The do’s and don’ts of Home Office working
Traps to avoid and tips on how to stay focused and productive
No matter whether your boss has finally seen the benefits of letting you work from home, or whether you have ventured out on your own and already enjoy the benefits of home office working, such as peace and quiet and deciding your own timetable, which all paints a rosy picture, but don’t be fooled, home office working is not all about wearing your PJs to work and starting when you feel like it.
Home office workers face plenty of distractions & traps that normal office workers probably would never come across. To give you an idea, as a new dad, I often work in home office, and have encountered quite a few problems along the way and a colleague of mine is always home office based, and has come across some difficulties of his own. That is why, we have decided to put together a few pointers to help you stay on top of your workloads, remain focused and ensure that your productivity levels do not take a dive.
I often find that starting at the beginning is a great place to start. Therefore, before even starting to work from home, make sure you separate your office from the rest of your home. May sound trivial, but trust me, you need to be able feel at home when you are at home and not like you are still in the office. If you decide to work from your living room for example, once the day is done, your computer will always be there, in corner of your eye, calling out to you. So even though you are watching the most exhilarating action film you’ve ever seen, you will not be able to completely push work from you mind - the temptation to check to see if someone has sent that email or whatever may be on your mind, will always be there.
If you can, set up an office in the spare room, and if you can’t, do what you can to create a division between your home and your office, whether it be with curtains or a screen. If even this isn’t possible, set up your office in a place that as soon as you finish for the day, you can walk away, settle on the sofa or sit down to dinner without having your “office” in your line of sight. Another tip here is to do you best to make sure your new office is well lit and has good ventilation, otherwise you will feel like you are suffocating. If you’ve ever encountered these problems, you’ll know it can do a real number on your mental well-being.
Get the Right Equipment
If you have the support of your company, that’s great as more than likely you will have a full UC solution with mobile integration along with secure access to the company network and all your mission critical data. But if you don’t, do your best to get what you need, before you need it. This applies to all your office requirements, right down to the furniture and lighting. There is nothing worse than working with just enough resources to get you by, as one day it will invariably not be enough. Remember that most of these purchases will be tax write offs, so why make life more difficult than it needs to be. This is also true for security applications, storage and collaboration software. For more information regarding all these, plus a few other best practices regarding devices and device security, check out our Telecommuting Best Practices guidelines.
Dress for Work
Dressing for work can be an essential part of successful home office working for a number of reasons. The first, could be that you need to dress appropriately for your job. If like me, you regularly give video demonstrations, then dressing accordingly is a must. Secondly, everybody is different. Some people need routine and if that routine is affected in any way, everything else becomes that much harder. This is more psychology than anything else, but if your require the structure that having a daily routine brings in order to get into the right mindset for work, then you will find that dressing appropriately for work as well as following similarly structured patterns will support you in getting ready for work. If you are fortunate enough to not have this affliction or have a job where it doesn’t matter what you wear, pay due care and attention to ensuring that you are appropriately dressed when leaving the house or like me you could find yourself wearing your slippers (or worse) in the local supermarket!
Flexibility & freedom - one of the greatest benefits of working from home, but also one of its greatest pitfalls. Anyone who has ever worked from home, even if was just for one day, will tell you that the number of distractions at home is significantly more than in the office, and these distractions will hit you like an intercity express train. Another problem with home office distractions when compared to those in a normal office, is that they are normally enjoyable activities to participate in, such as taking a break to spend time with the family, having the sport on TV, or working from your bed. You will need to stay strong and train yourself to avoid these distractions as much as you can, otherwise you will lose your focus, your productivity will suffer and standards will fall all resulting in a mad rush to get that project finished or meet your end of day deadline.
So having said avoid distractions as best you can, I am now telling you to set a flexible schedule. How does that work? Often, when talking to people about home office working, they probably will tell you to have a plan and stick with it. I agree with the planning, but having it set in stone will drive you mad and secondly could well lead to conflict and thus affect your performance levels. As mentioned above, one of the main benefits of working from home is the freedom and flexibility that it provides, and if you have a set in stone timetable, you lose this.
