Homeworking is now the logical and perhaps the only way for many businesses to keep going in these coronavirus-inspired interesting times of ours. I’ve worked from home for more than 25 years and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned in the hope that I can help you acclimatize to homeworking, avoid making embarrassing mistakes, and maybe even learn to love it.
Defining your workspace may not be the easiest thing in the world to do if you’ve had homeworking thrust upon you. But it’s essential if you’re going to be able to concentrate, especially in online meetings.
If you don’t have a home office already and your significant other is also working from home now, there’s even more reason to set boundaries.
Otherwise, they could come strolling blithely by when you’re in the middle of a meeting or start crashing about in the kitchen. Although your employer’s bound to be tolerant, it’s still awkward if you have to start shouting because your other half has decided to vacuum.
Your day could be structured for you by your employer. But, if it isn’t, you could find that, set free from the confines of the office and what we used to call the nine to five, you struggle to manage your time.
I’ve learned to love lists. At the end of every day, I check my list of things I was supposed to do and make a fresh one for the following day.
This doesn’t just make me as efficient as I’ll ever be. It also gives me a sense of achievement, especially if I’m in the middle of a gigantic project.
Without the distractions of the coffee machine or water cooler gossip, you’ll probably find you achieve more than usual in any case. Rather than take this as a gift, many of us actually find more work for ourselves to do. This, in turn, leads to us working far longer hours than at the office because our work/life boundaries have blurred.
Remember that there’s absolutely no reason to start doing 12-hour days simply because you’re working from home. Train yourself to switch off your computer at a sensible time and resist the temptation to check your work emails.
If you work best early in the morning and tail off after lunch or you come awake at midnight, this is a great opportunity to adjust your working day to your natural productivity cycle.
As long as you get your work done, your employer can’t complain.
When you work from home, you soon discover there are many, many ways meetings can go horribly wrong.
If yours is a multinational company, check what time zone the meeting will happen in. Getting the time of a meeting wrong doesn’t just make you look inefficient. It’s an insult to whoever you were meant to be speaking with.
Double-check that the meeting technology you’re going to be using works on your computer. If you can, specify the platform yourself. For some reason, Google Hangouts is a nightmare on my computer, so I always insist on Skype, Zoom or, nowadays, WhatsApp.
Never, ever assume that you will be able to get away with not switching on your video camera. Even if the people you’re meeting with accept the excuse that “video slows down my connection too much”, you might still accidentally start the meeting with your camera on. Always make sure you’re fully dressed.
I got into the habit of just wearing a clean, pressed shirt but no pants in online meetings. This was fine until I was in a meeting and something made me stand up. There’s no going back from being caught in flagrante delicto in your underwear.
Similarly, don’t ever forget that your camera is on. I’m amazed by the number of people who tug away at their faces, stick pens in their ears and worse when I’m talking to them online.
This also means paying attention in the meeting. I was horrified to discover that Zoom had introduced an “attention tracking” feature that checks whether employees are actually looking at the screen.
In any case, it’s always a good idea to exit social media before a meeting. You don’t want a “not safe for work” video to start playing automatically in the middle of your boss’s pep talk.
Should your neighbor start doing some spur of the moment DIY in the middle of a meeting, bow out gracefully rather than attempt to drown them out.
Ideally, working from home should make us healthier. We have greater control over our diet, and we can take exercise breaks.
I’ve learned that it’s important to stop and take proper meals. This also makes me far more likely to prepare something healthy rather than snack on leftovers throughout the day.
Remember that it’s not a good idea to sit for longer than 30 minutes. To remind yourself to take a break, get up and walk around, use the Pomodoro method to break your day into 20-minute pieces with five-minute rests.
The Pomodoro method is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer the Italian Francesco Cirillo used to develop it at university in the 1980s. Mac has a handy time management app called Flat Tomato that enables you to set your time-outs automatically rather than have to remember to set the timer.
During your breaks, try to do some sort of simple exercise like touching your toes to loosen up your legs, back and shoulders and get the blood flowing.
Having a power nap of up to 30 minutes is also a great idea. Just remember to set your tomato alarm.
That is particularly important because, while home office might have been forced upon us right now, your company might very well be thinking about introducing remote working for your job on a permanent basis. Sleeping on the job isn’t the best way of safeguarding your future.