The figures on the increase in home and hybrid working since the start of 2020 are remarkable. According to Forbes, up to 25% of all professional roles will be remote by 2023. Furthermore, according to the Forbes article, in the 2021 State of Remote Work Report from Owl Labs, 90% of survey respondents claimed they were more productive when working from home.
How do you ensure you are working productively and successfully from home? It isn’t necessarily easy to achieve an environment conducive to focus when you may have children at home, noisy or disruptive neighbourhoods, or other obstacles. Then there are potential problems with procrastination, lack of social interaction and technological setbacks.
We’ve put together a list of hard-earned lessons and tips (this writer works entirely from home or a nearby café) to help you make the transition to remote working, as both an employer and employee. We’ll start from the employee perspective first.
Tips for Working from Home as an Employee
1: Create Your Own Schedule
It’s easy if you’re not a morning person, to lean into a late start, which requires you to work late into the evening. Or you may find you have a problem with procrastination, tempting you to invest time in housework rather than that challenging whitepaper or spreadsheet.
Creating a personal work schedule with periods set aside for various tasks can help you stick to the plan. You can still be flexible, but planning ahead, and then sticking to that plan, ensures that the tasks get done.
2: Feel Free to be Flexible
Everyone has different diurnal preferences – some love getting up at 5am and starting an hour later. Others perform more effectively with a late start and will happily work until dinner time. Working from home allows us to increase our effectiveness by optimizing our daily routine for these preferences. In some workplaces, it may even be possible to adopt a 4-day working week with one additional day off to be taken at the worker’s discretion.
However, if your employer chooses to define flexible working, make sure you still hit targets and deadlines. And, of course, you’ll have to work around meeting times.
3: Work to Deadlines
Deadlines are a great motivator for most people. You may discover that creating your own personal deadlines, and potentially even tabulating them on a spreadsheet or list, ensures that you work efficiently and prioritize well.
For instance, you may decide to complete one task by lunchtime, and ensure another is finished one day before your employer needs it. This builds in a buffer for the vicissitudes of life which may intrude (a leaky washing machine, your broadband service dropping out, et cetera).
4: Create a Dedicated Workspace
Having a room, table or area that becomes your “home office” can help with concentration, motivation, and boundary setting. While some people work well on the kitchen counter, others need to shut the door on the world to focus. You’ll know what works best for you.
A quiet place, which has an ambient temperature (not too warm), with enough space to work, good WiFi and 4G / 5G reception, and a decent backdrop for meetings (see tip 8 below) are universal must-haves.
5: Set Boundaries
It’s important to agree with your line manager on what the parameters of your working day will be. While some employees are happy to receive calls in the evening or early morning, for others this will not be appropriate. You also need to develop working boundaries with your family or housemates. It can be as simple as closing a door, placing a “do not disturb” sign on the handle, or simply stating that you need some “quiet time” for a specified period.
Obviously, these sorts of agreements must be negotiated with your significant others, but once agreed, they should be adhered to, particularly if you have a partner who is also working from home. Just because you’re done for the day, doesn’t mean that they are.
6: Change it Up
The nature of your work permitting, if you’re having trouble focusing, try relocating to a local café for an hour or two. You may worry that this will merely add distraction. However, when you’re not able to flick on the television, mop the floor or jump on the yoga mat, sometimes there’s less to divert you in a public place. Avoid bars, however, for obvious reasons.
Having others around, particularly if they’re working too, can help with the sense of isolation that some remote workers may feel, even if you don’t strike up a conversation with those around you.
7: Learn to Tether
Malfunctioning WiFi or Broadband can be the bane of any home worker’s life. As an emergency measure, particularly if you have a work phone or unlimited data, learn to tether your PC or laptop to your phone so that you can piggyback off its 4G/5G signal and still use the internet. You are effectively turning your phone into a data “dongle”.
8: Create a Zoom/Teams/Google Setup
You’ll almost certainly be using a collaborative system like Zoom to have virtual meetings while you are working from home. Make sure you’re ready for that by ticking off the items in this checklist:
- A bright or well-illuminated room with a reliable WiFi signal.
- As few extraneous noises or disturbances as possible.
- Bluetooth or wired headphones (ideally a headset with a built-in microphone).
- Make sure you have tested your webcam, headphones, and microphone.
- Choose a suitable backdrop – a neutral dark space is good to draw attention to you, rather than the books on your shelves. Avoid dodgy green screen effects.
- Select something appropriate and business-like to wear!
Follow this list and everything should go smoothly and professionally.
9: Take a Sunshine Day
If your employer allows flexi-days, build in enough leeway in your schedule so that, if the weather is especially wonderful, or you find you’re unable to concentrate, you can take a day off, and make it up later in the week. Many employers will allow for this kind of flexibility, so long as deadlines are still met, and meetings attended. Check the policies of your employer first, obviously.
10: Work in Short Bursts
Studies have shown that humans can only concentrate fully on a task for 20 minutes at a time. Take regular breaks, to stretch your legs, make coffee, or otherwise tear your eyes away from the screen. Make sure you do return to the task in hand, however.
