Working from home was once a “perk” awarded to those who could be trusted to work autonomously, by progressive employers who had the foresight to have a remote working policy. Businesses needed to ensure that they had the correct technology in place to allow their remote staff to operate effectively and securely, all whilst senior management needing to develop a mindset that their staff could still be effective whilst working remotely.
Although flexible working policies were becoming increasing more commonplace in recent times, due to technology advancement enabling us to connect to our corporate environments more seamlessly, from almost anywhere, there is no doubt that something like a global viral pandemic is a sure way to transform the way we work. Since the first signs of Covid-19 we have seen a massive progression in both the adoption of technology, also some business management strategy and policy around a remote workforce. The concept has shifted from “perk” to “essential” to ensure the survival of many businesses.
This blog is simply to share few tips and tricks to help get the most out of this time, where many people have no option but to work from home. The blog focuses both on work productivity, and a personal wellbeing / life perspective, which are both equally important currently. Hopefully some of my experience in this area can assist in alleviating some of the challenge of lockdown and help create a more positive experience whilst we are forced to be at home.
The reason I choose this topic to blog about is that I have had a decent amount of experience working from home, after being temporarily displaced from my place of work by the 2010 Christchurch earthquake and then indefinitely after the 2011 quakes, I was abruptly thrown into a work from home world, for a period of 18 months. Subsequently, I moved to a role that allowed for working from home on a regular basis. Obviously, more recently, everyone who is in a role where you can work from home, needs to do so, to keep industry alive during this unprecedented modern day global pandemic.
I still often hear people say that they don’t enjoy working from home, because they find it disruptive to their routine, or they are not as effective, or they would just rather be in the office surrounded by colleagues. So, I want to share a few relevant tips and tricks that I have learnt from regularly working from home for the last decade to try and alleviate the “work from home blues” and hopefully turn the experience into a positive one
Work from home tips:
· Equip yourself with the right hardware – Most people find it very hard to work on a single small screen PC with no peripherals attached. In my opinion it is very difficult to work at home for any sustained period without having the correct peripherals. This will differ for every type of role (i.e. accountants and engineers will have a different basic need than a salesperson) but I believe that having an external (dual) monitor, a laptop stand, a good Teams capable headset, external mouse and keyboard and enough USB ports to run them all as well as a comfortable workspace and chair, is a great start to a good work from home set up.
· Dedicate a workspace – It can be hard to dedicate an area for a workspace, especially for those with smaller living spaces and those with partners and families all trying to compete for space to work from home and do online School from home. But it is my belief that having a dedicated space to set up your work hardware is very important for routine and productivity. Ideally the space will be at a desk and not at the dining room table, or a place where you must keep moving your work equipment and setting it up again. Even if you set up on a trestle table or a stack of beer crates, it is preferable to working on your knee on the couch.
A picture of my dedicated work from home space below.
· Keep to your work routine. If you start work at 8am and finish at 5pm normally, keep to the same routine. There is a temptation to work longer from home due to your work being so “accessible” when your computer is constantly set up in the next room. Don’t fall into the trap of going back and logging in after dinner unless you really have to. Try to stick to a similar routine as you normally do when you work in the office, take your planned breaks and follow a structure.
· Ensure Good Network Connectivity - This sounds obvious, but there is nothing more frustrating than trying to work with poor network, often it is only at times when we strain our network (i.e. there are 5 people all at home on video calls) that we realise our home network set up may not be up to the task. Given we have a wealth of fibre riches in this country and our telco core networks are generally very robust and have sufficient capacity, most of the issues with network performance are related to under performing home wi-fi. Many people are only running a single telco provided router / wi-fi access point, which may be installed at one end of the house, far away from your dedicated workspace. This may be fine for a couple of TV's running Netflix, but may not be suitable to effectively run 5 simultaneous video calls. If you are having network issues it is worth investing in additional hardware to extend your home wi-fi network. Or better still if it is possible to run ethernet cables to your important devices it is advisable to get the most out of your network connection.
· Got some time – Do some planning – They say; "failing to plan, is planning to fail." Planning is something that often gets put on the back-burner when we get really busy, it shouldn’t, but it often does. So, if you find yourself in a position over lockdown where things are getting a bit quiet, taking some time to plan for your work life post lockdown is a great way to spend some time.
If your role doesn’t involve the need for planning, try to advance your skill set, many businesses have training budgets, so lockdown is an ideal time to do some formal training and study. If there is no budget and you have some time, there is a wealth of free training content for almost every industry on the internet.
1) Enjoy the luxury of time – When times are “normal”, how often do we find ourselves saying “I would do that, if I had more time”. Invariably in lockdown we have more time on our hands, as we don’t have to commute to and from work, we don’t have to drop kids at activities or have activities to go to ourselves. Put simply, we don’t have to physically be anywhere at any given time, which ultimately means we have more time on our hands. So, use the time effectively. Do that thing you have been meaning to “get around to”. Start that project on the house, garden, or invest some time in yourself and your family. Any of these things will give you a sense of satisfaction and hopefully help beat the lockdown blues.
2) Be social – This sounds like an oxymoron when we are all locked in our bubble, but lockdown is a great time to reconnect with distant friends. People who are normally flat out and hard to catch up with in “normal life” often have some time on their hands in lockdown. Modern video conferencing and network technology has opened up a world of remote communication that we never had in the past. So, organize a video call over a drink and reconnect with people. Organize online Friday drinks, a quiz night or even a talent show with the work team. Just because we are locked in our bubble doesn’t mean you need to lose contact with people, in-fact it can be quite the opposite.
3) Chill – Take some time to enjoy a slower pace of life and enjoy some time to relax. It is hard to find time in our very busy everyday lives, so, take some time to enjoy some “chill time”. Music and video content has never been more accessible through online streaming services, so reconnect with that album you grew up listening too, or that movie you watched 10 times and loved in your teenage years. Essentially the message here, is reconnect with a former passion that may have faded due to the pace of normal everyday life.
4) Exercise – Personally I am not a great one at exercise! But there is never a better time to start a fitness regime than in early spring, when there are not many other options for physical activity (i.e. scheduled sports and activities). There are plenty of online fitness programs that are tailored to every different body shape and fitness level, so get involved and get active. This is a major from a mental health and personal wellbeing point of view.
To summarise, as frustrating as lockdowns can be, they don’t need to be a negative experience both from a work and a personal point of view. If you put the right tools and processes in place, a lockdown can be a productive time, that can be good for the soul, with a slower pace of life and some extra time on our hands.
I acknowledge it can be a real challenge particularly as days turn in to weeks, and for those who are juggling home schooling of children as well as trying to work, but hopefully these few tips can assist in alleviating some of the challenge.
Stay safe everyone and make sure you wash your hands!