SME support expert Luke Sanderson gives his advice on how to make the best of working from home, based on years of experience.
“Working from home”: it’s a phrase that only a relatively short while ago was something a small group of people did; those in a highly niche industry or those who had understanding bosses who embraced the flexible working and work life balance.
Covid-19 has changed all of that. Overnight a great many people were effectively forced to work from home whether they liked it or not. A report from the National Bureau of Economic Research says those working from home are now spending on average 48.5 minutes longer at their desk each working day so any fears the boss may have had about productivity could well be unfounded.
The reality of waking up day after day having only to commute footsteps to our workplace is at first strange. You’re merging your working world with your home life and it’s easy to end up letting one part of your life dominate the other. Finding a balance is therefore extremely important. As a web consultant, my role lends itself to working from home and over the past decade working from home I’ve monitored and honed my workflow to fit into my home life.
Below is a list of the five key points I feel anyone working from home should consider adopting as they embark on the longer-term WFH lifestyle.
Yes, you can work on a laptop or phone anywhere around the house/garden, but if you want to really focus, you want to be able to go to ‘that place’ where you are productive and (hopefully!) serious about getting things done.
Keep the area set aside for just you and keep it minimal; free of anything that isn’t relevant to your working world. Have coffee breaks away from the desk, but don’t spend an hour in the kitchen, don’t visit non-work related websites or social media (unless it’s your job!). Procrastination gets you nowhere.
If you are lucky enough to have a room to yourself always close the door behind you as you start your day. This marks a physical barrier between you and any other distraction going on in the same dwelling. Explain to loved ones or people you share with that when the door is closed you are working – effectively out of the loop unless you decide to stop working for a break/lunch etc.
You should also close the door behind you as you finish for the day. Don’t underestimate how easy it is to wander back and keep working into the evening. If you don’t have a door to shut, close the laptop lid and put something like a book on top of it – you need a physical symbol to say “I’m done for today”.
Keep an eye on the time. Don’t slack off and finish early. You’ll only feel guilty and have to do it tomorrow, but don’t finish late either – there will always be more to do and you must down tools to avoid work bleeding through and affecting your private life.
I don’t mean organising your inbox (although this is wise!). Make sure your work email and your personal email are completely separate. This will allow you to set up a sync rule so that your work email will only appear during working hours.
If you get a work email at 9pm your mind will instantly switch into work-mode and you’ll either grab the laptop to reply then and there (which opens your evening hours up to further intrusion) or you’ll huff n’ puff and start thinking how this is yet another task you’ll have to do tomorrow, potentially changing the mood of your evening or, worse still, keeping you awake at night! Be strict: don’t check work emails when you’re not working, including at weekends.
If you’re producing material on a digital device make sure you’ve got a solid back-up process. Hard drives fail, laptops get dropped, drinks get spilt and viruses can take hold – you could argue that the home is a more dangerous place for your devices than work.
Cloud solutions are very cheap and secure, depending on the software you use. Take a good look at Google Drive, Dropbox, Icloud or OneDrive. If you don’t like the idea of having data ‘out there’ be sure to make a regular back-up using a portable hard-drive or usb stick and ideally store this off-site in case disaster strikes.
If you are more technical or have access to an IT person, look into Network Attached Storage devices which offer good data protection across more than one hard drive or get connected with remote access which will let you access your work computer remotely through a window as if you were sat in the office, saving you having to worry about back-ups.
Data is fragile and will take a lot of your valuable time to recreate. Keep it safe.
Hardly a week passes without another big-name brand getting hit by a cyber attack. It’s a big area, but the one thing I’d recommend above all others is that, for your email, you have a long password and you have Two-Factor-Authentication turned on – or 2FA for short. 2FA means that when you effectively pair your email account with a mobile phone and when you try to login from an unfamiliar location you are sent a text message with a six-digit number. You then enter this number along with your password and it proves you’re the legitimate owner logging in. If someone guesses or hacks your email password they also need your mobile phone to gain access.
The reason I feel this one is so important is because you will have tied many third-party website accounts to your email address and if a miscreant has access to your email account it’s very easy for them to just reset passwords to ALL your other accounts, some of which may be storing your credit card information. A final note on this one to avoid locking yourself out: normally you can set up alternative 2FAs, perhaps on your other half’s phone number or a secondary email address so this is worth doing just in case you lose your mobile phone!
Keep your data safe and secure. It’s worth that early investment of time for peace of mind. Keep work life and home life separate. It might seem a little draconian and perhaps not in the spirit of the modern day WFH ethic, but if you don’t set any parameters you will likely swing from overworking to underworking, both of which can cause you unnecessary stress and worry. Keep a balance which is fair to both yourself and your boss. If you’re your own boss, just divide your time in the same way.
Now, got that back-up sorted? Great. Do some exercise with that time you’d normally have spent stuck in traffic.
*Luke Sanderson is the founder of the Luke Sanderson Web Consultancy Ltd, which provides a technical and creative consultancy service for SME businesses. eml:firstname.lastname@example.org; lin: linkedin.com/in/luke1977