By Tim Russell

#WFH was one of THE hashtags of 2020. And with the coronavirus still rampant in many parts of the world, it looks as if working from home will continue to be the norm for many of us as we move into 2021. For some, it’s a welcome respite from the daily commute and from office politics. And of course a chance to spend more time with family and pets. But for others, it can mean isolation. Problems managing or communicating with staff and colleagues, and numerous distractions caused by, er, family and pets. For most, it’s a bit of both. 

I’ve been working from home for almost a year now. And for the most part, it’s meant a big improvement in my quality of life. So here are my eight tips on doing it right!

Claim Your Space

Probably the most important thing on this list is to establish yourself a regular working space. Whether you live alone or with others, it’s vital you have a space that is clearly delineated as your ‘office’. For most of us, just sitting on the sofa or at the coffee table doesn’t provide the discipline and the separation from the rest of the home. We need to make it clear that we’re working when we are in this space.

I’m lucky in that my house has a small third bedroom which I converted into a home office a long time ago. And in the last year, I’ve been glad I did. It’s great to be able to shut the door and instantly be ‘at work’. But if you don’t have the luxury of a spare room, you at least need a dedicated table or desk to work at. And make it clear that, during working hours, this is YOUR space. If you need to make it clear to housemates or family that it’s work time, stick a red flag on the desk or use some other indicator to show that this space is now your office. People (and, eventually, pets) will soon get used to leaving you alone when it’s clear that you’re working. Which brings us onto…

Educate Your Housemates

For most households, WFH has proved to be a huge change, in good and bad ways. Your family may be glad to see more of you. But your presence can also be disruptive to the routines they’ve established while you’ve been working in the office. And sadly lockdown and WFH have led to a rise in stress, relationship problems and even domestic violence. 

So unless you live alone, you need to educate those you share your living space with in order to make it work. As I said above, having a clearly demarcated working space is essential. Also letting your housemates know what your working hours are and ensuring disturbances are minimal during these times is vital. Especially when you’re in virtual meetings or calls – but also showing some flexibility when your family needs you is important too. You want them to enjoy and welcome your new presence at home, not resent it. 

Children and pets can be the hardest to deal with. Especially when you don’t have a separate home office, but even they will learn over time when to leave you alone. I spend my days at home with my three dogs, who are of course overjoyed to be spending all day with me. But it took them some time to learn that I’m not there solely for their pleasure and enjoyment! But now they’re used to their daily exercise and play schedule. And sitting at my desk with my dogs at my feet is probably the biggest pleasure I take from my new lifestyle.

Set a Schedule

Working from home doesn’t mean staying up until the small hours, getting up when you feel like it and taking long lunch breaks. Well, if you’re an independent freelancer it can, and if that’s the case, then lucky you! But most of us have bosses, staff and colleagues we work with. So it’s vital that we set a WFH schedule and stick to it, so that everyone is on the same page and knows when they can contact each other. 

I work remotely for an Australian tech startup which means being online in the mornings. So I get up at my normal time. But, without having to commute, I’m at my desk an hour earlier than previously. I power through until lunchtime, spend half an hour making and eating lunch and watching a bit of TV to switch my work brain off for a bit. Then tend to head back to my desk until mid-late afternoon when my mind starts to wander and it’s time to head out for a run. 

Everyone – colleagues, wife and dogs – knows my schedule. And that’s also one of the main reasons to have one. So it’s fair to those you share your space with. You need to allot time to them too. And if you don’t have a clearly defined routine, you can end up sitting at your desk in the evening when your family would prefer you to spend time with them or help out with the chores. So don’t use WFH as an excuse to keep random working hours – set a routine and stick to it!

Use the Right Tools

Whatever your job, there are certain tools you’ll need to be working from home successfully. For me that means:

Obviously you may have some additional needs I haven’t covered here. But giving yourself and your team the right tools to not just do their job, but feel comfortable doing, it is vital to making your WFH initiative a success. 

