Working from home is becoming a reality for more workers across the country, and there are differing opinions on whether that’s good or bad. Even those who might enjoy the idea of remote working at first will soon come to realise that it requires a major shift in attitude to ensure you make the most out of the opportunity.
We recently conducted a three-day working from home trial and from today, our Auckland and Wellington offices are closed and all staff are working remotely.
We thought it might be useful to share some of the things we learned and our best tips to make working from home a much easier experience.
1) Keep a normal routine
It’s really important to stick to a regular routine. The temptation to start and finish at different times will throw you off, whereas if you begin and end work at the same time you would normally, you’ll find yourself getting into the right mindset much easier and also prevent work blending into home life.
This includes breaks throughout the day. Do you normally go for a coffee mid-morning? Do so, and take your lunch at the usual time. This helps you adjust to the new location much quicker. There will be changes at times, and that’s fine - they happen even at the office but don’t make a habit of them where possible.
2) Spend time setting your space up properly
You might be tempted to spend an extra half an hour in bed but it’s worth taking the time to get your work area set up properly. Is your chair comfortable? Do you have good posture? Is the equipment placed correctly? These are the kinds of questions you need to think about, and if you don’t have it right, spend more time getting it sorted. As time goes on, you’ll thank yourself for it.
3) Ensure you have the tools you need to do the job
Once your area has been set up, think about what you need to do your normal, regular tasks and job functions. Using an employer-provided device compared to your own will have an impact, as your personal laptop or computer may not have the physical capability or software to complete your work. Test your microphone and webcams to make sure they work properly for any meetings you have in the future. You should also ensure you have access to any cloud-based services you might need.
Other factors to consider include your home Internet, often critical to remote working, and whether it is capable of handling the increased usage. Data caps, speed and reliability are key concerns here.
4) Avoid the fridge, but drink lots of water
The temptation to snack is all too easy at home. The fridge, and cupboards, are right there, after all. This may seem great (you can enjoy those biscuits before anyone else!) but it’s going to radically alter your diet, which can have profound effects on your life outside of work. Stick to regular break times to make sure snacking doesn’t become the norm.
That being said, it’s always a good idea to drink plenty of water throughout the day. If it’s best kept in the fridge, avoid the other treats and delights that might take your fancy, then use the trips as a mini break to refresh and recharge.
5) Go outside for a break; take a walk or a seat for some fresh air
This is a no brainer. Go out for a walk at some point through the day, or take a seat in the garden or on your balcony. Whether it’s during lunch or another break, you’ll find the fresh air will clear your mind of the clutter gathered throughout the day. After an online meeting or whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, get some fresh air. The exercise will also stop you from getting stiff after sitting in a chair all day.
6) Don’t forget to stretch!
A stretch can help wake up your body and stop you from feeling stiff and sluggish, which could happen throughout the day. Being at home means you’re more likely to spend more time sitting down, even during the short breaks taken.
To get around this, short stretching exercises throughout the day will not only give you those little breaks but keep your body awake and active. You won’t find yourself as sluggish or tired with even the simplest of stretches.
7) Move to a new spot in your home for meetings
When we have meetings in the office, it usually involves moving from our desk. You might not have realised it before, but this short break and the walk to the meeting room are actually a good chance to give your brain a chance to reset and get ready for the next task.
Working remotely means you might not see the point in moving to a meeting spot, since there’s no one to be disturbed by having your meeting where you are, but that means you won’t get that reset and as the day goes on you’ll find your focus waning.
8) Find a way to “switch off” when you’ve finished work
The commute home, while long and frustrating for some, can be a time to switch off from work. This is especially important when working from home because when you’re finished you’re already there! If you don’t switch off, you might find yourself thinking about work more than you should, compromising your work-life balance.
To get around this, try taking a short stroll when you’re finished for the day and use this time to reset. If this isn’t possible, there are other ways to find that disconnect. Find a playlist of music that relaxes you, that you don’t associate with work. Take some time out to read a book or magazine that you enjoy, or do some exercise and stretches in your home to unwind.
This will give you the best chance to enjoy your time off and relax before you return to work. You can also use similar techniques at the start of your day to get you ready to start work.
9) Have regular online check-ins
If remote working for a long period of time, it can get lonely after a while. We’re used to seeing our colleagues each day, and even though there might be people at home or the location you’re working from, it’s not the same as being at work. These conversations and interactions are often different from those at home, providing variety to our routines.
To counter this, make sure your team has regular check-ins, whether over the phone or through video conferencing software, to catch up. This is useful for meetings but also social times, too, and it’ll help the days pass quicker.
10) Be mindful about how you communicate
Most of us, when we’ve gotten to know our colleagues, don’t think as much about how we communicate with people in the workplace. This familiarity allows us to read into tone and body language a lot more, so there are more hints when someone is being sarcastic or making a joke.
One of the easiest ways to communicate with colleagues while working from home is chat apps, from Skype to Slack and plenty of others. This is normally text-based and that means these extra signals are no longer present. Keep in mind how - and who - you’re communicating with and be clearer than you would normally.
11) Have regular social interactions with colleagues that aren’t work related
We talked about regular check-ins with your colleagues but most of us need, and want, more than that. Work has a social aspect to it, even if it is secondary to what we’re employed to do. Those quick chats, coffees, meetings and other activities play a big part in our mental well-being.
The same tools you use to keep in touch with colleagues for work reasons can also be used to ensure you get some of that social interaction. Whether it’s the daily newspaper quiz, a quick coffee chat or something else, take the time to be social.
12) Accept you may not be able to do everything
In the office, you have access to everything you need to get your tasks done. Working remotely, however, may make this harder. In some cases, you might not notice any difference other than the location and that’s great, but in others, you’ll find challenges pop up that you never even thought about before.
This might be access to software or programs that you can’t get without being on the right computer, or through a different network. Deadlines may not be as feasible as you can’t physically make contact with someone when time starts running out. Perhaps your infrastructure is not as reliable at home. All of these things play a part in how effectively you can work remotely.
13) Set clear expectations
This is really important. Working from home is going to mean a change in priorities for many workers, with some tasks put on hold and others brought forward. A change in environment will influence productivity. It’s really important to set expectations with your manager, team and yourself about what can be done in these unusual times.
Working from home brings other distractions, and you should be clear with anyone living with you what you need and expect from them - and vice versa - to make sure you can be as productive as possible.
Working remotely presents some unique challenges but can also open up a whole new range of possibilities. While the cause for the current drive to work from home is unsettling, this is a chance to stay safe and keep productive, which will help with your mental state and keep businesses running. It may be that, once you’re used to it, you enjoy working from home more than you thought.
14) Think about the bigger picture
Working at home, you might find yourself with more time to think and reflect on everything going on. This is a great time for some self-reflection and to think about yourself. Is there an online course you’ve been looking at for a while but never had the time to do? Perhaps you’re thinking about your role and whether it reflects where you want to be and how you see your contributions to society.
There are plenty of ways to use this time. Whether it’s a new hobby, project or direction, you’ll feel better after something positive comes from it.