You’re going to love the commute.
The in-house barista is a bit over-familiar, you’ll risk massive issues if anything goes wrong with the computer, because the IT repair guy has low-level competence, the finance team are forever looking stressed, but that’s nothing compared to the struggle of 4-5 pm when you are on your knees praying nobody will call because the kids have arrived. There are many hats to wear when you work from home – and all of them are yours.
For those of you who haven’t, like me, spent the last decade working from home, café tables, or conducting business meetings from the back seat of your car, welcome.
Remote working sounds like a breeze and the first week or two can seem fabulous, but once deadlines crest over the horizon, we’re going to need a good talk about how to get this work-from-home thing under control.
Google searches I have conducted after I knocking off a couple of pressing work tasks between 2 and 4 am will tell you to establish a healthy routine, dress up and go to work, blah blah blah. All those whitewashed lives with their photo library pictures don’t have kids who need to go to sports practice, or partners who aren’t in chemo, or conflicting meetings with clients who don’t have any idea that you could be doing more than one task at once. Great if you can ignore the world long enough to gaze wistfully out the window, not so great if you value food on the table.
Ultimately, some people like routine, others like flexibility, some like rap and others have musical taste; so I have put together the potted wisdom that comes from a decade of work in or near home. Feel free to follow or discard – either way take time to consider the issues, so you don’t spend as much time reading aimless blogs as I did.
Tips on working from home / from a remote location.
- Get your seating position right. Ergonomics at work are usually good, with height adjustable chairs, monitors at eye height etc etc. Ergonomics at home are usually not so good. I bought a monitor holder a few years back for about $60 and a separate mouse and keyboard – which make my home office ergonomics far better. When stocks return to stores, consider investing, but in the meantime, experiment with boxes or a stack of books - your spine will thank you.
- Resilience is important. Who are you going to talk to? How are you going to get the social contact you enjoy at work? Virtual watercooler conversations can be good, but typing the sorts of things that you say at the watercooler is often a bad idea
- Make Skype and Zoom your friend. Set them up properly, look at the settings, determine how much you can do for free or if you are going to need a subscription, and test your audio and images before you have to have your meetings.
- Use an online project management and planning tool. There are hundreds of project management tools, such as Teamwork, Basecamp, Trello and many of them are free. Try one out to help keep yourself on track – self driven achievement becomes more important
- Don’t spend your day snacking. Snacking can be a temptation. Try drinking water instead, or if you must eat, build up supplies of health foods.
- Find your own rhythm at home. Life without the commute suddenly frees up time, how are you going to use that? The time that you start and stop work may be more flexible – when does it suit you best to work?
- Don’t spend too long browsing online news sites. Being home alone makes many of us feel the need to more constantly stay in touch with what is going on in the outside world, but in reality, you don’t need to know headlines hour by hour.
- Adjust your communication preferences to allow for others. People have very different communication habits, and it can be easy to miss each others’ message and meaning. While many people rely on email, others deliberately avoid email and instead insist on communicating through message boards such as Slack, or online systems within project management tools.
- File storage is boring but critical. Your computer is vulnerable to theft, breakdown or random coffee spillage at home and unless you work out of a cloud-based file storage system, you could have serious trouble recovering your work
- Consider setting up a new cloud-based temporary shared file system. Sharing information with the team and accessing shared files is often difficult, so a new temporary shared file system is worth considering. Look at how you are going to store and share files in a secure way now. It sounds boring and administrative. Until everybody wants to find the budget file from two years ago and it seems to have vanished.
- Prepare for IT challenges. Computer hardware may be slower to replace, as a result of production delays out of china. If your computer goes down, your primary link with the outside world maybe compromised, so consider your back up options in advance
- Supply your home like a mini office. Printing, stapling, hardcopy filing suddenly becomes more onerous at home if you are not used to it. An Officeworks raid may be in order if you fear a community lockdown is in the offing
- Get out of your pyjamas. Try to make your workday feel like your workday, and down time feel like that. If you have multiple spaces in your home, try to make one a work space, so you can adjust.
- Look professional when you are going to be in web meeting. Wear clothes that fit at least the ‘smart casual’ vision that everybody else has of working at home if you are going to do a skype / zoom meeting. Almost nobody believes you are professional if you are wearing a T-Shirt. They won’t see your shorts under the desk, but you do have to make sure the top half of you looks like you know what you are talking about. Also clear the clutter away from the background, or else point your laptop in a different direction, so everybody isn’t looking at the pile of moving boxes you haven’t tackled for the past five years.
