With the threat of Coronavirus lurking around every corner, many companies are now asking staff that can work remotely to work from home. This can sound like a pretty sweet deal, but in order to make it work there are certain things that you will want to put in place to make it work for you and the rest of your household.
I’ve been a Virtual Assistant for over six years now; three and half of those years were spent working from home as I set up my business and it took me a while to get into a routine and make my day productive. People often used to say to me “Oh, I’d never be disciplined enough to work from home.” But it is achievable, simply by putting a few strategies in place and planning your day. So here are my top tips that I picked up during my time working from home:
Start your day right; set your alarm for the same time that you would normally get up on a workday, get dressed into clothes you would be happy to go out in or go to work in and go through your normal routine before sitting down to do your work. This way, you are already in the right frame of mind to get your work done.
By sticking to your work hours and avoiding the temptation to lay in, your mind will be in ‘work mode’ and far more productive. So, if you work from nine to five each day, work from nine to five at home too.
You may be thinking “what’s the point in getting dressed up if I have nowhere to go?” Bear with me here; I’m going to hit you with a fact! I have a friend who works as a business coach, and she can actually tell when people are not dressed for work just by talking with them on the phone. It’s not a sixth sense that she secretly hides; it is a lack of confidence and positivity in their tone that comes with not being dressed for work. There is a link between our moods, our actions and our beliefs and what we wear. *Business Psychologist Helen Fisher explained recently in a Guardian article “If you wake up feeling grotty and put on clothes that reflect that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you put on something that raises your game, it will have a subtle effect on how you feel, think, and behave.” So get out of those jammies and get dressed for your day ahead.
Ensure that your IT Department has set you up with everything you need to work remotely and find out what equipment, software or apps are required.
Ensure that you can access all the files you require, have any email accounts set up, have the means to communicate with your team and colleagues and you will need to ensure you have all the necessary passwords and security settings in place. You will also need to ensure that you are familiar with all the apps and software you need to use, so you don’t have to spend time trying to figure them all out and set them up. By ensuring that all this is ready and set up before you start work, you will be able to get on with your work, uninterrupted.
Ideally, you will have a desk, if you don’t have one though, find somewhere like the dinner table where you can sit up straight and spread out a little; preferably somewhere that isn’t temporary, and somewhere you don’t have to clear away in-between times.
The perfect place for a home worker is a place that is separate from the rest of the household such as a spare room; you don’t want to be in a thoroughfare or in the corner of a busy communal room. Somewhere that the door can be closed and your set up can be left without being disturbed. I found I was seriously unproductive when I first started my business and had my desk in the corner of the sitting room, not only that, the family got very annoyed when I said: “please can you not watch TV while I’m working!” I was far more popular with them and much more productive when I moved everything into the spare room.
Also worth noting, try and avoid setting up your desk in your bedroom. Studies have shown that having your workspace in your bedroom can affect your sleep at night. Your brain associates your bedroom with sleep, thus making you sleepier when you are in there, but if your brain starts to associate it with work and being on the computer, it will affect the quality of your sleep at night too.
Lighting is an important factor when choosing your workspace too. You really want to be somewhere where there’s as much natural light as possible. Straining your eyes in the poor light will lead to tiredness and headaches.
Don’t slouch! I personally found that if I tried to work on the sofa that my back (and my butt) didn’t thank me. It was fine to start with, but long-term it isn’t good for you, plus there are many distractions in a lounge such as the TV, family members going backwards and forwards, visitors, etc.
Some people find it helpful to pop the radio on as it is a bit of company and relaxing, some people prefer to work in silence. Personally, I enjoy having the radio on in the background depending on what I’m working on; however, I cannot work with the TV on as I find it too distracting.
Ensure your fellow householders know when you will be working – put a sign on the door if you can and make sure they know that you are not to be disturbed unless it is important! If you don’t have a door, stick a sign on your back!!!
Between the hours of 9 am and 3 pm I was very productive, but when the kids came home at 3.30 and wanted to raid the fridge and tell me about their day it all went out the window. Then the husband appeared home from work and wanted to catch up. Yep, as you can imagine, the environment was not conducive to productivity! I had to find a spot where I could shut the door and tell them to “only disturb me if it is a matter of life and death!”. It did mean I had to foresee any problems being the wonder woman I am, e.g. ensure there was food for the girls when they came in, leave things in an obvious place and leave random notes on the notice board for them to ensure they didn’t need me. By setting rules like this, it ensured I wasn’t disturbed because once there is a disruption, it really throws me, and I find it really hard to get back into the swing of things again. Equally, I sometimes had to resist the temptation to go and hunt them down for a bit of human interaction and start talking to them. It can be lonely working at home but, try not to give in to the temptation of interacting with folk until you are finished.
Super Top Tip: If you can’t find a private space within which to set up, why not invest in some noise-cancelling headphones, these are a great asset and block out all distractions around you. If you get some with a microphone on too, then they are great for online calls and conferencing as they block out surrounding sound.
Regular breaks are important. Using something like a Pomodoro is a good way of reminding yourself to take breaks and also a good way of working in productive blocks with smaller breaks in between.
Another top tip that I found really helped me was to get out for a short walk at lunchtime. Obviously, if you are self-isolating in this current Coronavirus then this is not an option, however, if you are able to get out in the garden for a wander or just sitting outside for a bit, this can be enough of a break to really rejuvenate you, and it can help to prevent that afternoon weariness that can be a problem when working at a desk.
Keep hydrated. Whilst coffee has its many merits that we all know and love; it is important to keep yourself hydrated, not only because of all the healthy benefits water consumption has but also because it will keep your energy levels up and avoid that afternoon lull.
One of the most important things you need to do when working remotely is to communicate with your company, colleagues, staff, customers etc. Working virtually is very different to working face to face; it’s not so easy to say “can you just…” Or tell people when work has been done or sent off. Communication doesn’t just have to happen via email or phone either, your company may use software to communicate virtually, or you may have a Skype Chat, for example with your colleagues. Whatever the chosen method is, just make sure you are constantly in touch and don’t assume that everyone else knows what you are up to and in the same vein, you need to know what they are up to too.
If you have other people in your house, remember to keep things secure and don’t leave confidential information laying around. You will need to be particularly mindful if your workplace is in a communal area, data can be leaked in the background of photographs taken in that room, papers can get picked up and used as scrap or visitors may see things that shouldn’t be seen. If you do have to work in a communal area, just ensure that confidential data isn’t within view of others and is safely locked away when you are not around.
In an ideal world, you will be using a computer that isn’t shared by other members of your family, but if it is the only option then ensure that you have your own password-protected profile, password-protected documents and files and that the computer itself has a reputable and robust antivirus and malware software installed and running on it. Also, make sure that your work is regularly backed somewhere safe and GDPR compliant.
My final tip is to look after yourself; it can be very easy to overwork when everything you need is at home. My advice is that once you have clocked off for the day, say at 5 pm, don’t be tempted to creep back to your desk ‘just to check’ something, and the same goes for weekends. If you were in the workplace you would leave your desk and not return until morning; do the same at home. If your workspace is in a separate room then shut the door, so you can’t see it, if it is in the corner of a room, make sure all computers are switched off, not just put to sleep, laptops closed and papers tidied away, so there is no temptation to ‘just check something’. Your time off work is sacred and your time to do something for yourself.
I hope this has helped and if you have any top tips of your own, then please do share them below.
*Helen Fisher (The Guardian) – https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2015/jul/17/is-working-at-home-pyjamas-bad-for-business