When we first posted our advice on working from home at the end of March, we wanted to take our experiences of helping organisations move to different working styles over a number of years and provide support for those jolted into a new way of working.
We recognised that although most of us could be benefitting from not having to commute and enjoying the ability to work in comfier clothing (we’ve all spent at least one day in the last 6 months working in pyjamas, haven’t we?) – there were also some WFH pitfalls to watch out for.
Different parts of the country have now been under restrictive measures for a number of months, but as England enters into lockdown 2.0 the message to ‘work from home wherever possible’ is again at the forefront of government messaging and it’s a prudent time to revisit – and update – our advice.
Time to Read: 5mins
You can click here to head to our original guide, or on any of the headings to revisit our earlier advice.
Many people have found that working from home means that the dividing line between work life and home life is blurred. Yes, there is the opportunity to start earlier and finish earlier, but many people are reporting instead that they find themselves starting earlier and finishing later. This might be because they are working more hours, but it could also be because people are having to work more hours to get the tasks done because of drifting, or an inefficient use of time.
Obviously, where there are other commitments at home this is tougher, but the best advice is to structure your time and to be strict with yourself. Being organised and working through a list can not only keep the numbers of hours worked in check, but can be a great way to motivate yourself and to keep productivity levels high as working from home continues into the winter months.
For some, being organised whilst working from home has also meant an opportunity to get chores done during the week, and this frees up time at the weekend for family, friends and leisure. Applying this level of organisation to your life as well as your work is a great way to get that coveted ‘work / life balance’ just right. You never know – it could feel like creating that extra 25th hour in the day that we often long for.
When you set aside time that is designated for working then it’s important that – wherever possible – you commit to the work. Over the last few months many people have become more flexible and the rigid approach that we had to our days in the office has lessened.
However, it can be hard to maintain a level of engagement when you are working on your own and without the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and to share what you are doing – both the good bits, but also the tricky bits that would benefit from help and support.
Committing to engaging completely with the work at hand can help with the challenges of keeping a work life balance when everything is being done under one roof – particularly as it gets colder and darker and less easy to enjoy ‘life’ outside of the home.
Advice in this area remains just as important today as it was in March, and possibly even more so as people become exhausted by the ongoing nature of the pandemic. Remember also that new lockdown rules mean that you don’t have to be physically isolated in the same way that we were in spring, and so take the opportunity to ensure that you’re not just visible to colleagues, but those that are close by as well.
Lots of us scheduled regular catch ups in March, but how many of us are still doing so on a regular basis? It’s worth just putting a regular slot in the diary either to check in and discuss what you’re working on, or for a virtual coffee / beer / wine and an informal chat. We now know that the opportunity for collaboration is one of the key things that people miss and it’s vital that we make the effort to find ways in which to work together. You can read more about how people really feel in our Return to Work blog.
Ensuring that time spent working is productive is so important. It is a crucial part of a successful day working from home to ensure you are deliberate about where you spend your time and energy, and it can enable you to feel a sense of ownership and achievement when you can cross taks off your to do list.
For many of those working from home, levels of productivity have increased hugely. With less distractions from colleagues or conversation in the office, people have been able to focus, concentrate and get through workloads that previously seemed impossible.
However, we must question whether this misses the importance of how productivity is defined. Whilst our personal to do list may shrink more rapidly, our interaction with others has slowed, and we’ve lost the ability for impromptu training and support of others that was responsible for so many hours in the office.
As we move into this latest lockdown we now need to balance these different understandings of productivity. How can we maintain the right levels of productivity whilst still making the time for other activities that are crucial to the less tangible parts of a business – it’s culture, it’s team ethic and it’s cohesive nature in general?
Watch this space for a more detailed look at productivity and what it means in our new blog post from Colin Stuart coming shortly.
Focus can be difficult when the only thing that is certain right now appears to be uncertainty, and the pandemic extends into winter with no end in sight. But it’s important to focus on the things that you can do, and not to feel overwhelmed by those things that are out of your control.
When it comes to working from home, output really does matter, and – as we said earlier in the year – you want to be efficient with the work that you have to do. More so than ever, companies are applying Results Oriented Work Environments (ROWE). These environments are designed to measure the success of your team members by their performance, results or output, and not by their presence in the office or the number of hours worked.
