With the massive changes that appear to be happening to our way of life in the short term right now, it occurred to me that for many people who are used to commuting to an office each day, this is going to be a big, big shock. For many people, the structure of a Costa Coffee in the cup holder, packed lunch on the passenger seat, a daily workplace and being part of an organisation, is a fundamental thing that they need in order to work.
Take this away and you may well find yourself feeling a surprising degree of mini-panic.
So if you are being asked to work from home and you are feeling worried about it, then here’s my guide of things that you can do to make this period more comfortable. Both simple practical things and also a discussion on a few things that will probably affect you on a mental level if this is the first time you’re going to be a home worker for an extended period.
This is especially true if you’re having the home worker position imposed upon you rather than something you have actively sought out and requested.
About me and my ‘home worker’ history
I’ve been self employed since 2002. Throughout this entire time, in a variety of roles ranging from web designer, professional photographer, writer, race track instructor and of course, freelance digital marketing consultant, I have worked from my place of residence in a wide variety of ways. For many people in the same position as me, working in the freelance capacity and delivering projects as an outside consultant, this way of working is instrumental to the viability of my business. I simply don’t need an office suite in a tower block, a showroom or a storefront.
So for me, this type of isolated work is very enjoyable. And it’s only this past week, as I discussed the situation with office occupying colleagues, that I realised that while I find it practical, liberating and productive, others may find the whole thing really, really scary.
I simply couldn’t work out what the issue was.
What’s the big deal? So you work from home. Isn’t that great? You know that boring commute in the car, through those roadworks that never seem to be completed, those aggressive cyclists who ignore the red light.
That clown you see every-single-morning parking his pristine, gigantic 4×4 across two parking bays?
That colleague who everyone wishes would brush their yellow teeth to stop the halitosis? You can talk to that guy on the phone. Aroma free.
You get to escape all of that.
Yet you may find such sudden isolation scary. I actually had to dig way back in my memories to recall what it felt like when I first stepped out of the structure of traditional routine work and commuting and recall how I felt at the time.
And indeed, I can recall feelings of isolation, sapping self confidence and other negative thoughts.
So if your organisation is moving to home working in the current climate, here’s my checklist on how to go about it, especially if you’re doing it out of necessity rather than desire.
Your Digital Toolkit.
If you’ve read this far, the chances are that you are employed and that your organisation has gone the home worker route from a safety and well being viewpoint. So I imagine that a lot of the tools you’re going to need are being provided for you. The usuals, laptop, cellphone, log ins to the corporate infrastructure etc.
However, not all employers are thinking this through, some have had this dropped on them suddenly and they have no plan and some I know are leaving their workforce to figure this out.
If you’ve been asked to figure this out as best you can, then here’s a list of resources that are either cheap or free to use on a small scale.
DropBox – file sharing via Dropbox will enable you to collaborate with others and edit, exchange and discuss large files without having to worry about attaching large emails. You can upload to a folder system that you can create and then share the link, either to the folder or to individual documents.
Evernote – I’m a huge Evernote fan historically. A basic Evernote account is free just like Dropbox. The beauty of it is that it synchronises seamlessly with your computer, your phone, your iPad or almost any other device you can think of.
You can create a whole eco-system of notes, documents images, PDF’s links to resources within Evernote. If you have a file and folder system in your office that you are temporarily unable to access, then creating the same system in Evernote will help you.
And when this is all over and you return to work, then you will be able to log in to Evernote in your work’s web browser and move your work over onto your normal office machine.
Your Home Workspace
These days, I transition across different workspaces seamlessly depending upon my task at hand and how I feel. (Geek alert). I’m writing this article on a chair and footstool I discovered online that has no arms so it’s perfect for me to type and not catch my elbows.
If I need to spread out, I use a desk or a dining table. And I personally move across these areas as I need to. You may well find it hard to settle into a routine in this new work environment, so for now, try and settle yourself into a similar posture to your normal workplace one.
If you live in a normal, busy family home, then you probably have no free space to dedicate to an office environment. Read further about how this will impact the rest of the household and how to mitigate it at the very beginning.
Comms – Business Life Goes On.
You may well need to video conference and if your work requires this to continue, you need to consider what’s in the camera view. You don’t want a mountain of laundry, kids toys and indeed screaming kids arguing in the background. I sometimes use video conferencing and when needed, I use something as simple as turning myself through 180 degrees on my large work table for these calls. This gives me a plain, white wall as a backdrop. I could be anywhere.
The Routine – Set Your Working Hours
Trust me, the novelty of not having to commute will never wear off. It’s only when this is all over and everyone returns to the daily drive that you’re going to remember how shit commuting is.