Set Parameters & Expectations for Staff

As I said above, if you’re a freelancer or solo worker, then working from home probably won’t mean any big changes for you. But for those who work for a company and are managing others, it can be a huge challenge. And so it’s vital that staff and colleagues have a set of ground rules to follow so that everyone is on the same page. Freedom from direct supervision should be seen as a chance to prove that they can work independently and can be trusted to work remotely, not an opportunity for anarchy!

So it’s important to keep as many of your old office routines in place as possible. That means working hours, team meetings, reports etc. Reports and updates become much more important when everyone is working remotely. Which we will discuss in the next section, so make sure staff are on board with this. Essentially, your team needs to know that flexibility is a two-way street. Whilst you’re happy for them to work from home, they need to stick to a schedule and be available during office hours. And you won’t bother them outside those hours. WFH isn’t an excuse for companies to expect their staff to be on call 24/7.

Communicate

When your team are all working remotely, communication is even more important than usual. Casual conversations in the kitchen or at the water cooler, or work-related chats at the desk are both vital to the team spirit and work culture of any business. And when they aren’t happening, morale and performance can suffer. 

You need to make sure that you’re still having regular team meetings, either via a tool like Zoom or, if possible in your area. Perhaps at a local coffee shop, restaurant or bar. A weekly or monthly get-together is a really good way to maintain that team spirit. Especially if you make it clear there’s time for social chit-chat alongside the work stuff. 

It’s also important to make sure you have clearly defined online communication channels and that everyone uses them. We use Slack for quick work and social conversations, email for longer issues, and Hubspot CRM for tracking leads and prospects. And with staff working remotely, these tools become absolutely vital. 

Equally, communication with customers is essential. Your business premises may be closed to visitors so customers need to be aware that you’re still open for business. If you’re in a sector that is currently dormant, such as tourism, regular chats with your customers let them know you’re still standing. It will help to keep you front of mind for when the recovery happens. So just because there’s no business coming in doesn’t mean you should neglect customer communication!

Move

Back in August 2020, I was suddenly afflicted with terrible back pain. To the point where I could hardly get out of bed in the mornings. This was a shock to me as I’d never suffered from it before, and was worried it was something serious. So I went to a local physiotherapy clinic and after a conversation about my circumstance. It was established that the pain was due to me sitting at the same position at my desk for 9-10 hours a day.

In the old days, I’d be walking to the skytrain station, climbing up steps, walking to my office, popping out for coffee or lunch, and then walking home from the station in the evening. But I was now doing none of that. My commute involves walking from my bedroom downstairs to my office! After a couple of physio sessions and some new daily stretching exercises, my back pain quickly cleared up and has not returned.

So the lesson there is, move! Do some daily stretches or yoga. go for a walk or a run every day. Basically, just don’t be a desk potato. Build daily exercise into the schedule I mentioned above and make sure you stick to it. 

And the problem isn’t just physical; it can be mental too. Being stuck at home all day every day when you’re usually in a busy office can cause psychologically damage for some people. And even I, an introvert who loves my home office, need to get out and see people from time to time. So make sure at least once a week you get out and meet up with friends or colleagues for lunch. Or even a coffee, a beer or just a walk in the park, to get some fresh air, escape from your house or apartment, and keep your social skills up to speed. Your mind and body will thank you for it!

List the Positives

As with any upheaval in your professional or personal life, working from home can cause you a lot of stress and unhappiness. So one way to see the positive side of it is to make a list of the benefits WFH has brought you. Ignoring the negatives and focusing on how working from home has improved your life is a great way to adapt to this new lifestyle and start to accept and even enjoy it. 

I’m going to practice what I preach here and list a few of my working from home positives:

That’s just ten and if I spent more time on this I could probably come up with another twenty. So if you’re struggling with WFH, try this exercise. I am sure you will come up with several positives that will help you appreciate this new normal. 

Yes, the changes wrought by the new work from home paradigm have been disruptive for businesses and employees alike. And not always in a positive way. But if you get your WFH set up right, communicate effectively with your colleagues and focus on the positives, you’ll soon find that working from home is not only manageable, but also pleasurable and beneficial to your business as a whole. 

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