As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many organisations are turning to remote working to minimise the risk of spreading the virus. Nous is among them, in mid-March asking its people to work from home unless it is essential to be in the office or with clients
For many people and many organisations, this will be new territory. While occasionally staff may have worked remotely in the past, for possibly months ahead it may be standard practice.
Though the trigger was unwelcome, remote working can be a positive experience. Productivity and flexibility can increase if you set yourself up well and find ways of working that suit you. But not all methods work for everyone.
As part of Nous’ ongoing commitment to supporting our people’s work-life blend, many people work remotely from time to time. We have also had a small group for whom this has been their long-term arrangement. Through their experience they have discovered what works and what does not.
Here are their tips on making working from home a success.
1. Structure your day
- Keep up your morning routine.It can become easy to roll out of bed and straight onto the laptop – and stay there. If you normally exercise, have breakfast, have a morning shower or anything else, keep doing it! A mental break between getting up and starting work is refreshing and necessary. And while it might seem like the dream to wear pyjamas all day, getting dressed helps to set the right frame of mind for the upcoming work day.
- Schedule a daily team check-in. Organise with your team the most agreeable time and remember you would not show up to a meeting and launch straight in – chatting is even more important remotely than it is in person.
- Seek structure beyond meetings. It is less likely that meetings will offer structure to your day like they may have previously. It is useful to think not just “What will I do today?” but specifically “What will I have finished by the time I sign off?”. Focusing on delivering outcomes gives you structure and helps you work out when you have done enough for the day.
- Build short breaks into your day. Make time for a cup of tea or to stretch. Your brain and body will thank you and you will be more productive.
- Try to do something outside of work each day. Go for a walk, call (with video if possible) a friend or family member and take breaks. Exercise indoors or at a park to avoid gyms. There are plenty of apps that will give you a great workout. It can be easy to neglect exercise, which is particularly troubling when we miss out on the few thousands steps we get at work on even a quiet day.
- Try to stick to a log off time. It can be easy to continue work with your computer on in the background at night. Remote working can easily slip into always being on, and it is tempting to continue to work sporadically all day and night or randomly respond to emails. Setting boundaries helps push you to be more productive during normal work hours and maintain wellbeing and balance.
2. Stay on track
- Identify what needs to get done each day. Many people use To Do lists or self-management techniques, and these become even more valuable to focus your effort when working remotely. Tools like the Eisenhower Matrix can help to prioritise your tasks.
- Think through a task in more detail before starting. Thinking about your tasks in detail before you begin can stop you getting confused or sidetracked and breaking your momentum. This can be more likely without in-person interaction at the start of a task. If you can foresee how you might get stuck and sort those out before jumping in it can prevent distraction for yourself and others.
- Try different methods to get and stay focused. What works in the office will probably work at home, but you might need to experiment. Having background music can reduce distracting noise, for example, while experimenting with different lighting and sound can help you figure out the best way of working, particularly if you have other people in the house.
- Stay off social media. It can be tempting to open your phone or a new browser window – and before you know it, this becomes automatic. The Chrome add-on Stay Focusd can be great to break this habit.
3. Maintain your well-being
- Set physical boundaries between home and work. Having somewhere that you can store your work materials provides a sense of ending your workday. A study found people who work from home tend to work longer hours and create an overlap between work and personal life. This is something to minimise where possible.
- Pay attention to your setup. Find a good chair, set your table or desk to the right height and use a keyboard, mouse or monitor (if you can) to improve posture and save your eyes.
- Give yourself a change of scenery. A dedicated space away from the normal hive of activity in the home is essential. Find ways to build in changes of scenery during the day or work outside to break things up.
- Stock the kitchen with healthy snacks. As tempting as it is to eat that block of chocolate you normally look at after dinner, having healthier options means you do not finish your day feeling like you’ve been at the movies. Try fruit or yoghurt, and give yourself time to eat these, and your lunch, away from your computer. It can be tempting to shovel something into your mouth while reading emails, but you have saved time on your daily commute so use that time for a real lunch break!
- Time can fly when you get in the flow. Make sure you have a big glass or bottle of water next to you. Without social cues to spur your visit to the kitchen, you can find yourself forgetting to get up, eat and drink. Seriously.
- Do not work from bed. Working from bed makes it harder to sleep as you reduce the separation between work and rest, increasing the feeling that you are always on the job. It can also impact your quality of sleep as using electronics before bed reduces the melatonin needed to fall asleep.
- Maintain a sleep schedule. For those who work from home, sleep cycles can get thrown off very easily. You might find yourself getting up earlier or later. Try to keep consistency from day to day.
4. Communication is more important than ever
- Communicate your working arrangements with your team. Working remotely gives you more flexibility, but that means different things to different people. When working in a team, make sure you discuss how people like to communicate. Some people prefer instant messaging, others email so they can process things at their own pace, and some communicate best through calls. Be clear on when you are not contactable, how best to communicate with you, what the boundaries are, and when you are most productive.
- Set yourself 'quiet time' to get hard thinking done. Working from home is like working from the office, in that you have times when you want to be available, and others when you want to put your head down and do work. Lots of little interruptions can mean a lot of inefficient time. During designated quiet time, you do not need to respond to every instant message or call immediately. Do not think that people will automatically assume you are not working just because you do not respond immediately. This goes for when you try to contact someone: think about if your question can wait or be grouped with others and do not be upset if you do not get an instant response.
- Use video calls as much as possible. This is the closest thing to being in the office and allows you to hear and see people to break up the day. Communication is much easier, you pay more attention and it makes everyone feel and act in a more present manner.
- Be more precise than usual if giving instructions. Make a practice of reading through your guidance from the perspective of someone with little or no knowledge. Context is even more helpful than normal in remote scenarios.
Even with the best of intentions, many people find working from home a little lonely after a few days. If that is the case, reach out to colleagues on the phone, consider working from somewhere outside home and do something in the middle of the day that is not related to work, like walking the dog.
And as a wise person once asked, "If you aren't getting a load of washing done each day, are you really reaching your remote working potential?"
Get in touch to discuss how Nous can help you embrace remote work.
This article was prepared with input from Tom Tyler King, Joe Bartlett-Marques, Simone Schulz, Tim Kennedy and Skye Jackson.
Published on 18 March 2020.