I’ll give you an example, it’s 11.30am, feeding time for my little one and my wife asks for my help. If I replied “sorry I’m working”, I can tell you now I would be in the dog house for an indefinite period of time and the resulting mood would definitely leave a sour taste in the mouth. Then there is the other side of the coin, the weekend weather was rubbish, but now you are back at work, it has finally stopped raining and the sun is out to play. Get outside, enjoy, rejuvenate and then come back with a refreshed mind. As long as you achieve your goals on time and to your usual excellent standards, your timetable is, within reason, yours to manage - just don’t miss a deadline or a prearranged call. More than anything be sensible, don’t be away too long otherwise getting back into work mode will be a challenge.
Prior Planning & Preparation
Ever heard of the 7 P’s of Planning - if not, you should read them! Planning ahead is an essential part of any business day. Knowing what you have to do and when in advance will enable you to prioritise you workloads effectively. Doing so will simultaneously keep productivity levels high whilst allowing you to enjoy the benefits of working from home. Be realistic in your planning, allotting reasonable time frames for your tasks, allow for a degree of flexibility as you may need to react to elements beyond your control but also you must learn to gauge your tasks for the day, too few and productivity falls, too many and quality will invariably suffer - neither of which are desired consequences.
If, for example, you know that you have conference call at 3pm and you have decided to go for that walk to enjoy the sunshine, knowing your plan for that day will enable you to do both. With forward planning you can ensure that you are either back in time for the call (having done the prep before hand) or if your company has deployed a UC strategy, which is more than likely, you can find a quiet cafe with internet, open your laptop - with integrated softphone - and jump on that call whilst enjoying a nice cup of coffee.
Setting Ground Rules
There are times like those mentioned above, when you should be flexible, but there are others where you will need to learn to stand your ground. This may sound harsh, but you will need to set some ground rules so friends and family do not take advantage of the fact that you are home. How stringent these rules are is up to you, but the core principle behind them must be that if you have work to do and have already been distracted enough, then you have the right to stand your ground, saying “enough is enough, I’ve got to get back to work”. It will be hard to do, and quiet often you won’t want to do it, but at the end of the day, it’s your job and if you give in to the demands of your friends and family, your are opening yourself up to a situation where you will no longer be able to say no and your work will suffer. Remember your job is your livelihood and others need to respect that, but there is no harm in being flexible, just make sure you and everyone else knows where to draw the line.
Calling it a Day
Possibly the single most difficult challenge facing home office workers is knowing when to call it quits for the day. Having all you need to carry on working around you, will invariably mean that you will keep on working. In fact, there is a whole host of research that proves home office workers work longer - productivity gains are among the most attractive main benefits from your employers point of view. However, it is equally important to ensure that you have enough quality time for you and for your significant others, which makes being able to identify when to stop essential. This is less about being “clocked in” during formal office hours, but rather more about seeing and knowing when you have done enough for the day. This is where all that planning and preparation comes into play, as this will help you in doing this. Once you have completed your tasks for the day, call it quits and don’t look back, thus giving you time to relax and refresh your mind. If you don’t you run the risk of blurring that invisible line between work hours and that well deserved “me time”.
And not on social media! Whilst working from home promotes having solitude and peace and quiet, it can also be socially alienating when you work alone all day every day. This can be tough on some, who feel the effect of social alienation within their workplace, perhaps feeling out of the loop when it comes to happenings and office news. Worse still is when the situation has degraded sufficiently that employees lose those finely tuned social skills because they have regressed into something resembling a social zombie. After a hard day in the office, you will crave face to face conversation, regardless of whether it be about something as mundane as the weather or more interesting topics such as the weekends’ sport. Whatever it maybe, allow yourself time to get out and about and enjoy some real life interaction with real people. Now I am not advocating going down the pub every day, but getting outside and engaging in some general chit chat could well be just what the doctor ordered to keep your emotional well-being balanced and your mind sharp.
What Works Best for You?
Obviously there are a few more Best Practices that could be listed here, such as office lighting & ventilation, planning for the future (especially if you are self employed), ensuring your documentation / expense forms are in order etc. However, working from home can be plain sailing if you follow these steps and don’t get caught out by any traps.
If you would like more information regarding how our pascom VoIP Software PBX can help you with the successful implementation of Home Office working and Unified Communications strategies, then get in touch with us either via our website or give us a call on + 49 991 29691 200.