Working from home started as a visceral reaction to an unseen situation but has evolved into the new way forward. Throughout 2020 there were clips going around of people finding that, actually, they quite like not going into the office.
There are a lot of benefits after all: no commute, eating your own food means spending less money, all whilst reducing your carbon footprint in the process. Work/life balance is easy to maintain when you can drop the kids off at school or schedule in an appointment in the middle of the workday. Also, a lack of distractions from water-cooler chat or low-priority meetings means productivity has gone up.
But, what are the things to consider when working from home instead of the office. Let’s take a look.
1. Know your rights
England’s priority is to aid employers in city centres who have struggled during lockdown, and therefore are encouraging everyone to get into work as soon as possible.
The rules in the UK on working from home are ever changing as the country eases out of lockdown, but this is what the rules are for now.
In Scotland Covid restrictions were lifted but the Scottish government is aiming for a “gradual approach” to getting people back into offices. The public was advised to work from home whenever possible and to wear masks while moving around the office.
Individual businesses in Wales are also advised to encourage working from home as much as possible, as are Northern Ireland.
You have the right to ask your employer if you can work from home and request flexible working rights, but they have no obligation to agree. They do however have to ensure a safe environment by following the government’s Working Safely guidance which can be found on gov.uk.
2. Know the ground rules
A conversation with the boss, or even a memo of rules would be apt before you get started. Is your employer okay with flexibility, or do they stick to a strict 9-5? What tech will the company provide and what will you have to handle yourself? Have they given you everything you need: passcodes, instructions for remote login, etc. Will you need a VPN to access files? Are you allowed to work on public Wi-Fi? Make sure you won’t get in trouble before you attend that meeting from your favourite coffee shop.
3. Set up your office
Much like the toilet paper shortage, IKEA ran into a desk shortage around the start of lockdown, because having a home office wasn’t much of a priority before then. No judgement if your bed is doing just fine as a desk, but if you’re someone who needs a space to separate work from relaxing, you might want to invest in a desk. If you can, face it towards a window, so it feels like less of a cubicle, or an isolation cell.
Identify and write down what you need for your home office. Do you need a lot of space for a lot of equipment? An organisation system? Do you have a laptop, or will your employer need to provide one?
Think about your chair too. Office chairs are already hard on your, well, everything by the end of the day. Imagine sitting eight hours in a dining table, or a fold-out garden chair, as some thrifty employees have adopted. You’re going to be looking for quotes for health insurance instead if your back goes.
There are also things like laptop stands and risers to make your office experience as comfortable as possible.
4. Make sure your internet is up to par
You might need to consider upgrading your internet. If you have little ones in the house that need a constant stream of Peppa Pig to keep them amused, or a partner or roommate who is also working from home, you might need to upgrade your broadband and internet speed to allow it to keep up with multiple users.
There are business packages available with fast upload speeds and better security than home broadband. Compare broadband deals but if you can get by with what you’ve got, then congratulations, you’ve saved some money.
5. Handle the software
The saying “there’s an app for that” hasn’t died just yet. There are a million applications online available to help you with your work.
No doubt your office uses some obscure data processing platform or software the rest of us have never heard of, so that would be first on your list. Have a word with your boss to see if there’s anything extra that you’ll need.
The likely candidates will be Zoom or some other video conference application, like Microsoft Teams, Trello or other project management platform, and Google calendar or another shared scheduler.
6. Plan social interactions
Working from home can be a lonely experience if there’s no one else in the house. Chats by the water-cooler or coffee maker are going to devolve into muttering to your laptop screen when an email starts with “As per my last email”. The laptop doesn’t say “I know, right?” in disgust I’m afraid.
It might be a good idea to schedule in some time with someone: a walk with friends, a lunch hour or an evening catch-up.
Employer permitting, plan to get out of the house once in a while. Take your laptop to the garden, park, or coffee shop. Wi-Fi hotspots are on the rise, no longer made for hipsters writing their screenplay, you can head into whatever bar or café you fancy and order a cuppa and a slice of cheesecake while you work. Simply being around other people may ease the isolation.
7. Don’t overwork
A possible side-effect of working from home would be burnout. The shift to your usual routine can blur work and personal time together. It can be very difficult to switch off if your workspace is also your home space. You can offset this a little by making sure you don’t work on the couch or your bed. Buy a desk and stick to it.
Set yourself a routine. If 9-5 is your hours, then that’s what you’re doing. Follow your usual sleeping and eating patterns. Shower, dress, then get started, as usual.
And when you’re done, you’re done. Turn your computer off, your email notifications on silent, enjoy your dinner and sleep without thinking about work again until 9am the next day. You’ll be of no use to anyone if you burnout.
8. Stay productive
There are a lot of distractions in your home. Be that people or material, make sure your mind doesn’t wander.
Set boundaries with children who have assumed you’re on holiday, or the dog looking for their 3rd walk in an hour or a roommate blasting the TV too loud. You need quiet time to work and a discussion should set that straight.
Set a plan for housework, for when that pot in the sink has been eyeing you for 7 hours. If you set a time the day before won’t bother you because it’ll soon be clean. Create a to-do list to help you juggle the tasks of work and home.
Now enjoy the fact that your commute home was from the desk to the sofa, and your homemade exquisite meal will soon be enjoyed rather than an oven pizza again.
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