With the global outbreak of Covid-19 (aka the Coronavirus), many people have the opportunity to work from home for the first time, though often not out of choice. Offices are being cautious, events are being cancelled, and the global economy is starting to show some strain. This is a fast-moving situation with things changing every day. No matter where you are, you might find yourself unexpectedly working from home. If you’ve not done it before, this can be jarring.
It’s always important to follow the advice of the government officials in your country. In Ireland, that’s the Department of Health. You can check out the latest updates on their website here.
NB: This article contains no health advice, contact your local GP immediately if you think you have Covid-19.
Blacknight itself is preparing by holding a test this Friday where all staff will work from home. If your employer has decided to let you or ordered you to work from home, here are a few tips from someone who has worked from home for over a decade. Working from home is not like working in an office. And it’s easy to get complacent and comfortable in the one place where you’re most comfortable.
Here are my ten tips to make the most of working at home.
Follow Your Normal Work Routine
This is the most critical. It’s easy for your normal habits to break down when you’re in the comfort of your own home. This can hamper productivity. So, if you’re normally up at say 7 am to get ready for work, then continue to do so. Have your breakfast, have your tea, get ready for the day. Then sit down to work when you normally would. Try to stick to your normal work hours as working from home. The hours can blur between home and work if you’re answering emails or tickets outside of work hours.
Always Get Dressed
You’re at home. It’s so tempting to just work in your pyjamas or your sloppiest tracksuit. I recommend always getting dressed, properly. You don’t need to put on a suit and tie, but get dressed like you would when you normally leave the house. I would even put socks and shoes on. Though it might be a bit weird to wear shoes in your own house. This sets a mental tone for the workday and allows you to follow your regular routine.
Have a Workspace with a door
Working at home has just as many distractions, if not more than you would in an office setting. So, work in a room with a door, that you can shut. This isn’t just for wayward children and pets; it works for spouses too (my spouse is always a great distraction because, of course, I’d rather chat with her than work). This also helps keep house noises low for important conference calls, of which I’m sure there will be many.
Plan snacks, meals and tea breaks
Most people are bad about eating during the workday anyway, but being at home is no excuse. You have everything there to eat, so eat properly. That means breakfast (before work, not after you’ve sat down to start). Take an hour break for lunch – make something nutritious (or not). In some European countries, you are required to have a lunch break anyway. Take the time. Also, plan in regular tea/coffee breaks in between meals. After an hour or two of intense work, get up and walk around the house to clear your mind.
Pet the Pets
If you have pets, they will require a bit of extra management. Your cat may or may not be pleased that you’re home during the day, but be sure to give them some extra pets. I recommend setting up a blanket or old sweatshirt on the desk as a makeshift bed for the cat – this keeps them out of your lap and off your keyboard but still in their presence. If they’re in your lap, you can’t type (and you won’t want to). Don’t let them in your lap.
While your cat will act indifferent to your extra presence, your dog will be VERY EXCITED that you’re there. It will expect to played with. My dog always brings his tug of war rope to my desk while I’m working, and I have to disappoint him by telling him to go away. But occasionally literally throw him a bone. He’ll be happy and reward you by laying at your feet (and possibly keeping them warm in colder climes). I recommend shutting a door when you have a video call, as pets will love to try and get on camera. Though this may prove popular with your co-workers if it happens!
Leave the TV Off
Most workers don’t have a TV in the office, so don’t turn one on at home, either. The TV will simply distract you. And daytime TV is usually rubbish anyway. It’s sugary sweets for the mind. It will not help you focus in any way.
Blast Some Music
If you’re alone, take the chance to blast some music to get the work muscles pumping. If your family is Corona-quarantined with you – make sure you have a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones (and make sure they do too!). Then blast to your heart’s content.
Be Ready for Video Calls
This plays into the first tip of being dressed for the day (and hair combed or styled). You may have to do video calls with your colleagues. It’s important to think about what will be in view of the camera. You can probably get away with a messy desk as that won’t be visible. But my pro tip is to always make sure the area behind you is clean, as that’s what others will see on a video call. I can’t tell you how fixated I’ve become with what’s behind co-workers on a call rather than what they’re talking to me about. A good way to test is to open Photo Booth on the Mac or a similar app on the PC and see what the camera sees.
Managing the Kids
The hardest part of working from home is managing the needs and expectations of my kids. Thankfully, mine are both school-aged, so they’re usually gone all day. But if you’re stuck in the house because of Covid-19, chances are they will be too. So, be clear with them that you have to work. Give them things to do. Maybe sign them up for that new game they really want to play, that will keep them busy. Also, I’m not above bribery either. I often make deals with them, say you leave me alone to get my work done, and we’ll do something special when I’m done though options may be limited if you’re all stuck in the house. But usual parenting tips apply. Keep tablets charged, computers on, a stack of DVD’s at the ready, snacks easy to find, and TV’s tuned to the kids’ channels. Give them advance warning of important calls so they know to leave you alone or keep the screaming to a minimum.
And if the internet goes out, you’re all doomed.
Everyone Needs to Set Expectations
As someone who works from home all the time, it can sometimes feel like you’re not doing enough. But as long as everyone – you, your bosses and your co-workers, have clear expectations, you can avoid the trap of thinking you’re never getting enough done. It’s also important to manage expectations with those you share your home with. Everyone has important work to do; you’re all going to have to work together to make sure it gets done. And yes, your kids and pets have expectations too (if you have them), though those are usually easier to meet! Remember to keep in regular touch with your other colleagues via Slack, Teams, Skype, Facetime etc.
Do you have your own tips for working from home? Please leave them in the comments!