- Shut your laptop when you have finished working. It’s a small gesture, but significant – that open screen can tempt your mind back into workmode at any time of day or night, so shutting the lid on your laptop or powering down the screen on your desktop is a very good practice
- Keep the use of heating and air conditioning under control at home, so you don’t blow out your budget. Because you are at home during the day, there is a chance that your utility bills could rise, but the boss isn’t paying for your power.
- Prepare for lots of screen time. Take breaks to give your eyes some recovery time, ensure you have good posture while you spend hours looking at the screen
- Prepare for the mental challenge. It can be lonely, anxious and alienating working from home. Some people love it, others hate it. Extraverted people who thrive in an office environment and people who are not very self-directed can really struggle with remote work.
- Find the joy in people around you. Parents complain about having kids around, partners get to see more of you than they really need in a day – but it’s not easy for them either. Find some points in the day where you can enjoy time together and if you have space, or earplugs, find a quiet zone away from the kids to work
- Exercise. there is a tendency to be pretty sedentary when you are working from home. Take the time to schedule exercise into each day, and make sure you at least get up and walk around the house every hour or two
- Take some time to be grateful for the positives of working at home, even if you are forced into remote working. There are plenty of people dwelling on the negatives around lockdowns, panic buying and the virus. Instead, choose to use a couple of the extra hours you get doing something non work related that you really enjoy, so you can keep some of the focus on the silver lining.
- Take the opportunity to get better at working virtually – it is a great opportunity to re-examine your normal working life – can you build skills in interacting online so that you can reduce your work travel, save on commuting time, or maybe work from home one or two days a week? Not all jobs are suited to working from home, but many can be. Getting skilled at building rapport, clearly communicating and following up after meetings etc is time well spent. It’s not as easy as simply turning on Skype, sitting in front of it and waiting for someone to engage you.
- Identify in advance what to do when the internet is slow or stops. Because we are served by an astonishingly flawed National Broadband Network, the internet inexplicably slows down plenty of times, and the fact that most of the folks in your neighbourhood will now be downloading videos and uploading files all day long will no doubt load additional strain on our hanging-by-a-thread network connections. Work out how you can work offline if you have to. Monthly pay as you go mobile data plans may become necessary. You don’t actually have to be online all day for most jobs
- Be proactive in communicating and setting up meetings with colleagues. People often forget the niceties of checking in, sharing a story or two about the day and understanding what colleagues are going through is a key facet of a healthy workforce environment. Take time to keep connections with colleagues, even though typing hello to an email is not the same feeling you get as you see the smiling faces of your co-workers in the office in the morning. Scanning other advice stories this seems to be frequently described as ‘overcommunicating’. I would avoid overcommunicating, it is really easy to be misconstrued as pushy or annoying.
- Remember virtual communication is really different to life when you are in the same room as someone else. It’s amazing how people cook up different versions of reality while they are waiting for you to connect to your zoom meeting or respond to an email. It’s wise to go a step further if you feel that prickling uncertainty about people’s reactions, and find tactful ways to ask them what they are thinking.
- Identify if some of the productivity tools available online could be useful when you return to the office. Also, take some time to try to measure how much work gets done and compare it to when you are in the office. Identify the strengths and opportunities of remote working and consider how the positives could be adapted to improve your everyday work.
- Read the emails. Lots of people have email fatigue, but you need to read all the emails from the boss, the HR people and those weirdos down in sales because otherwise there is a strong chance you won’t know what is going on. Waiting to be informed about what is going on in a meeting and ignoring your unread queue in your inbox won’t cut it if you want a future after remote working.
- Get a headset. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Most phones come with earbuds which will work as a microphone and speakers. You really need headphones nearby – you never know when your neighbour is going to start jackhammering or your dog goes into a barking frenzy.
- Think of others. Lay aside the office politics – people feel different and often act different in their own homes. Remember that some of your colleagues will find remote working really tough, and showing a bit of empathy doesn’t cost anything.
- Be kind to yourself. Just not too kind. This is a new work environment and there is a lot to adapt to. Give yourself credit for trying to adapt and find ways you can build satisfaction and feelings of achievement that you might normally get from interacting with others. At the same time, you haven’t got a free pass to a holiday. Work still needs to be done, don’t spend too many hours doing that cleaning that you never got round to, or seeing the friends who you neglected for years.
At Twig, we will continue to work at our normal rates with organisations that need our support - just as we always do. We have developed a range of strategies, communications plans and practical support options to help organisations from different sectors through this time and want to contribute to enabling positive, effective online cultures for teams at this challenging time.
Please get in touch if you want help, or just catch up for a virtual coffee. Our Zoom channel is always open.
Tim Winkler is Director of Twig Marketing.