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No Commuting: How To Effectively Work From Home

by Mark Ellwood

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With the types of technologies available to us today, such as VOIP, desktop virtualisation and web conferencing, there really hasn’t been an easier time to work from home – and to work there as effectively as if you were in the office. And now, with the global concerns around Covid-19 impacting work in many different ways, more and more people are being told to work from home to reduce the risks of infection.

 

So how to set yourself up to make working from home productive? To answer this, we spoke to some of our contacts who regularly, or permanently, work from home. Some of them are freelancers, some work in globally spread virtual teams. We asked about their approaches and best practices and here’s a synopsis of their best advice:

 

While there are many obvious benefits of working from home – such as dressing the way you like, and always being in to receive online parcel deliveries; effective working from home boils down to three key ingredients: environment, attitude and technology. Get these right and you’re on to a winner.

 

Environment:

This is very subjective, in that some people can happily work on a laptop while sitting on a bar stool surrounded by noisy people. Others feel they must lock themselves away from external stimuli – which can be even more important at home if you’re surrounded by your kids, entertainment devices and your hobbies. However, the best advice is:

 

  • Create your office space. Have a room, or at least an area, you can call your office. That way you can mentally separate your work area from your living area. This makes it easier to focus just on work when you are in that space, and lets others in the house know that when you’re in that space, you shouldn’t be disturbed

  • Reduce clutter. There’s nothing harder than trying to create slides and write a report when you have your house bills screaming at you from the pin board next to your desk or a half-finished scale model getting in the way of your computer mouse

  • Get comfortable. Just like at work, you need good posture and a comfortable climate. In some ways this is even more important when working from home, as it’s possible to get sucked in and not realise you’ve spent 6 hours at your desk without hydrating or moving. Unlike at the office, home doesn’t provide those water cooler moments and unexpected personal interruptions (unless your kids are also at home!)

  • Reduce external temptations. Don’t line up your computer games behind your work computer and if you have a habit of gazing out of your window at your view too much, maybe turn the desk around (which will give you better lighting anyway)

  • Creature comforts. One of the perks of being at home is, of course, access to your creature comforts.  Have a shower mid-morning? No problem.  Grab a favourite coffee from your machine? It’s right there. But keep it simple. Don’t start creating some elaborate lunch menu at 10.30 that takes you through to 12.00

 

Technology:

While it’s possible to work from home with just a laptop and a phone, there are a few other pieces of technology than can dramatically improve the experience. Not only do these help you to connect better in a face-to-face capacity with your teams and clients, but they can also provide excellent ways to share information and allow coworking. If you’re usually the type of person who likes bouncing off the energy of others, then you’ll definitely need some of these tools, otherwise working from home can be a very solitary experience, even with a phone.

 

  • Remote desktop: If you always work off a laptop, this isn’t really an issue. But for those with a desktop computer at work, this is quite the essential tool. There are a variety of remote desktop applications on the market, such as the well-established GoToMyPc, while both Google Chrome and Microsoft Windows now offer this functionality as well

  • VOIP: Rather than spending lots of money on mobile phone calls, VOIP services such as Skype offer free IP based telephony. In the case of Skype, you can also video conference with several people and Skype for Business offers additional features. Investment in a headset is useful here so you can clearly hear the calls without outside noise interference, and they provide a clear microphone sound when you speak without including the noise of you typing. Skype also allows you to share files and documents in your chat, much like WhatsApp messenger and is a useful collaboration tool. In fact, WhatsApp itself now has a desktop application that syncs with your mobile phone

  • Web conferencing: This allows your team and/or clients to meet you online, via voice or with a webcam, and usually involve a meeting chairperson or host who can display presentations online, or indeed host a video conference while presenting live

  • Documents sharing and storage: This enables more than one person to access and/or work on a  document at the same time. Box and Dropbox and two well know file hosting services, while Google Docs is a well-established collaborative working service

  • All-in-one solutions: There are, of course, now some all-in-one solutions on the market that include most of the above-mentioned functionality. Microsoft itself now provides this in the form of Microsoft Teams. This integrates with Office 365 and offers ‘a unified communication and collaboration platform that combines persistent workplace chat, video meetings, file storage (including collaboration on files), and application integration’

 

Attitude:

Many people finding working at home very natural. Others struggle with the differences to office work. The ultimate deciding factor as to whether it is successful is, of course, your mental attitude. There’s no getting away from the fact that it requires discipline, will-power and good organisation.

 

  • Discipline – being able to concentrate in a home setting, removing distractions. If you have video meetings, dress appropriately

  • Will power – a desire to get the work done and resisting temptations to spend hours watching Youtube, playing video games

  • Organisation – managing your diary and work schedule, setting priorities

 

Naturally, this is also the approach needed for success in the normal workplace, but when you don’t have that feeling of people looking over your shoulder, these basics become more difficult to maintain.

 

With that said, if you want to take a quick break and watch live streamed news, or indeed a YouTube video, and can be self-disciplined enough to fit this into the work schedule, there’s nothing to stop you doing that – there’s nobody behind you frowning disapprovingly. And for some, the ability to do this without feeling they have to hide it can be a productivity boost  - especially those who crave constant stimulation and variety. At the end of the day, you either do quality work that is on time or ahead of time, or you don’t. You either make it on time to conference calls, or you don’t. And you’re either readily available to speak to a teammate or you’re not. When you work from home, this is how your contribution is going to be measured. And this is where the opportunity also lies. You can either recreate your working conditions at home, or you can create a new working practice altogether, super flexible yet highly productive. It really is a case of what produces the best results. The biggest lessons you learn from working from home are about yourself.

 

Switching off

 

One final note. Remember to be able to switch off. If work and home life are starting to merge, it becomes easy to lose track of your hours. You might end up doing extra hours of work through the evenings or at weekends and it’s easy for people to assume you’ll be there to answer calls 24/7. So do set time blocks for your day and stick to them and allow yourself to switch off your devices as if you were going home. It’s just as easy to burn out at home as it is at work.