Once upon a time, a time before Covid19 and lockdown, working from home were three words that excited a contractor. To be offered a contract where working from home (WFH) or remote working was available, albeit perhaps just the Friday each week or, more substantially, an arrangement whereby you had two weeks in the office and one week at home, was a draw in itself. The freedom that it gave you was immense and there was also the sense of trust that the employer or organisation was putting in you to do a good job from home as you would at work.
Well things have changed drastically. Enforced working from home may have taken the lure and excitement of it away, but that may be significantly due to the current circumstances we find ourselves in. Maybe there will be a shift in approach to how we do our jobs in the future.
Those of you who have previous experience of working from home would not have had such an upheaval and preparation period to go through. We have to learn a different way of working when WFH. We have listed some practical hints and tips later in this blog (under the heading Practicalities) if this is new to you. These will help you to adapt to a new working environment.
The other difficulties that you may face are that your partner may also possibly WFH, not to mention those of you with children who also have to juggle work life in the home environment. The need to maintain the household duties, ensure that food is available and the children have all the facilities and encouragement to learn from home and both parents have the space and schedules to allow the work to happen.
As more and more people work from home, this clip from 2017 showing someone working from home has reappeared and is being circulated again on social media. A professor named Robert Kelly was doing a remote interview with the BBC. It was supposed to be a serious interview, but his kids had other ideas. First, his 4-year-old daughter barged into the room. Then, his 9-month-old joined the party and finally, his wife ran in to retrieve the little ones (https://youtu.be/iiKhGnxNDhs).
These positives are not in any specific order.
Reduced Commute – The first positive I can think of is avoiding the traffic and the commute to work. How many of us have spent an hour or so at each end of a working day just getting to and from the place of work? There are certainly days when I have wondered if my productivity in the office was worth the time spent getting there and back.
Reduced Congestion – The second positive evolves from the first, in that the reduced congestion allows those who need to be physically present at the place of work to get there more easily. None more so than the NHS staff, carers, our emergency services and all the support workers who keep the essentials up and running.
Less Pollution – The third positive is that the atmosphere is less polluted and there are reports based on satellite imagery to support the reductions in nitrogen dioxide from the ESA (European Space Agency) satellite showing the first 10 weeks of 2020). The water in the canals of Venice has cleared and many cities now have clearer skies above them. Let’s hope that we treasure these improvements and do not undo them once we are free to roam again.
Casual Dress – Now here is one that you may have seen and it amuses me (and reminds me of some instances of my own) – you might have seen an advert on the TV showing a man sitting at a desk at home, laptop open in front of him and earpiece connected portraying that he is on a conference call. His shirt, tie and jacket are visible in the opening shots, but then the camera pans away to reveal he is in his underpants, not having bothered with the suit trousers as they are not on display in the webcam, and a pair of animal fun slippers on his feet. You can get up and start work without even having to get dressed! No need to get showered, suited and booted and put on make-up, unless for an online video meeting.
Flexible Time – If you are working on something that is result driven rather than having to be available during 9-5 hours for example, you can be flexible and adapt your home life to fit more snugly and usefully around the work time. There have been many times that I have had an inspirational moment at some crazy hour not considered within normal working hours or perhaps at the weekend. I have gone with the flow and whilst the inspirational thoughts were there I kept working. I then had a clear conscience about pursuing a more personal goal such as the shopping during office hours. So long as I produced the required result within the allotted agreed time, it mattered not whether it was 3 in the morning or 10 in the morning when I did the work.
Technology – A big positive is the technology available to us. At work we perhaps have colleagues in the same building, same floor or same office space. Easy to have a quick chat or ask a few questions. How many of us did that in that ‘once upon a time’ scenario? We may have lost that physical presence, but we still have the technology to have those chats or calls. The social networking products available to us now allow a text based chat, a voice call or a video call with whomever you wish. Many companies have their own versions of these products as business applications, such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and one we use called Webex. You can span the geographical and time differences very easily using these facilities, but if you are new to them or not very confident using them, they can be daunting at first – persevere – it is fun and now is the time to try it all out, you are not alone, believe me. Our courses covering Change Management and Train The Trainer are all online – so we know what it is like to communicate and engage with people via technology. The product we use for this allows us to use polls, chat, online whiteboards, breakout sessions and much more.