Meanwhile, you will need a routine. If you’re expected to maintain your office hours from home, then so be it. You may well have an intranet system that you have to log onto and show that you are there. A dumb and ineffective instrument for measuring productivity, but that’s another story. It’s a short sighted approach unless you have customers to connect with in traditional office hours, however in this current climate, you will simply have to live with it.
On the other hand, your employer may simply be giving you a workload and targets with simple deadlines. They may not be too concerned when you choose to work, as long as you deliver the work you would have been delivering at the office.
You will find within a week or so that you develop a routine that works best for both your employer and your productivity, yet also your own well being and personal life.
My routine, after many years of freelance working, is to be productive first thing in the morning. Most days I am getting my most productive work done from 6:30am through to around 10:00am. It’s when I am sharpest, most creative and productive. It is also of course, a time when I am less likely to be interrupted or distracted by calls.
By 10:00am, the phone is starting to ping with WhatsApps, my email inbox needs a little attention and the digital channels that I manage for clients need to be checked for responses and so forth. It’s also the time when I take a short break,
Of course, this does pre-suppose one important thing. I am assuming that you’re one of those people who actually is flexible enough to want to do this. If you are the kind of person who starts work at 9:00am as the clock strikes and are driving off site at one minute past five, no exceptions, then you may well struggle a little.
You notice that I called this section ’set your working hours’? It’s really important that you resist the temptation to do ‘just one more thing’ after tea. It’s a slippery slope and will wreak havoc with your personal life. Whatever routine you set, do not deviate from it unless it’s for a very good reason.
Dress for work – Your Mileage May Vary.
For quite some time after I left the structured work of employment, I still actually put on a shirt each morning. Ok, the tie got ditched real quick and the shirts gradually became slightly less formal. However, to this day I still dress in a manner that, should someone call by, I am not scrambling out of my boxer shorts and T shirt with pizza stains on it to answer the door. I shower, dress, shave, put on clean ironed clothes as if I were going out into the world to do a job of work.
Does that mean that I am a scruffy, unshaven mess the rest of the time? Erm no. While I am waaaay short of being a trend setter in fashion, I like clean, ironed clothes, even if these days that may be simply clean jeans and a fresh, white T shirt or shirt. Don’t let your personal standards slip.
Consideration for The Other People in Your Home.
Your other family members will have a range of feelings about this. And this was one of my big areas that I didn’t understand for quite some time.
They live here too, remember? Having all your office files and highlighters spread across the kitchen table at meal times is quickly going to get irritating. If you don’t have an office space – and if this is a temporary, short notice thing you probably won’t – then make your files, notes, cases of workload easy to pack away in a way which means that you can actually find stuff once again when the meal is over.
You need to accommodate everyone else in your household. Your partner tripping over your day bag full of notes and constantly picking up your mess after you, with you yelling, “No, don’t touch that!” is not good for a harmonious life.
Yelling at your kids to be QUIET! when your mobile phone rings with an important call is unfair. This isn’t your office, it’s their home, remember. You will need to explain to everyone beforehand that there will be times when you need a quiet place and you may well simply have to walk through to another room.
Also, if you’re working from home during the school holidays, don’t forget to feed them…
Conversely, you also need to explain to everyone that you are actually working. This will be easier for you than it was for me. In my work online, I lost count of the number of times people would ‘pop round for a coffee’. These unannounced visits used to have a significant impact on my work day. It took a long time to explain that, you wouldn’t call by someone’s office space to hang out for a coffee, would you?
To this day, I have friends, family members and colleagues who still don’t understand what I do, ranging from “Neill does writing on the internet” all the way to the question, “When is he going to get a proper job?”
If you are transitioning to home working, especially in the Coronavirus situation, then at least you aren’t faced with explaining what you do. However you will definitely have to set boundaries.
Your Mental State
This one is a tougher question for me to answer. I chose to go freelance and work from home voluntarily. My choice. Therefore once I had made the initial scary transition, I settled into a way of working.
As I write this from the UK the Coronavirus is just beginning to gather momentum. Therefore there will inevitably be people feeling scared and vulnerable. Add in the removal of your familiar routine and you’re certainly going to feel a little bit out of sorts, minimum.
It’s perfectly OK to be open about how you’re feeling, though having someone to share those worries with is sometimes harder to find. Your partner, for instance, may well still be working all day and when they arrive home, you might want to give them a little time to unwind before you burden them. Sharing your worries with your newly virtual office colleagues may be a better bet. A WhatsApp chat group would be a good way to set that up.
What Did I Miss?
I’ve been doing this whole ‘laptop lifestyle’ and ‘home worker’ thing for many years. So I have probably forgotten many things that are a shock when you first start out. Let me know in the comments below how you are getting along.
If you’re struggling, tell me why?
And if you’re finding it exciting and liberating, I’d love to hear what it is that inspires you about working this way?