Whether they are ready or not, workers everywhere may have to familiarise themselves with working from home while the Coronavirus/Covid-19 situation continues. John Kennedy offers key tips, and also the mistakes to avoid, when working from home.

Work is work, no matter what you do or where you do it.

But not everyone’s job is the same and telling entire workforces that they will have to work from home because of Coronavirus is entirely academic or relative. Not everyone’s job or workplace is set up for it, certainly not if you’re a retail worker, airline pilot or a mechanic. And let’s all spare a thought and prayer for the heroic work being done by frontline medical workers.

But if you’re an office worker, remote or flexible working has been one of those things that has either been embraced proactively by organisations, paid lip service or ignored.

Well now it cannot be ignored, and many organisations are discovering they are either ideally positioned to keep the lights on – business continuity as management consultants call it – or not prepared at all.

All jobs are relative, and some people clock in and clock out while remaining at the same desk most of the day long. Other jobs are an endless litany of meetings with some time in between to somehow do the productivity stuff.

My typical work week is a smorgasbord of events, meetings, conferences, driving, phone calls, video conferences, you name it. I try to ensure I work at home at least two days per week because it is the only way to get through a lot of writing I need to do without distraction.

I’ve been working this way for years and can literally write and edit from anywhere (planes, trains, conference room floors, etc). But that’s me, and all jobs are relative.

For most people the impact of the Coronavirus or Covid-19 will mean trying to replicate their working week from a home office; for many this will be for first time.

So, here are my tips on how to stay productive and motivated when working from home.

Connectivity/technology

In this day and age, there are few workers who won’t have broadband at home, unless you live in an area that requires intervention under the National Broadband Plan.

Most broadband services – and mobile services too, depending on signal coverage – offer speeds that are comparable if not better than what you get in the office.

However, while many companies offer agile/remote working practices with the right computers and software, there are many that don’t and this is going to a real pain point for workers used to going into the office.

Click here for a range of apps and tools from video conferencing and cloud storage tools to help you keep working without missing a beat.

Many companies require virtual private networks (VPNs) are in place to ensure ultimate security, and these are often provided with work-issue laptops.

However, if you are planning to work on your own personal computer make sure that your computer has the right anti-virus software. Useful anti-virus tools out there include Microsoft Essentials, Kaspersky Labs, AVG and Sophos.

Set up your home officeMan working from home desk.

Ideally you already have a home office setup, but if you don’t the chances are you will be working from the kitchen table. This is fine provided you are comfortable and connected and engaged with your work.

However, if you’re not used to working remotely my advice is to turn off all the noise. Don’t have the radio or TV droning on in the background otherwise you’ll be captive to Judge Judy or Oprah and you’ll lose a morning or an afternoon.

Some ‘suddenly remote’ workers will no doubt also find that they are sharing their workspace (aka the home) with spouses, children and pets. It is important to set up rules and ensure that others respect that work is work and you are working.

Despite flexible working and remote working being around for decades at this stage, one of my pet peeves is how family and friends don’t equate working from home with actually working. In their heads it is time-out or you are dossing. Work hours are work hours and should be respected. And I would counter that when you get into a good flow, you work harder at home. Provided of course, you have no distractions. So set rules and make sure family respect that during work hours you are working.

Also try to avoid getting caught up in the time-suck that is social media. There is nothing like a Twitter thread to soak up valuable productivity time or whatever reason or zen you had to begin with. Unless your job requires it, keep social media on the back burner until you take a break or you’ve completed priority tasks.

Set yourself up for success and engage with colleagues

You’re not going to be the only one in this situation and I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay engaged and remember to check in with colleagues.

Schedule regular calls or team updates. Apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams/Skype for Business are a great way to stay in the loop and share documents while apps like Trello, Wrike or To Do help ensure that everyone can see what each colleague is working on and what tasks have been completed.

Get up early, get dressed and create a routine

I find that when I work from home, I start my working day hours earlier (usually 6am or 7am) than the 9 to 5 brigade and this serves me well in terms of focus and completing tasks before emails and calls start flooding in. I get the heavy-lifting out of the way to be agile enough to pay attention to conversations.

When working at home remember, if you are drawing a salary for your time then you are still technically in the workplace and you need to behave accordingly. Even if you are at home.

Also, every day requires structure.

A good rule of thumb is to start your day by making your bed. It sounds mundane but it is psychologically important. As US Admiral William McCraven, a former SEAL, said: “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

The next thing is to get dressed. Don’t flop over to your computer in your PJs. Remember you are at work and while you don’t need to put on the full fig or suit and tie, comfortable clothes that you can wear when you answer the door or won’t look sloppy if you have to join a video conference are essential.

In November I visited Sligo-based artist Annie West in her studio overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and she outlined her rules to remote working.

“Number one, you show up for work on time every day. I start at nine o’clock on the dot.

“Number two, you wear your uniform to work,” she said pointing out her black woollen jumper. “You never wear your pyjamas into the office because once you do that it is a slippery slope. Your mindset has to be ‘you are at work now’. I start at nine in the morning and finish at six o’clock in the evening. I don’t answer the phone after six and I keep strict business hours.

“Number three: you keep a business head. Because if you don’t, you are finished. And if you don’t have an actual business head because you are a creative person, get someone to do your business for you. I have an outer ring of people who sort things out for me like legal, accounting and IT.”

Take breaks, avoid snacking

Without the buzz of an office full of colleagues, the day can get quite plodding as you deftly complete tasks. But there is also the danger of cabin fever setting in and the reality is people require either interaction or diversion.

Take breaks often. Avoid going from one repetitive task to another by taking breaks in between. Every hour or so, take a small break to read or get a refreshment or both. Read the news, read a book, allow yourself a few minutes to catch a news bulletin and be disciplined enough to switch media off and get back to the job. One danger is them pesky YouTube algorithms that seem to keep presenting items of interest because they know you better than yourself.

It is also important to avoid snacking, stick to regular mealtimes and try to keep fit. The danger of home working is that the fridge is all-too-easily within reach and those hours of productivity could also see you pile on the pounds.

Keep fit mentally and physically

Along with my advice to take regular breaks, try and get fresh air. With gyms likely to be no-go areas as the Coronavirus takes its toll, go for a quick, brisk walk if you feel your attention is slipping or, if you have time maybe a cycle or a jog.

The key is to ensure your mind as well as your work stays agile. If you are flagging, tired or uninspired, take a break. Some people take a quick nap to rest or refresh the brain while others go for a brisk walk.

But effective home working is about being in the right frame of mind. So, look after it.

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 12 March, 2020

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