To say the world has gone mad in the last couple of months is an understatement. People stabbing each other in supermarkets while fighting over toilet paper, food hoarding on a scale that assumes a ten-year apocalypse, and most recently, seemingly sensible intelligent adults struggling with the concept of working from home.
From some of the comments I’ve read, you’d think people have been asked to solve the vaccine for COVID-19 from their kitchen, rather than do what they do on a computer most days, except in their home, not their office.
I declare inside knowledge here. I’ve been working from a home office for most of this century. I said ‘most of this century’ because it sounds even longer than ‘the last two decades’. In fact, I have worked from 5 different home offices in that time. Though to call some of those offices a ‘home office’ is stretching the truth. In a couple of cases, they were just desks in the corner with my computer on them.
My current purpose-built home-office accommodates my bride and myself. We work in two entirely different businesses and are seated at a comfortable 6′ of social distance. We’ve been socially distancing from each other for years, so to speak. We hardly speak to one another during the day and neither of us wears noise-cancelling headphones. We just get on with our business, blithely ignoring one another.
So given my expertise in this matter of working from home, I thought I’d share some tips to the virgin home workers out there who have been caught on the hop by COVID-19.
The first rule is quite simple, and it will help when you start to use video calls more frequently: Trim your nose hair!
You can see evidence of home-based conference-call virgins making this mistake every day on TV. A news presenter crosses to someone talking into their Skype or whatever app they have on their laptop. Inevitably the ‘correspondent’ talks into their computer’s camera looking down into it and close up – just to make sure they can be seen. This results in everyone who is watching the program staring straight up into the dark reaches of the speaker’s nostrils – and it is not a good look at all, ever.
Organise your camera so you are talking directly at it or slightly up into it, particularly if you are talking at close range.
Start your day with a routine, as if you are going to work at your office. One executive I know starts his day the same as always. He showers, eats breakfast and dresses for work. He hops in his car, drives down to his local cafe and buys a takeaway coffee, then returns home and walks into his office as if he has arrived at work. Even hangs up his coat.
In my household, I do the drop-off to school or bus stop, while my bride takes the dog for a walk. On return, I grind the beans and make the coffee. We have a quick chat about what’s planned for the day and then go to our desk, or head off to meetings. We both dress smartly, as we have clients come to our home for meetings, as well as couriers delivering parcels.
We eat lunch separately as we have different dining habits. If one of us is heading out we check deadlines so we can manage the afternoon shift of teens arriving home. We shop daily rather than a big weekly shop, as it provides a social opportunity to get out of the house.
The teens are told not to enter the office during business hours as we are working. They generally stick to this rule unless they need to use the printer or have a homework question.
When our teens were toddlers we used a combination of tag-team parenting, day-care and for a short while an au pair. Curiously, the lady who managed my son’s day-care centre left to set-up a doggy day-care centre. She’s now much happier, wealthier and our pup even goes there on rare occasions – I’m obviously in the wrong business, as the doggy day-care has a waiting list.
One word of warning. Those friends who don’t work from home can assume that because you work from home, you are not working. They suspect you are free to do any favour they want, as they are working in an office, in a proper job. So you’ll get a call or text to pick up a child, mind a child til they get home, sign for a parcel, pick up some groceries when you go shopping for yourself, let in a tradie (and watch over them), put their garbage bins out and who knows what else?
You need to use all your diplomatic skills when these requests arrive. I call it on-the-job training and professional development in negotiation skills.
Be careful of your backdrop when doing video calls. Let’s assume you’re not sitting in your pyjamas and are dressed appropriately, then position yourself so you have a blank wall or maybe a bookshelf behind you. If you have pets or young children, lock them (safely) in another room while you’re on the call. And be wary of background noises that you may have become accustomed to, but a microphone amplifies when on a call.
If you don’t have a dedicated office, try to create a separate space you can leave alone, even if it’s a corner desk. You don’t want your work files overtaking the dining table and you need to have a way of shutting off at the end of the work day.
One bonus of working from home is you can generally find an hour in the day to exercise or go to the gym, or enjoy a lazy-person workout in the sauna or steam. Even better, you can go during the day when the gym is quieter, so you can be more productive with your exercise regime. Though in these current times, you may just go for a brisk walk, a run, or a surf if you live near the beach like I do.
Keep healthy snacks in reach and avoid trips to the fridge – just because it’s there doesn’t mean you need to open it and devour the contents. And yes, it’s Wine-O’clock somewhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean you pop a cork at 4pm each day, just because nobody’s watching.
Make sure you have regular external appointments and spend time face-to-face with clients, prospects, suppliers or even a coffee with a friend. Humans are social creatures by nature and like to interact with other humans. But when working from home, you can quickly become comfortable with your own company and isolate yourself from the rest of the world – only communicating via email and social channels with emojis to express yourself.
Set aside time during the day to access social media, news sites and other non-essential online distractions – and stick to the schedule. It’s too easy to ‘check-in’ on these platforms every few minutes. Before you know it you’ve wasted an hour looking at the same news and social channels you looked at an hour earlier. And nothing has changed, except you’ll never get that hour back.
Depending upon your job function, you’ll generally find you can get more done in less time working from home – as long as you minimise the distractions. And every day is ‘bring your pet to work day’ so that’s a good thing too:)
Gotta go now. It’s almost 4 o’clock and well you know, time for a…