The Pomodore Technique is an established method of working in short bursts, with regular breaks to recharge. Try it if you’re having trouble focusing.
11: Don’t Overdo It
It can be tempting, when you are “in the zone” on a project, to simply work until the sun has long descended beneath the horizon. However, pulling all-nighters will not improve your overall efficiency. Make time for relaxation and the recuperative power of sleep. You won’t be able to concentrate if you work too hard.
Your employer should provide you with the relevant collaborative tools including virtual whiteboards, group mail channels or chat facilities, virtual meeting platforms and more. Use these means to ensure that you preserve a collaborative approach, rather than going it alone. Check-in regularly with your line manager if they aren’t sufficiently proactive in keeping in touch with you.
The last thing you want to do is pursue a particular direction, only to discover that other members of your team have a quite different notion of the task at hand.
Tips for Working from Home as an Employer
13: Begin with Trust
If you’re used to working in a close-knit co-located team, it can be a little hard to readjust to remote working and to “let go” of the degree of oversight you’re used to having. However, it is important to begin from a place of trust. Set clear goals, milestones and deadlines and ensure these will be met, and have meetings as and when necessary.
However, it is possible to micromanage a remote working team, and you won’t be able to get the best out of your employees if you keep interrupting their workflow with minor queries. Collate communication and send out a handful of emails a day (not dozens) with important updates. If you trust your team, they’ll usually appreciate it and turn in their best work.
14: Insist on Deadlines
Having stressed the degree of freedom you should allow employees working remotely, it’s still important to temper this freedom with hard deadlines and clearly defined roles and tasks. Everyone needs to know what their priorities are, and where the boundaries of each role lie.
If deadlines aren’t met, first examine whether they were realistic and, if so, institute measures to monitor your team more closely with one of the many productivity analysis tools available. Revise unrealistic deadlines and provide support and understanding to employees who are struggling in a remote environment, particularly if this transition hasn’t been voluntary.
15: Check-in Regularly
Schedule a regular check-in with each member of the team to ensure they are working well in the new hybrid or remote mode. Listen to their feedback on what could be improved and whether they are benefiting from the experience.
Be less critical during a transitional period than you might with an experienced remote worker. It is, however, appropriate to use analytics to demonstrate productivity, as well as set goals for improvement and deadlines for milestones to be reached.
16: Provide the Means
It’s important to ensure that employees working from home have the support they need. Do they have a dedicated laptop, PC and/or smartphone? Is their broadband sufficiently reliable? On the non-technical side, tactfully enquire whether they have a conducive home environment that permits focused work periods. Not all employees will be open and honest if they are worried that they will be undervalued due to the inequitable challenges they face.
Similarly, ensuring that your team still gets the same level of opportunity for training virtually as they would in the workplace is important so your employees can continue developing even while working remotely. You can do this using an online learning platform, otherwise known as an LMS, which your employees can access wherever they are, on any device to keep learning and develop their skillsets.
17: Host Group Meetings
To help your remote working team cohere and collaborate, it’s vital to get the team together on a regular basis. This can be an IRL meeting, or simply a group Zoom session. Create a virtual learning environment and have everyone give presentations on their area of work so that each individual feels included and listened to. Try to make sure that a vocal minority does not dominate.
Consider holding a more casual, early evening meeting now and again, where employees can dress casually, drink a glass of wine, or otherwise relax.
18: Periodic Face to Faces
It is important for the whole team to meet face-to-face from time to time. Obviously, if your time is distributed far and wide across the globe, this will be hard to coordinate.
However, holding annual conferences, celebrations, launch events, parties, and other occasions where the team can come together to mark important milestones, is a fantastic way to build cohesion and reward your employees. It’s worth committing a little money to this end.
19: Offer a Hybrid Model
Some employees will not find it easy to work from home at all. Others will have limited opportunity to do so (perhaps they have a partner who works part-time and can only provide childcare two days per week). For these employees, it makes sense to offer a hybrid model of working, so that they can split their week between a centralized office, and home.
Alternatively, perhaps some employees can remain located in a centralised office, while others are more able to work remotely. While this may not always be possible, it does represent the most equitable way to work.
20: Keep it Competitive
To ensure that staff working from home still feel some of the helpful competitiveness they would in a shared office, consider offering incentives. Sales and marketing teams in particular may be motivated by this commonly adopted strategy.
Whether in the form of status (Sales Rep of the Month), cash bonuses, gifts or experiences, carrots tend to work far better than sticks for long-term improvement. As a recent article by Scott Bateman notes, “Rewards have both short and long term benefits to employees. They give an immediate boost to employee self-esteem as well as their job security.”
21: Lead by Example
The best way you can inspire and lead remote workers is by being a productive remote worker yourself – return calls and emails promptly, hit deadlines and deliver projects effectively virtually. If your employees can never get hold of you, on the other hand, it’s going to seem that remote working renders you less efficient and effective.
We hope this rundown of tips and ideas has been helpful. Remote and hybrid working is here to stay, for a host of reasons, so let’s do our best to optimize this new way of working for employees and employers alike.
Please contact Skillshub for any of your online learning needs. No matter where you are on your organisational digital journey, we can help.