly you’re inundated, you may start to feel overwhelmed. You need to discipline yourself on what are important calls to make and receive and what are unnecessary. You may find that you gain a lot of time as you don’t have as many random conversations with colleagues that suck up your time or colleagues popping by for a chat.
It may help to ask someone from your team to be your home working buddy. Make sure you speak to them daily about how it’s going, talk through your thoughts on progress and use your buddy as a sounding board to get past potential procrastination. It’s too easy to just email rather than talk, pick up the phone as it prevents emails back and forth that could be resolved in a quick conversation.
If you miss the noise of an office, keep a radio or TV on but with something that you don’t really want to watch or listen to. You want to be able to enjoy the noise but without focussing on it. Keep your use of social media to a minimum as you can really lose time without being aware of it.
TIP 7 – Enjoy your space but set boundaries
The family will be a big distraction when you work from home. There is no way around it. Plan with your family of how you can work from home effectively, either by being able to close a door to your workspace, setting rules for interruptions and adjusting your time to suit when you may be interrupted. There is no benefit to you of having a call where you need to focus at the time when your family arrives home so hold any calls during your alone hours.
If you have children, be prepared to adjust to their schedules. This may be that you need to work during later hours when the children are asleep, earlier in the morning, or coordinate with other families who are also working from home to share parental responsibilities. Although we encourage you in TIP 2 to work during your usual work hours, it’s important to talk to your household about what you need and manage expectations with your colleagues.
There is great flexibility to working from home but also a responsibility to manage yourself. If you feel that you need to go for a walk, do it. Fancy a cup of tea? Have one. It can be very exciting to work from home and one that we hope is very rewarding for you. We hope our tips will add value to your experience.
Louisa Stewart has worked from a home environment for 8 years as a virtual assistant and as Co-Director of Blue Ninja Business Support which she co-manages with Julie Taylor. Julie Taylor has worked flexibly including from home for 9 years, working in financial services for 2 of the 4 largest banks in the UK.