Sitting by the pool on holiday recently, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a conversation two mums were having about how difficult it had been returning to work in London after having their children and fantasising over how great it would be if they could work from home and not commute. Amongst other things, they discussed about having more time at the end of each day to work and not travel, being able to exercise more, spend more time with the kids, concentrate better with no one to distract them, getting rid of the dog walker, lower nursery fees etc. etc. Having left the corporate world a long time ago and spending a fair bit of time working out of a ‘home office’, I did have a bit of a chuckle over perception versus reality on this. Yet would I return to the world of commuting five days per week? Never!! According to the Office of National Statistics, “Commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters”. Enough said.
And working from home is certainly increasing in the UK. A recent employment trends’ survey (Confederation of British Industry and Accenture) suggested that 84% of UK businesses now have a significant number of employees who work away from the office during the working week – a rise of 25% over the past five years. And, according to recruitment consultancy Office Angels, almost 60% of UK office-based employees will regularly work from home by 2022. Research at Stanford University has found that remote workers are good for business too – they are apparently 13% more productive, take fewer sick days and have higher levels of engagement than their commuting colleagues.
So remote working may be the future but we know it comes with its own challenges. Here are some top tips shared through my own experience:
- Create your own work sanctuary
One of the biggest challenges you may face while working remotely is the blurred line between home and work life. A home-based office can be part of your living space but, if it’s anything like mine, that comes with teenagers, neighbours, a barking dog, postmen and distracting piles of laundry amongst other things. Ideally you should be able to shut yourself off from the home environment by having a separate, dedicated and sound-proof office space which is quiet, well-lit and with some natural light. You should also be able to leave your space at the end of the workday, close the door so you can mentally switch off.
- Dress to impress
Although I wouldn’t expect you to pick out your best suit for a day in front of your laptop, I would recommend that you stick to your morning routine as you would for a day in the office. Whilst working in your PJs may be more comfy than your normal work attire, it does not encourage you to get into the right mindset for a day’s work. And you never know when you may need to make or take a last minute Skype or Facetime business call.
- Own your schedule
One of the great things about remote work is the freedom to design your own day. Remote work is more self-directed which means you have the autonomy to make your own workday. But owning your schedule also means you need to put structure into your day. You have to be disciplined here. Choose the hours that work best for you and try to stick to them. Don’t forget to take a break too. If you can get some fresh air and exercise as well, even better. When I started remote working I used to leave my house and walk to our local station and back each morning as if I had just arrived off the train. I walked straight into my office and ignored the house. Now I start with a dog walk after a school run when I’m in my office and then know my day ahead is clear without distractions to work through. Find what’s best for you.
- Get social
Though working from home may give you a welcome distance from the office politics, don’t underestimate the importance of social contact in the working day. It can sometimes feel quite lonely working remotely too, especially if you’ve never done it before. Whether it’s discussing your latest project or just talking about last night’s “Apprentice”, chatting with your colleagues will make you feel like you’re connected. Be an effective, thorough and reliable communicator. Don’t send vague emails or chat messages about your project. Over-communicate! You may have to work a bit harder to keep up to date with what’s going on with each member of the team but it’s crucial to have regular virtual meetings with everyone to ensure you’re all headed in the same direction. Face-to-face communication is always more powerful so, where you have the technology available, try to replace your phone calls with video instead. Tools like Skype, Zoom and Go2 meetings are invaluable when you work from home. And don’t forget to show your face in the office once in a while too.
- Limit your distractions
I’ve already mentioned some of the unique set of distractions working from home can bring, so try to stay mindful of your own concentration at all times and know your weaknesses. I know mine is attempting to work in the garden when the sun shines which is absolutely not an effective way of working for me. Apart from not being able to see my screen properly and my internet connection failing miserably, I don’t work at quite the same pace when I’m hot. So instead I allow myself a half hour break of uninterrupted sunshine to enjoy the rays and re-charge. Then it’s back to my much cooler office to get productive again. So when your concentration starts to wane, take a break – as long as it’s not to empty your washing machine.
Be great to hear if any of you have any other top tips to share…