However, it doesn’t mean that you need to become a superhero or to put yourself under undue pressure. Make sure that you have clear communication about output and expectations with your line manager, and ensure that focusing enables you to complete your role without feeling a requirement to do more.
Your mental health and wellbeing are your greatest resource. We started by saying this back in March, and we maintain the importance of this now and in the future. These circumstances remain exceptional, unprecedented and uncertain; and the ongoing nature of the challenge presents an additional level of complexity and need for true resilience.
The workplace wellbeing agenda has already taught us that mental health is what underpins our ability to do our jobs and live healthy fulfilling lives. When we face ongoing challenges, continuing high stress levels and relentless uncertainty it is vital that we have an awareness of our wellbeing levels, both individually and also as a team.
Looking after our wellbeing encompasses looking after our physical health, our relationships and support systems, our nutrition, sleep hygiene and our feelings of connection to a wider community. Many organisations had already invested in online wellbeing platforms, and many more have done so since the start of the pandemic.
Now, more than ever, the key is to make use of these. Resources are being made available to help with the struggles that many people are facing, and just because you might not have needed them initially doesn’t meant that you shouldn’t embrace all opportunity to look after yourself – mentally as well as physically.
For the time being at least, children are back in school and the difficulties of balancing home schooling with working from home are a nightmare that is slowly fading. However, many of those working from home will have realised that even with children having returned to school, the need for flexibility is still high.
Whether it’s finding a way to work as a team when everyone wants to work different hours, or whether it’s grabbing an opportunity to start earlier and go out for fresh air and a walk at lunchtime as the days draw in, the key point here is to understand how you feel about a – potentially – less structured approach to your working life.
Working from home certainly appears to be on the radar for the foreseeable future, and whilst nothing is guaranteed it appears that it will feature for many of us in some form or another for years to come. If you are finding it all difficult the it is important not to be afraid to talk to your employer. We all react differently to a change in circumstances and only you can know how you feel about the new ways of working that you’ve been asked to adopt.
What we now know is that working from home isn’t comfortable for everyone. In the rush to leave the office there was a huge disparity in employee experience. The experience of those that already had a space at home that could be designated as a ‘home office’, and that had the necessary equipment to make working as comfortable and well thought out at home as it was from the office had a far easier time adjusting to this new reality.
However, for others a lack of space meant that working from home required an upturned laundry basket on which to place a laptop, or a day spent sitting on your bed in order to have some peace and quiet away from housemates.
Whilst the latter options may have worked in the short-term, there is a physical impact of continuing to work in this way. You are still covered by the various workplace health and safety laws, and your employer should be helping you to set yourself up to work in a safe and ergonomic manner. Many organisations have provided chairs, desks, technology to support their employees, but if yours hasn’t don’t be afraid to speak up – particularly if you aren’t comfortable.
No matter where you’re working from, it’s clear that we have to stay active to stay healthy.
Those classed as obese are particularly prone to suffering serious health complications if they contract Covid, and whilst the search for a vaccine continues, any opportunity to improve health is important.
Being active can be a challenge for many of us during the warmer months of spring and summer, but with the drop in temperature the government messaging to get out and exercise as much as you like can be difficult to adopt.
Think not only of how you can ensure that you take more exercise, but also how you can move around more generally. The key is to ensure that you don’t spend all day sitting at your desk only to move to sit on the sofa for the evening – just 20 minutes of walking a day can have huge health benefits.
We have all become much more adept at using technology in the last 6 months, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still challenges to overcome. Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become a normal way to hold a meeting or even just a catch up chat, but be aware of Zoom fatigue and the need to step away from technology and into the real world on a regular basis throughout the day.
Equally, there are those that are still struggling with the basics – connectivity, access to the right equipment and an understanding of how to use what we have. Don’t be afraid to speak to your employer if this is something you’re having issues with. Coping and managing for a few weeks is very different to changed work patterns involving working from home for a long period of time, and if our tech doesn’t work then we can’t work.
About Baker Stuart: We are an independent specialist consultancy providing a comprehensive range of innovative workplace strategy, workplace management and change, move management, project management and programme management services. Thinking about optimising your workplace, interested in knowing more about the #futureofwork or need help preparing your office for the #returntowork? Get in touch with us here.