As a result of Coronavirus, the government has today said that as many people as possible should try to work from home, where possible and practical to do so. For some people that’s business as normal, but for others they’ve never had the opportunity or ability to work from home. So how do you work from home for the first time and how, as an employer, do you put in place the framework and structure to enable your staff to work effectively from home?
It’s really important that staff continue to work their normal scheduled hours.
Getting up at a normal time, having breakfast, and, in effect, going to work at normal time is all part of being effective when working from home. It’s really easy to get side-tracked by normal household chores or by other people in the house.
Scheduling breaks is a really good idea to help maintain that routine. If you’re working a 9:00 to 5:00 day, then what time are you going to have lunch? What works with your colleagues? If you normally go for lunch at 12 o’clock every day and somebody else goes at 1:00 and perhaps someone else at 2:00, then try and stick to that same structure so that you’ve got adequate cover.
Schedule a rest break in the morning and a rest break in the afternoon. One of the things that I notice when I work from home is that I don’t do as many steps. I’m sedentary. I’m not running around. So actually, using those 15-minute scheduled breaks to get some exercise in or some fresh air is a really good idea.
Restrict the times that you do your household chores. Put a load of washing in before you start work, take it out and hang it up in your lunch break. Load the dishwasher in your lunch break and empty it in your afternoon break. Plan your day and use your time wisely.
The next thing to think about is what you’re wearing.
Now, that may seem silly, but it also about your mindset. I’m not necessarily saying that you should be wearing a business suit when working from home, although I know people who do, but certainly sitting in your pyjamas isn’t going to put you in the right frame of mind for working. Many people will change out of their work clothes when arriving home from work and by putting on your work clothes when ‘going’ to work you are separating your state of mind and helping yourself to achieve a good work life balance.
Being properly dressed is really important, especially if you’re going to be doing video conferences or talking to clients or colleagues using video technology such as Zoom, Skype or FaceTime. If you normally put on makeup, then put on your makeup. Make sure your hair is brushed and make sure that you ‘feel’ as professional as you would if you were in your normal working environment.
Finding the right space to work also has a huge impact on your mindset.
If the environment around you is crowded, messy or noisy, you’re not going to be able to work effectively. Making sure that you have a desk at the correct height, a chair with the correct support, and adequate lighting is really important. We don’t know how long we are going to have to work at home as a result of the Coronavirus, so ensuring that you are properly set up will make a big difference to your physical well-being.
If you’re working on a laptop, make sure that you’ve got a proper keyboard and mouse and that you’re doing everything you can to reduce the strain on your wrists, back and joints. If you are able to work with an external monitor, that’s great because it then means that you are working with less strain on your eyes, neck and back.
A Busy Household
If we go into complete lockdown as a result of Coronavirus, then husbands, wives, partners, children and parents may also be trying to work from home. This is a very unnatural situation and you’re going to need to find your own personal space in which to work.
If you’ve got children who are at home, either because they’re ill, or because as a family you’re in isolation even if you’re not ill, or if schools are closed, then you need to think about who’s going to look after the children when and what makes practical sense for your particular circumstances. Communication and realistic expectation setting between employer and employee is going to be really important here.
It may be that due to the nature of your work, you can work in shifts or at slightly different times to normal to enable you to look after young children. Unfortunately, because the over-seventies are being told to self-isolate, it’s not going to be practical for a lot of people to draught in grandparents, who would normally be the secondary caregivers. So, you need to think about, what you are going to do to keep children occupied while you’re working.
Exercise and fresh air are going to be really, really important if you are working from home.
It’s going to be important for your mental health as well as your physical health. If you’re sat for long periods of time, perhaps not walking to the station from home, not walking from the station to the office, not walking around a large office during the day, then your muscles aren’t going to get the same amount of exercise as normal. It is important to go for walks to maintain your physical strength, get some fresh air and to enable you to remain focussed during what is probably quite a stressful time.
At the moment gyms are still operational, but these are likely to be closed very soon due to the sweaty nature of gym users and the bodily fluids around such environments. Exercise at home, whether walking or otherwise is going to be increasingly important.
When working from home, communication is going to be essential.
How do you communicate with colleagues? How do you communicate with your line manager or with your direct reports? How do you communicate with clients, suppliers and colleagues? We are lucky. We are living in a highly technological country in which email, VOIP phones, mobile phones, laptops and cloud technology enable us to stay in touch.
Microsoft Teams and Slack enable people to talk to each other informally and in real time. Things like iMessage or WhatsApp are also really good ways for teams of people to stay in contact with each other.
Trello or other project planning and management tools may be an effective way to collaborate on projects and day to day tasks.
Business owners and line managers need to think about, trial and implement the most effective tools for their business based on the nature of the business and the needs of employees and customers.
It’s really important that everybody looks after their own health and that of their nearest and dearest. So while it’s important to continue to work, because you will go stir crazy if you’re stuck at home for too long, it’s also important to make sure that you achieve a good work life balance. Eating healthily, exercising and getting enough sleep, are all vital if you are to maintain your own personal fitness and enable you to fight off any virus should you catch it. Whether it’s vitamins, meditation, reading, taking time out, playing games, or just chilling and watching TV, making time to focus on your own well-being is going to enable you to support and help others as and when required.
Working from home is going to take some adjustment.
Just like anything that you practice, you will get better at working from home over time. You will make mistakes and you will need to learn quickly from those mistakes and adjust to allow good new habits to form. It will take self-discipline, organisation, communication and resilience to make home-working really work for you, for your family and for your business.