Working from Home, or as it’s now more commonly known “WFH”, has become a necessity for many of us as a growing number of countries and cities around the world experience “lockdowns”.
Prior to the spread of Covid-19, working from home was commonplace for many, and for a significant proportion of those who didn’t, it was something that was desired. Now it’s a reality for many of us, the challenges of how to make it work, not only from a technical standpoint, but also in terms of lifestyle are now here, to face and to overcome.
Hindsight will probably show that this surge in WFH is here to stay. More employers will realise that their staff can actually be more productive, rather than fearing they would succumb to the many distractions that exist within the four walls we call home. In cold, hard commercial terms, some will also question the need to have huge, expensive offices after it has been proven that all that is actually needed is a motivated, flexible workforce (which hopefully they already have), some relatively inexpensive hardware and then maybe a small office, somewhere convenient for the occasional meeting.
For those new to WFH, the following tips will hopefully provide some food for thought on how to make this new experience work for the better, not only for one’s employer, but also for you and those around you.
Get in an “at work” frame of mind
- Move from home to work mode without leaving the house. Ordinarily your alarm, shower, breakfast, coffee and then commute step by step gears your mind up until it reaches work mode. Start the day as before, including making sure you set the alarm for the normal time. Without the commute that may seem a little early, but for many an early start can improve productivity. The antidote to morning sluggishness, overcome with a little commuting, unfortunately won’t now be available. If you don’t know them already, as time goes by you will discover your most productive times of day, around which you should plan your day.
- Create a separate work-space. Many of us will not have the luxury of having a separate room we can use as an office, somewhere we can close the door and get away from the distractions around us. It may therefore mean setting aside an area that you can go to and feel you are “at work”, your working space. That could be a table in the corner, probably better than using a laptop on the sofa (don’t forget that your furniture at the office has been designed with your wellbeing in mind – when creating your own home workspace take this into account). If you can partition a space off in some way by moving furniture around, better still. When you go to that space pretend in your mind you are going to the office.
- Dress for success. Try not to get in the habit of lounging around in your pyjamas the whole day. One of the advantages of WFH is you can dress a little more casual. Getting changed out of what you wore in bed will help move your mind into work mode. Besides, if you happen to be video conferencing with your colleagues that day, it’s probably advisable to not look as though you have just got out of bed.
- Schedule breaks. Like you hopefully do at work, still take breaks at regular times. It may no longer be possible to have those chats in the kitchen, but it may still be an opportunity to catch up and have some social interaction with at least some of your colleagues, this time using Teams or Skype.
- Avoid domestic distractions. Try not to use WFH as an opportunity to get more household chores done. On the other hand, with a bit of forward planning and the rescheduling of work tasks, getting at least a few jobs done in the background will be possible and, for example, being able to pick up the children from school occasionally may be invaluable.
- Communicate your expectations to those around you. Let those around you, who you share your home with, know how you intend to work, what you need to do and when you need to do it. Only then will they be able to help you create that “at work” mentality to make WFH a success.
- Don’t spend the day messing around on social media. Turn off notifications from both your desktop and your smartphone. Okay, its great to stay in touch with people and banish to some extent any feeling of occasional isolation, but use that time to stay in touch with your colleagues. Find out what they are working on, what needs to be done, and learn from them how they make the best use of their time as we all make our way through this challenging period together.
Planning the day ahead
- Structure the day. Try to get into a routine, what time to start and when to finish. Try and formulate your plans the evening before, that way you can hit the ground running the following morning. Having a timetable that makes allowances for the distractions around the home, and particularly for making time with the family, will make life much easier. One of the downsides many of us experience when working from home is the gradual creep at the beginning and end of each working day, finding it hard to switch-off being “at the office”. It’s so easy to fit in just a few more emails before you finish, so make sure you set a time for the end of your work-day, and try to stick to it, unplugging after office hours. Your family will appreciate it and the “working atmosphere” in your “new office” will be so much the better for it.
- Have a written list of tasks. You may work this way already, but having a checklist can be a real help in improving your productivity at home. Unfamiliar working surroundings, distractions and not having the discipline that comes from sharing an office with others can be tackled using a list of the things you need to achieve over a certain period of time. Not only will it take your mind off things around you, but importantly, as those who make good use already of such lists, ticking them off, one by one, will put you in a more productive frame of mind.
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
- Check in with co-workers. Working from home naturally means distancing yourself from colleagues. Set a regular time when you communicate with each other. Keep in regular contact. If you are used to having a ten minute get together at the start of each day, then continue doing that using Skype or whatever tools you use. With WFH it’s even more important for everyone to understand what their team members are working on that day, so set aside a regular time to do that. Undoubtedly you will feel disconnected at times, so having a time when you get together with others, even if it’s not face to face, in person, will help overcome that feeling.
- Talk, don’t just message each other. Instant messaging, WhatsApp, emails, they are all wonderful ways of communicating with one another. But actually talking to your colleagues is something you probably won’t appreciate the importance of until it’s no longer so easy to do, over the water cooler or in the kitchen. Face to face using videoconferencing is ideal, telephone or Skype is almost as good. A phone or Skype call for a quick question will help keep your inbox uncluttered. If it’s not convenient to call someone, maybe they are engaged, or you still feel better if something is in writing, some software, including our own, has a discussions feature. Using this, team members can talk about or exchange comments on particular emails without sending new ones which just add to the clutter.
- Use technology. Videoconferencing is now available to all. You don’t need expensive equipment, although if you already have it that’s perfect. It’s not only excellent hardware that is available at a reasonable price, there are a multitude of different types of software that can make remote working a success. Make sure you look at using collaboration software, tools that enable you to work efficiently with your fellow team members, as if you were still all sitting in the same location.
A few final positives
Given this way of working may not be your own choice, forced on you by present circumstances, it may be an appropriate time to focus on a few of the positives.
- Less distraction from team members. Working away from the team may even mean you are more focussed on the task at hand than usual, without the distractions of “normal” office life. Of course, there are other distractions to deal with, but being left alone, at least some of the time, to get on with what’s important can be a real bonus.
- No commute. Clearly this does not need to be explained. If it also means you can avoid the cost of travel, so much the better. In the UK, London has the longest average commute at 46 minutes with the rest of the UK having between 23 and 27 minutes (Transport Statistics Great Britain 2016). The average time in the US is 26 minutes, but varies significantly depending on where you are, and Thailand has a massive 2 hours. Being able to use that time for something more productive is a great opportunity not to be wasted.
- No dress code. A nice to have, but be careful not to spend the day in your pyjamas, especially if you have a video call planned.
- Flexibility. Providing you plan your time carefully, making sure your list of tasks gets given the time it deserves, being able to fit in a few household tasks occasionally may prove to be invaluable.
Surveys have shown that remote workers are happier when working from home. Of course, it does not suit everyone, and unfortunately at the present time many workers do not have the luxury of a choice. However, it does mean that under the present very difficult circumstances, we can focus on the well being of our families, and understand that, whatever restrictions are currently in place, they are essential and there for our benefit but, importantly, they will not be there for ever.
A few words about CompassAir
Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.
Through its shipping and shipbroking clients, ranging from recognised World leaders through to the smallest, most dynamic independent companies, CompassAir has a significant presence in the major maritime centres throughout Europe, the US and Asia.
Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact us at [email protected]. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAir Shipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.