Top tips for working from home.
Many people are now for the first time working from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the author discovered on semi-retiring almost 10 years’ ago, working from home can be challenging. Here are his top tips on being productive while working at home.
Give structure to your day
Working from home can allow more flexible hours than the 9 to 5 office routine. As an early morning person, I much prefer an early start, a good break around the middle of the day for personal activities before rounding off the working day in the afternoon.
Your rhythms may differ from mine. Whatever your personal preferences, it makes sense to structure and plan your days by allocating specific blocks of time as working hours. For me this meant planning in my calendar a few days ahead setting out and prioritising the tasks and the block or blocks of time allocated to each task.
Of course, your precise planning will also have to recognise and be built around any scheduled teleconferences and the like and may also have to fit around your family’s schedule. Be sure to keep your boss and colleagues informed so that they’ll know when you can be contacted.
Make your tasks manageable
If you’re aiming to complete longer term or more complex tasks, break them down into more manageable sub-tasks and schedule with set deadlines for start and finish for each sub-task. At its simplest level this can be readily enough achieved in email clients such as MS Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird. More sophisticated approaches are available even with free versions of cloud solutions such as Trello, where you can use boards, list and cards to manage projects and collaborate with other members of your team.
If your organisation subscribes to MS Office 365, then MS Teams’ Planner add on lets users create projects and tasks for teams with the ability to assign tasks, set deadlines and show progress in graphical form.
Personally, I prefer to have visual feedback on the planning and progress of my tasks and sub-tasks. This can perhaps most easily achieved by applications which generate bar charts. If you don’t have access to MS Project there are a number of other free options such as: ProjectLibre, which can be installed on your desktop or laptop; and, Toggl Plan a cloud application with up to 5 users on its free plan.
Get into working mode
Tumbling out of bed and spending the day working in your pyjamas may be alluring, but is unlikely to be productive.
Carry out your weekday morning routine – showering, breakfasting, brushing teeth and dressing – before settling down to work.
Take a break
As you become absorbed in a task, it can be easy to sit all day without a break. This can lead to tiredness and lack of concentration and may put you at greater risk of injury or discomfort. Work in spells of 45 to 60 minutes with a short break to refocus the eyes and stretch the limbs.
It can be difficult to avoid distractions in the home – other occupants, children, pets, etc. Where you have a separate working space you can, to some extent, isolate yourself from such distractions.
If you structure your day as suggested above, you can create time and space to be with your kids or walk the dog.
When you’re teleconferencing or calling others use headphones and keep your microphone on mute when not actually speaking.
A fast reliable broadband connection is important when working from home. If you have slow broadband consider: connecting to your router by cable rather than Wi-Fi; temporarily removing any unnecessary devices1for example, Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers, smart tvs, tablets and other permanently connected devices.from your network as many will be constantly consuming bandwidth; and, turning off video when taking part in teleconferencing.
If you don’t have any home broadband connection, you may be able to create a mobile hotspot using your smart phone2be aware that if you go beyond the data limit in your mobile contract, then costs can rise quite rapidly. If your plan doesn’t include data, or the limit is low you may be able to buy a mobile data plan from your phone service provider.
Make use of MS Teams if your business subscribes to Office 365, or free products such as Skype to keep in touch with others and to set up and/or participate in teleconferences.
Keep in touch
It’s easy to feel isolated and out of touch when working from home. If you’re a manager, keep in regular touch with your team by telephone, or even better, video call. Give them guidance and encouragement and obtain their feedback on progress.
If you’re a member of a team: keep in regular touch with other team members; and, give your boss feedback on progress of allocated tasks.
Normally, we might prefer not to waste time by immediately getting down to business on calls. Currently it will often be better to make some time for some social chat at the beginning of your calls.
Finally, why not enjoy a ‘virtual’ coffee or even lunch break with a colleague or colleagues. Set up a video conference and take a few minutes together to chat over a coffee and snack or even a meal.