The recent outbreak of the Covid-19 virus has prompted a large number of businesses to consider asking their staff to work from home. But working from home is not a new phenomenon. The UK has one of the highest proportions of home-based workers, which has grown significantly over the last decade as more people choose to become freelancers and self-employed.
I have run my businesses and worked from home for nearly 20 years during which time I have learnt the do’s and don’t’s of home based working. If you are planning on working from home – or asking your staff to do so – here are my suggestions for making it work.
- Retain a ‘work’ mindset
Home is usually where we relax with family and friends, so deciding to work at home requires a different mindset. Treat your days at home just as you would if you were going out to work. Keep the same hours, take breaks as you would at work and take time for lunch. Finish at your usual time and enjoy the time you save on commuting with family or friends.
- Create a separate work space
Ideally you will have – or be able to create – a separate space where you will be ‘at work’. This may be a spare room, annex or an area you can create where you won’t be disturbed. I am fortunate in that I was able to convert a spare room into an office. It was stripped bare and ‘built’ (by my joiner) around my needs for bookshelves, storage, a large desk, equipment, plenty of desk-height sockets and good lighting.
As you’ll be spending most of your days in the space it needs to be welcoming, comfortable and above all away from distractions. Make sure family members know that you are at work and don’t disturb you until your breaks.
Invest in a comfortable office chair – and because I spend a lot of time reading and listening to audio books a separate armchair are essential.
- Invest in good quality office equipment
The reason that so many of us can work from home is because of technology advances, but a slow computer, printer and broadband will soon become frustrating. It is worth paying for the best equipment you can afford. A minimum specification includes a PC with a large screen, a separate laptop, colour laser printer, broadband router, webcam, microphone or headset, smartphone and back-up storage device. Make sure these are within easy reach and you can access them all from your chair.
If you need a landline as well as your smartphone, consider getting a VOIP (over internet protocol) handset and connect it to your broadband router. You’ll need a service provider such as Invoco (www.invoco.net) but with no need for a monthly subscription to a landline provider and minimal call charges you can have the benefit of calls to a geographical number – you can transfer your existing number – at a much reduced cost.
- Build your tech stack
Depending on your job, you’ll need software to work from home and perform your role. It is worth spending the time to give your exact requirements some serious thought as incompatible software applications will significantly reduce your productivity. As an accountant, I used to try and support different accounting applications such as Xero, Quickbooks, FreeAgent etc. until I released that it was much better to focus on one (Xero in my case: www.xero.com), become expert and certified in its use and build my tech stack with compatible add-ons.
A few well-chosen software applications that are integrated will make life so much easier. Resist the temptation to fall for ‘shiny object syndrome’ by investing in the latest piece of software (I was really good at falling for this). Find what works for you and stick to tried and trusted suppliers.
- Communicate effectively
When you are no longer at your usual place of work and interacting with colleagues it is tempting to be always available on email, Messenger, WhatsApp or by telephone. Big mistake. Interruptions are the biggest killer of productivity. When I first started working from home I was surprised at how quickly I completed tasks now that no-one was interrupting me.
Organise your day so that you have a dedicated time for returning telephone calls and emails, and for the rest of the time have voicemail (or a call handler) take your messages. Even better sign up to a call scheduling system such as Calendly (www.calendly.com) and link it to your online calendar so that customers and colleagues can book a time in your diary when you will call them.
For those team meetings that used to take place use a video conferencing system such as Zoom (www.zoom.us) instead. Meetings of up to 40mins are free, which should be long enough to get all but the boring meeting finished and a recording will be available to send to anyone who misses the meeting.
If there are notices, new policies or other information you want to share with customers or team members consider using an email system such as AWeber (www.aweber.com) which allows you to set up a list of people you want to email and send one email to everyone. Its tracking feature will let you know who has, and hasn’t, opened your email.
If you need a way to send documents – or if your customers or colleagues need to send you information – consider using either encrypted email or a secure online portal. I use StayPrivate (www.stayprivate.com) for email encryption and SmartVault (www.smartvault.com) for sending and receiving documents. Remember never send documents over email as it’s not secure.
- Get documents signed
Set up an e-signature platform to get documents signed so you no longer need to print or post documents to be signed and if a customer wants a copy of a signed document they can access it whenever they want from your secure online portal.
I hope this helps, and who knows….you may find that working from home suits you.