The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents – H.P. Lovecraft
2020 has been an ‘interesting’ year to say the least, and for many of us, it brought with it new challenges and obstacles to overcome. Covid-19 has forced many workplaces to either close their doors or look to other options to survive, and the more we learn about the beast, the more businesses are recognising that looking forward towards a quick “new normal” is hopeful at best. With herd immunity debunked, PPE continuing to be expensive and hard to acquire, and social distancing being essential to staying safe (whether enforced or not), remote working continues to be the best option for companies that can do so. Covid-19 has forced the hand of many such companies to look towards how they do this effectively, and for many, that is really, really scary.
Thankfully, technology has our backs in this case. Over the past decade, advancements in broadband, wifi and cellular networks, have made it possible for anyone with a mobile phone to step into their office without leaving their home. While true that many workplaces were unprepared to implement a widespread move to home working, the technology has been there for a while, and the push in recent years towards maintaining a healthier work-life balance has put our industry in a pretty good position. While looking into statistics to support this blog, I wasn’t surprised to find the IT industry has been benefiting from home working for a long time now, with extremely positive results. 18% of all home workers are involved in IT, and over 80% state working from home makes them feel more trusted, improves their work-life balance, and makes them less likely to look elsewhere for employment. This is great news, so surely Covid-19 has only been a positive impact for us right? Well, let’s not rush into things just yet.
The reality is that for many of us, working from home full time wasn’t planned and we didn’t know what to expect. I believe that being unprepared for something is the easiest way to be afraid of it and I think it’s only now that we’re starting to get into the grind of working from home. Going forward, I believe not only will this be ‘business as usual’ in the coming months, but the more forward-thinking companies who are looking to take advantage of a more dynamic workforce will be exploring how working from home can become a permanent fixture of their organisation. The benefits of this are undeniable, from both an employer and employee standpoint, so making the best of a bad situation with Covid-19 is not only smart but the responsible thing to do personally. We’re on the cusp of huge, sweeping changes to our working world, and the ‘new normal’ may be a more permanent fixture than many people realise.
With this in mind, I’m sure there are many of you out there that feel unsure and uncomfortable working from home. I have had numerous people ask me how I’m getting along, and what I’ve done to make the transition. With that in mind, here are the lessons I’ve learned, and the steps I believe will help achieve the primary goal of working from home: maintaining professionalism while balancing your home life.
Location, Location, Location
Working from home is easy right? You can get the laptop out anywhere you want, set it down and boom, you’re away. You can now support your partner with the kids or have Netflix running in the background, and just get on with your day. Except you can’t if you hope to, you know, do your job correctly. Just like your office, you need a designated ‘work’ location at home. This will do two important things; firstly, it will help keep you in a state of mind that you are at work, not home. Setting up a proper workstation keeps you honest, because being open about this, we all have something we’d prefer to do than work, and if you leave that temptation there, it will only be a bad thing. Secondly, it will create essential boundaries that you and your family need to make this work. Being able to ‘leave the office’ will help everyone in the house know that when you’re working, you are at work, not home. If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room as I do, that makes a perfect office, but otherwise, choose a space that isn’t the main function room of your household.
Now, I’m not saying when you’re at work, ignore the family. Far from it, as you’ll see later. What is important is that the mindset is there from the start that you’re at work, so if you aren’t immediately available for a home task, you’re not leaving your partner feeling more overwhelmed because they expected you to help, or worse feeling ignored.
And I would walk five hundred miles…
When was the last time you went outside? If the answer isn’t today, go outside. Now ideally, this will be here when you get back. Staring at the same screen, surrounded by the same walled square you’re likely in, is no good for you mentally or physically. Go for a walk, get some movement and air in your lungs, and give your body a break from the pressure it’s under. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, that’s great to take a ten-minute breather in, but otherwise, at least once a day you should try and take a good 20 minute or so walk so you can reset yourself. It makes the world of difference and will clear a lot of the stress you may not even realise you’re carrying with you.