Has social distancing and lockdown meant that we are more receptive to calls and chats from colleagues in our desire to communicate with the outside world? Take a fresh look at your team and make it work as a proper team and collaborate.
A final thought about coming together as a family and finding a new way of living, working and playing together in these unfortunate and strange times. The chance to be at home and steer your life in a new and different way should be seen as a positive no matter how hard it can seem at times.
What is a negative to one person is a positive to another. One man’s meat is another man’s poison or so the saying goes.
The first negative is that there is such a vast amount of information to digest about the current situation that has required you to work from home. When you need to work, ignore the news. Concentrate on getting the job done.
You may find that you are the only one in the household working from home and if you do not have children living with you, you perhaps have a head start. Those who have children of school age taking lessons remotely have to balance the needs of their own work with those of the family. Children may find it hard to concentrate at home, or even appreciate that mum and/or dad are trying to work from home too. It is not a holiday – I know we have just had the Easter break – but that was one of the strangest Easter breaks I’ve ever known.
I have a friend who is a teacher and those who teach maths or languages, for example, are finding online teaching and setting of lessons is not too bad. However how do you teach woodworking and metalwork online, or those home studies such as needlework and cookery?
For some the isolation will be traumatic and counter-productive on the work front. There are those who can work from home if necessary, but spare a thought for those whose jobs are not possible from the confines of the home in spite of all the technology.
Concentration is difficult when you first start WFH. You have moments when you can’t think straight – what would you do in the office? Perhaps you would go walkabout and grab a coffee, but at home there are other distractions just waiting to ensnare you.
There are enough negatives about at the moment so next let’s concentrate on the practical things you can do to make WFH better.
Discipline and planning are perhaps the key words when working from home.
Create a space that is dedicated to work if at all possible within the confines of your home.
Create a distance between other members of the family who are trying to work or learn. Give each person their own space.
Set the timespan for work – stick to the start and finish times. Of course there is always the added bonus that you do not have the journey time to factor in.
Take turns with your partner to occupy the children, make checks on their progress or prepare lunch. Take time to have lunch all together as a big break from the work/learning. It will refresh and reinvigorate you.
Try to remove as many distractions as possible. Do the washing up or laundry the same as you have always done, either before you start work or when you finish.
Take regular breaks – just because you are at home, you still need to take a break from the screen. Move your body and your eyes. Get up walk out the door and look into the distance – flex the eye muscles.
Establish a routine – you may have already got a nice routine going and there is harmony and a rhythm to the new WFH environment in your household. Consider making a schedule and putting up for all to see. Each person and activity has a time when it has precedence over others.
When I first started WFH my husband and I developed a way of communicating whether it was convenient or not to interrupt. I worked in a separate room and he would put his head around the door – a thumbs up was deemed OK to interrupt, thumbs down meant busy at the moment, and so on, including a sign for let’s have a tea or coffee etc. I read where one person got their son to create a Stop and Go sign for the newly appointed office door. Then he knew if the Stop sign was on the handle he should not go in and interrupt, except in a really big emergency.
Ever heard of ‘Retirement Planning’? I worked for a company that ran a course for soon-to-be-retired employees to prepare them for their impending retirement. At the time I was amused by the fact that some people needed guidance as to how to spend all this new found time on their hands. I could not wait to do all the things that work got in the way of! Now I realise that being in the company of your other half 24 hours a day without the option to go off and play golf or whatever other activity gets you out of the house and into your own space for a while is not that easy. It is a new mindset we need to establish where we are more tolerant. This will stand us in good stead when we get back to the new normal.
You can also check out a previous blog entitled Flexible Working for Our Customers.
20 April 2020