Working from home

Nine key steps to working from home

Working from home has become necessary for many people due to COVID-19. But how can you manage when it comes to working remotely? Eric Fitzpatrick gives us nine tips on how to successfully work remotely without going stir-crazy or losing productivity.

The Coronavirus is forcing organisations and workforces to reconsider their current work practices. Non-essential travel has been cancelled, events are being postponed or moved to online platforms and companies and organisations have their staff work remotely from home.  

At first glance, working from home can be appealing, but there is a downside to it as well. As someone who has worked from home for more than ten years, the following are worth noting when it comes to remote working. 

1. Discipline

 The key to working at home is discipline. Be clear about what time you will start and finish. Agree these times with your organisation. You might have more flexibility with your hours than you would in your office but it’s important to be clear about your hours.
Build in the times and duration of your breaks. Know that you’ll take a break at 11am for 15 minutes. If you’re not disciplined, 15 minutes could easily become 30 minutes or longer. 

2. Get dressed

If how you dress is too casual, how you work might be, too. Wear work clothes. Working from home might mean dressing as you would for casual Friday in the office, but dressing for work gets you in the frame of mind for work. 

3. Designate a workspace 

If you have a home office where you can close the door behind you at the end of the day, great. If not, work from a space where you must be clear at the end of the work day, such as the family dining table. By removing access to the workspace, you remove the temptation to go back to work for a couple of hours in the evening. 

4. Work in a room that is bright and airy

Working in a dark office with no natural light can reduce productivity and enjoyment. 
Create a tidy workspace and an environment that is conducive to effective working. Have a place for everything and place only that which you will need in that workspace.

5. Ditch your mobile

Be without your mobile for as much as possible, if not needed for work. Leave it in another room if you’re working on a project from which you don’t want to be interrupted. You can lose up to an hour a day picking up your phone to check social media platforms. Remove the temptation.   

6. Skip the chores

During your working day, don’t put on a wash, do the weekly shopping, vacuum, change the bed covers, paint the kitchen or replace that lock. You’re being paid to work, not to get ahead of the housework.  

7. Keep healthy 

If you walk or cycle to work, working from home takes away the opportunity to get that exercise. Can you make time elsewhere to get in some activity? Your kitchen will probably be closer to your workspace that the office canteen is to your office desk. It can be very tempting to take 10 seconds to walk to the kitchen to grab a snack. Working from home, you might find yourself doing less exercise and eating more – a bad combination. Try to manage your activity levels and snack time.

8. Don’t go stir-crazy 

Working from home can take a bit of getting used to. You go from working in a busy, noisy office to working in quiet isolation. At first, it seems great, then slowly the walls start to close in. The silence becomes too loud and you find you need people to interact with. Don’t go more than two days without speaking to colleagues or clients. Design your calendar to ensure you have regular contact with the outside world. 

9. Turn on the radio

Music can be a positive contribution to an effective workspace at home. Played in the background, it can replace the noise of the office and remove some of the quiet isolation. 

Working from home can increase productivity, improve your quality of life and may become necessary for many people over the coming weeks or months. Knowing how to manage it can make it as successful as possible.  

Staying connected while working apart

How can leaders stay connected to their teams while working remotely? Communication and understanding, explains Patrick Gallen, is key to successfully navigating these uncertain times.

The current global pandemic has the majority of us working from home and, for some, this is a new practice. However, remote working has been around for years in certain sectors, and those leaders have learned lessons, sometimes the hard way, about what works and doesn’t. How can we fast-track our development to quickly adapt our remote leadership skills to lead in the current situation?

The following information and advice is from The association of Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Adjust your mindset

First, it is important for leaders to adjust their mindset, and resist the temptation to rule out certain activities just because you can no longer see your team in front of you. Do you normally have a quick morning meeting in the office? Don’t cancel it – use technology to connect virtually instead.

We all know that a lot of interaction in the office happens at the coffee machine or staff kitchen, so a leader has to think differently about creating opportunities for informal check-ins, as well.

Acknowledge the change

With schools out, many team members will be juggling work and parenting responsibilities, so make it clear that it’s OK to have some evidence of family life during your calls. This could also be a topic for informal discussion – sharing tips on home schooling, exercise, and keeping sane during this crisis! Sharing hobbies and activities can inject some fun into team discussions.

Accommodate flexible time schedules

Asking your team about the best time to schedule calls is also a consideration – working patterns have changed in response to this situation, so the regular nine-to-five is no longer the norm. A leader who has spent time thinking about what their team are going through will be much more considerate and accommodating.

Understand the tech

Those who have been leading remote teams for years know that the technology is critical to their success. Firms that have invested in the tools to connect virtual teams before this crisis are certainly a step ahead of those that are reactively scrambling to try new systems. If you have easy access to Teams, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or other collaborative tools, then use them!

Give business updates

A quick check-in and update from everyone on the team helps to avoid duplication of effort, and keeps the team on track and connected with projects. A business update from the leader can also be very reassuring for the team during this time of uncertainty. People are worried about the state of the economy, the business, and the impact on their jobs, so a leader needs to inform the team about how the organisation is coping, provide client updates, etc. An optimistic and honest response is best.

Keep it short and sweet

To keep everyone fully engaged during virtual team meetings, you may want to keep the meeting shorter and to the point, and vary the speaker. Turn on the webcams, if possible, so that people are not tempted to ‘multi-task’ during the meeting. And, while it is great to connect the entire team, don’t forget about one-to-ones during this period. Having a check-in with each member on their own is very important and provides an opportunity to listen, so that communication is not only one way.

Communication is key to successful team working, and this is still the case while working remotely. This takes extra effort on the part of the leader, but will pay dividends to get through this crisis – and you may just find that many of the new ways of working are worth continuing when we eventually get back to a new normal.