While I’m at it, I also strongly suggest you dress as if you’re going to work, every day – Yes, it may seem irrelevant, but the fact is that getting that shirt on puts you in the right frame of mind to be working and ready to attack the day. Sitting in your pyjamas will keep your brain in ‘relax’ mode, and you’ll be yawning, slouching, and just not prepared to get stuff done. Make sure you’re comfortable though – be rebellious and skip the tie. But if you wouldn’t go outside in what you’re wearing right now, don’t work in it.
Talk to me Goose
It’s all too easy to get lost in the world of social media and instant news, where everything is full of statistics on how many people have succumbed to Covid-19 today, or how bad the world is handling the next upcoming crisis. Without the daily office network there to help you make sense of it all, or even give voice to something you’re worried about, this stuff can overwhelm you. So, make sure you engage with your colleagues, online through text and via VOP options, such as Skype or Teams. And don’t keep it just business-related, talk about random things. Start an online thread that’s solely for non-work related discussions. This is doubly true if you live alone, as staying indoors all day without seeing anyone would be isolating for anyone, and an open thread is a great way to bond and connect away from your respective work agendas.
Make time for friends and family too. I cannot understate how valuable a strong social network or urban family is right now. Taking those moments to sit down with your family at the table will give you a chance to unwind and spend some quality time with the people you love. It also allows them to talk to you about how they’re doing, and how they’re finding things (we’re all locked up after all), and talking to family and friends ensures that everyone is granted the opportunity to feel heard and have their opinion valued. Remember, you have likely saved at least an hour a day travelling time to and from work, so don’t waste that. If nothing else that is the perfect time after work to make space for others.
Lastly, when working on a project or task and you encounter something that you would talk to someone in person about usually, don’t just put it in an email. Call them and talk to them. Trying to find the words in a message for a complex task, where you can’t react to someone, can turn what would be a ten-minute conversation into a full day of back and forth emails.
Not all treasure is silver and gold
For most people, this will be the first time working from home. As we discussed in the beginning, it’s scary and uncertain, and you don’t know what will happen. However, stick with it and you will quickly find the benefits of working at home rather than in an office are indisputable. Being in your home means your work-life balance is much more manageable. On the work side of things, its nothing but positives that people who work from home have been discovering for years: assuming your office space is respected, you have no distractions such as office gossip or people chatting around you, and your workday has zero travel time, travel costs, and you can make your lunch at home, likely meaning a fresher meal and saving you travelling to buy food. From the life side, your office is yours alone, so grab a pair of headphones and listen to your choice of music without worry of ignoring anyone. It’s also easy to handle a few extra household jobs in during time away from your desk, such as the washing up or popping tea on 30mins before you finish for the day so that when your day is over, it’s instantly yours – with tea almost ready and no travel time, you’ll find yourself with literally hours more time for yourself and your family. As Jack Sparrow once said, “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
As I wrap this up, do keep in mind that while working from home may be the only way of functioning right now, it is a privileged position to be in. We in the business don’t have to worry as much about being furloughed, or losing our jobs, and can continue to support our families and ourselves. There is an inherent amount of trust that comes from working from home, so it’s up to you to manage yourself. As quoted at the start of the article, trying to handle everything as one huge task is too much for anyone to handle in one go, so instead focus on smaller, individual goals. Take regular breaks, stick to the scheduled day, communicate when you are and are not available, and work your regular hours. For most of you, when your day ends you should shut down that laptop and stay off your emails, or you’ll find yourself burning out quickly and losing the benefits that come with working from home. Focus on these smaller tasks, and the whole will become suddenly much more manageable.
All in all, despite the situation, working from home can mean great things not just for your business productivity, but your wallet, your health, and your life in general. A workforce that can show it can function from home can easily lead to better, more permanent solutions being implemented that will continue to benefit you for years.
Author: Stuart Siddons, Internal Support & Data Analyst, Sapphire