How to effectively work from home for the long-term
Government data shows that, during the height of the Spring wave of coronavirus, nearly half of employees in the UK were working from home at least some of the time.
The most likely groups included those living in London and older workers, with 16-24-year old's more likely to be working in customer-facing roles where home working wasn’t possible.
Most adapted well to home working, adapting kitchen tables and spare bedrooms into makeshift command posts.
But in the Spring, it was thought to be something a novelty, something we’ll do for a while before the virus disappeared and offices sprang back into life.
Yet with a second wave currently washing over Europe, and the US never having really dealt with the pandemic in the first place, former office-based workers are now realising that – what was meant to be a couple of months of slippers and Zoom meetings – could be for the long-term.
I’ve been working from home full-time now for almost two years and, for the newly inducted members of the long-term WFH community, here are some pointers on how to make it a success:
Create a dedicated space
This is likely the biggest change that short-term work from home-ers need to make to adjust to a seemingly longer-term way of working.
Kitchen tables, the sofa with laptop on knees or makeshift desks in the disused box room really aren’t going to cut it for a prolonged period.
You need to create an environment that’s sole purpose is your work and helps you get in the professional mindset when you enter it. A proper desk, comfortable desk chair that doesn’t spend most of its life at the dining table, the right lighting, maybe an ‘office’ plant or two as well.
The right set-up supports the right frame of mind for work. I don’t think I would have been nearly as productive over the last two years if every morning was a trip to the kitchen to turn the laptop on and there I stayed until 6pm. That close a proximity to the fridge certainly wouldn’t have helped things either!
Have the right tech such as two screens if that's what you're used to
Now, when most employees were sent home en-masse when new work-from-home regulations came in during the Spring wave of the pandemic, most would have gathered as much tech as they could carry – or their companies send them packing with newly-ordered laptops.
But is that enough to do the job you do each day? For example, if you’re used to working on a large desktop screen, it really can hamper productivity (and your eyesight) to now must peer into a smaller laptop screen for hours on end.
For creative types (or anyone who likes to feel like they’re in mission control), you may also traditionally work with a second or third screen. I’m one of those, and I know how strange and productivity-killing trying to implement your usual workflows is when you’re reduced to a single-screen life once again.
Of course, tech doesn’t stop at screens. Computer speed, RAM capacity, teleconferencing equipment... there are loads of aspects to this. If you had equipment to do your job in the office, now is the time to make sure that same tech is available to you now.
Trial different backing tracks
We have little choice over the background noise of an office when we’re doing our thing at a traditional workplace. Whether it’s silence, the local radio station or the boss's personal CD collection, we tend to just learn to live with it.
But now you have total control over the background noise of your home office, try out some different background sounds to see which helps your concentration the most.
Personally, I find different sounds help with different tasks. For example, the morning rush of account management / urgent tasks is best accompanied by loud music. The after-lunch lull is supported by a little talk radio, and for creative thinking time, YouTube videos of rain noise helps massively.
Sounds strange but give it a try. I also know people who play videos of office background noise to help them get into a productive groove!
Force yourself to stay connected
This section is really for the introverts out there – those who are likely really happy to now be working in isolation in their own environments, free of distractions. Whilst extroverts will be more than happy to jump on calls and video conferences, there is a risk that the more reclusive WFH’ers can withdraw somewhat from the day to day digital running's of business life.
You really have to force yourself to stay engaged, keep talking to colleagues, and reaching out with questions or when you need help. Feeling isolated or cut off can have a number of harmful consequences when teams are fully remote. It can affect your confidence, even dent your feelings of emotional safety or psychological wellbeing.
Some organisations have been quick to spot this potential issue and, alongside wider people-management goals such as ensuring an in-office culture transpires into the digital realm, have adopted strategies such as improving internal comms, hosting all-hands meetings online, Friday team calls and even investing in software that aims to bring peers together. Think employee recognition programs, feedback add-ons for chat software and so on.
Close the door when the day is done
One of the biggest challenges that newbies and old-heads of the WFH world have is learning how to stop working!
In an age when we already picked up work emails in evenings and over the weekend, working from home makes it even harder to create a boundary between work and home life.
This can lead to feelings of always being switched on – always working, always available, always ‘just checking in’ when you’re not contractually obliged to.
There are psychological reasons for this. For example, when bosses can’t see you working, there’s an anxiety to prove you’re doing your job – especially against a backdrop of mass job losses.
But there are physical reasons for this happening too, such as the lack of a defined workspace as noted above.
Yet it’s critical for long-term WFH effectiveness (and sanity) that you try to strike the right balance here. If you spend too long ‘always on’, you’re not relaxing. You’re not recharging, and eventually, you will burn out.