Working from home for the first time?

As more and more employers heed the advice on social distancing and self-isolation, more and more of us are being sent home with a laptop (maybe) to work remotely. For many, this is a complete novelty and managers should reasonably expect a ‘ramping up’ period as their people get used to working in a new environment with unfamiliar tools.

Last week, we posted  5 key points for managing remotely in a time of Coronavirus, covering the basics for managers finding themselves now coordinating a scattered team. This week, let’s take a look at the same situation and issues from the individual employee’s perspective.* How do you make the transition from office to homeworking as smoothly as possible?

*And yes, of course managers are employees too and this post will apply to them as well.

Know your priorities

Sounds obvious and you may think you know your job. But it’s no exaggeration to describe the current situation as a crisis for most businesses. To get through it, priorities may change. A conversation with your manager/team leader about what the organisation needs you to focus is a good idea.

Once you have your priorities agreed, you need to self-manage your time (more on that in a moment) with those priorities in mind. A good technique to keep focused is to set yourself short-term goals. Ask yourself, What, specifically, do I have to achieve today? BTW sharing those goals with your colleagues is a good way to help yourself meet them.

Ride your normal routine

The big difference with working from home is all the freedom! Much more so than in an office environment, your homeworking daily routine is much more at your discretion. In the context of your priorities, when you tackle particular tasks, even maybe your working hours, are largely up to you. You have the freedom to tailor your day to you. To schedule those ‘intensive focus’ tasks for when you have the most energy, and vice versa.

However, every homeworker knows that freedom and flexibility has a flipside. By all means, take advantage of your situation to pop a load in the washing machine to run while you’re working. Sounds efficient, right? But when, five hours later, in addition to clean laundry you have a spotless home, a drawerful of paired socks, and nary a dirty cup or dish in the house, it’s fair to say you’ve hit a classic homeworking pitfall: distractions.

So, think about how you approach your working day. With office working, when you arrive and clock in, you’re probably already a couple of hours into a very steady working routine. For most people, on a work day, you have a routine from the moment the alarm goes off. Whatever that is, stick to it as much as you can when working from home. Shower? Breakfast? Morning jog? Kids’ homework? Whatever it is, the closer the ‘new normal’ is to the old, the easier you’ll find it.

Get some structure

Once the day’s underway, structure is good for keeping you on the work rails. Working remotely, that structure often comes from meetings and other fixed diary events. Regular team meetings, 1-2-1s, check-ins, etc. are all great for structure (much better than BBC Breakfast, Loose Women and Bargain Hunt!) But you should add more. Think about how you communicate with your colleagues. It’s not all formal. And those side conversations and catch-ups play a role in keeping the team together – something which just got much more difficult. Try setting up your own check-ins with a teammate or two, as a quick substitute for those in-office watercooler/kitchen convos.

Know your tools and technology

Whatever tools you’ve been issued with or asked to use probably depend on the nature of your job and the organisation’s available resources – it’s unlikely you have much control. However, whatever you’re expected to use, take time early on to understand it and build some competence.

For example, a lot of people are getting used to regular video conference meetings for the first time. It’s one thing being a bit clumsy in your first virtual team meeting, but what if you have an online meeting with  a customer or client and you’ve never used Google Hangouts or Zoom before? Why not set up a practice meeting or two with a colleague? Book the meeting. Log in to the meeting. Ensure the audio and video is working correctly. Check the view that the other person has of your ‘home office’ (is that Pokémon poster really the professional image you want to convey?)

Where will you work?

Do you have a dedicated home office space or are you sat at the kitchen table? Tempting as the sofa may be, think about the ergonomics – this self-isolation/quarantine period could go on a while. One day hunched over a laptop balanced on your knees won’t kill you. A few weeks’ worth might leave you with crippling aches and pains.

Whatever ergonomic/workstation policy or rules you follow at work, do your best to do the same at home.

If music be the food of work…

Many people find they’re more productive when listening to the right music. Whether it’s normally the case or not, at home you can choose your own soundtrack. The common cliché is that you should listen to classical pieces, boosting the brainpower… maybe, but you could take a moment and notice what works for you. Some music will demand your attention and take you out of work mode. What you need is ‘wallpaper’, but ideally wallpaper that ups your energy a little. Sometimes it’s not about the type of music but how familiar it is. If you love it, it gives you a lift. If you know it well, it’s often less distracting. For me, 1970s AC/DC carries me through any task for some reason. How about you?

The pyjama question

On the subject of clichés, the working from home classic is the option to wear your jimjams all day. They’re comfortable, and if you only activate the audio for video meetings, who’ll know, right? Well, that’s true but… we all know that what we wear affects how we feel. Maybe that means wearing exactly what you wear to the office. Maybe it means wearing shoes instead of slippers or socks. Maybe you just slip on the company t-shirt. Whatever it is, if you need to feel focused and professional, dressing accordingly will help.

There’s no doubt that the current circumstances are truly awful for many, and uncertain. And maybe you never wanted to work from home. Considering the above factors and talking about them with your line manager and colleagues can help the transition, maintaining (or even boosting) job performance while you work out how to make the situation work for you.

Besides, a lot of long-term remote workers will tell you there are benefits (the kitchen is probably better stocked, for a start) and even a great deal of satisfaction to be had. Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report noted that 98%  of remote workers want to continue the experience, and 97% would recommend the experience to others. They can’t all be wrong…


For more top tips on Working from Home join us for our free WFH webinar series running weekly.  Any questions? Please call us on 01582 463460 – it’s always good to talk and we’re always happy to help.

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