While working from home has often been perceived as an easy ride, but with COVID19 suddenly thrusting countless employees away from the comfort zone of an office environment with colleagues on hand, some are finding it a little tough. Having worked from home for 30 years, the last 20 of which at the helm of Manifest Marketing Ltd., I’m a bit of an old hand at it.
Even for me though, where in terms of daily work it’s ‘business as usual’ to some extent (not counting the worrying number of hospitality trade clients who have declared themselves to be ‘on hold’ by necessity for the duration), not having meetings to go out to or anything social to look forward to, is difficult. Not to mention having to suddenly share my work/living space with a partner who usually spends most of his time out or even away in his work.
For the completely uninitiated, I thought I could at least try to provide a few pointers to surviving the transition based on my experience:-
Routine is paramount. If you’re soft on yourself then a full-time job can easily degenerate into a part-time job, which no employee is going to fail to notice. While home working offers fantastic flexibility for time management – in my case the demands of a pony and a dog – it is vitally important to establish set working hours and not allow leisure-time and work-time to merge into a mish-mash. The danger is that you reach the end of normal office working-hours and then feel assuaged with guilt about any time you’ve taken out, so that in turn you can end up robbing yourself of proper relaxation time in an effort to compensate. Remember too that customers and colleagues are likely to want to communicate with you during ‘normal’ working hours and may not wish to be bombarded with a flurry of emails from you at midnight.
It’s important to try to allocate a particular space, ideally away from the social hub of the home, where you can work away from domestic distraction. A spare bedroom may need a bit of re-shuffling to suit but will be far better in the long run than trying to make-do at the kitchen or dining table, for example. Psychologically this separate space allows you to feel you are ‘going to work’ and ‘finishing work’ even if that only means a ten-step commute.
By the same token, consider asking if you can take your office chair and desk home for the duration in order to ensure you are seated correctly. Don’t attempt to produce serious work long-term from the sofa or perched on a kitchen chair.
It is important to take proper breaks during the course of the day. Be careful not to allow yourself to sit for hours concentrating on work and getting stiff because you suddenly find that working without colleagues around is making you super productive – but not so fit. I find my Fitbit is a useful tool to ensure I’m not being too sedentary. Remember your body will be missing the walk to work or from your car to the office and up the office stairs. You need to move around and deliberately ‘leave the office’. Don’t fall into the trap of having your coffee breaks or lunch at your desk just because there’s no one to chat to round the kettle or in a staff canteen. You still need that break. If it’s fine, go outside to drink your brew and get some vitamin D at the same time. Maybe you might multi-task a bit while the kettle is boiling, to hang some washing perhaps. Pets are likely to be glad of some attention.
While strictly speaking you don’t need one, personally I have never been able to cope with the idea of chatting to a client on the phone in my dressing gown; I like to feel decently dressed in order to carry out a professional job. While dressing comfortably and informally for working at home, (not hair-up, suited and booted as I do for seeing clients externally), I do tend to distinguish clothes I wear for working from weekend and evening attire, again primarily to help with the psychological work-leisure divide.
Working from home can be very isolating mentally, which is certainly a greater concern now that external events will no longer be providing a necessary outlet in work and leisure time. We all need some banter and down-time. Thankfully we have the internet and it is going to be important to continue to foster our working relationships online. Local business networks offer support, along with the FSB, and of course, communication with work colleagues. Matt Cornish and I use WhatsApp for quick queries and updates throughout the day as well as phone and email conversations. Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Skype provide the resources to look people in the eye as the next best thing to real meetings but without the necessary travel and associated risk.
Although COVID19 has rather forced the issue, working from home is on the increase and is an attractive proposition for some businesses. While some companies may have been deterred by the logistics of making the switch, this temporary period may facilitate a more lasting transition. It has the potential to be a positive outcome for both employers and employees alike, while also helping to combat climate change by reducing our carbon footprints. Every cloud has a silver lining.