Get out of your PJs - some practical advice on working from home

None of us probably realised how quickly many of us would be working remotely, here is how to manage it.

By John Cunningham Morgan McKinley

None of us probably realised how quickly many of us would be working from home, whether by necessity or design.

If you haven’t done it before, then it’s an entirely new experience and you really should have a set of rules or guidelines to make it the most effective solution for everyone.

Get out of your PJs

It sounds obvious and you don’t need to leap out of bed into a three-piece suit but it’s important to ‘time shift’ into work mode and changing how you dress is a key part of that transition.

Ideally, wear clothes you’d like to be seen in ‘out and about’. Even though you’re not physically at work, you’ll feel ready to take on the world, particularly if that includes an early morning video call with colleagues, which many companies are doing.

Your usual grooming habits should also apply whether that’s shaving, brushing your hair or putting on make-up.

Create a work area in your home

It doesn’t have to be a boardroom, but having a designated space to keep your work materials organised is important. This helps to keep your work and home ‘zones’ separate as ideally, you need to preserve both.

For many, it’s not possible to have a full room as an office; others might have that luxury but all you need is a corner with a specific table and chair (or even just part of a table) to set your stuff on so it won’t be disturbed when you ‘leave’ work and is intact for your next working period.

Daylight is also really important to how you feel, so the closer to the source the better. Avoid working in areas other than your designated workspace and consciously finish at the end of each day by tidying up your stuff and happily shutting off your computer (or work connectivity).

Then, unless extremely urgent, you should also avoid looking at work-related emails on your phone outside of office hours. They’ll still be there for you to see the next day.

Work well, and know when to finish

Try and keep the same hours as you usually do in your office and work as productively and meaningfully as you possibly can.

Many people report that, without the immediate social interaction provided by office colleagues, their productivity initially increases and they get loads more done. That higher level of pace can be short-lived and you need to remember that working from home is not a race. It also shouldn’t be unduly stressful as such.

It’s also important to operate on the same schedule as the team you work with in your office, so there is collaboration and work sharing, particularly on important projects.

Your family or housemates need to know your working times too and that you will need to ‘disconnect’ from them during the day, which is not always easy.

After a productive day, don’t be tempted to carry on working into the evening just because, for example, there isn’t much else to do. While you can’t necessarily get out and about to meet people, you still need downtime to recharge your batteries and your mental wellbeing.

Enjoy reconnecting and giving those you care about at home your full attention. Open-air walks (including of course full social distancing), jogging, cycling, books and movies are all still viable and healthy options.

Newsflash – tune in and tune out

The world is in a serious crisis and Ireland is too. If you want, you could have wall-to-wall news, a constant diet of social media and push alerts on every topic under the sun, particularly if it relates to COVID-19.

In today’s tech-enabled age, there is a phenomenon we can call Information Anxiety Syndrome.

On the one hand, people feel they always need to know more; on the other, people feel overwhelmed by everything they see and hear in the media (which is currently very frenzied).

As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in his recent televised address, finding a balance is key. News is, of course, very important. Only tune into, read or browse your most trusted sources of media, which usually means our thankfully high-quality national news outlets and also includes many other reputable Irish and international sources.

Twice a day might be enough, it’s up to you but don’t overdo it. Avoid the hundreds of scare messages that are doing the rounds. It’s easy to get distracted so take deliberate breaks from all of that.

Turn off non-essential notifications and close any apps that are constantly clamouring for your attention. Be discerning and avoid being lured into ‘fake news’ or circulating it. You’ll feel more content to be in control.

Hello? Is there anybody there?

If you haven’t worked from home before it can be a bit of a culture shock, especially if you’re suddenly launched into it – as so many have been within the current crisis.

It’s really important to stay in touch with your organisation, large or small. So that means communicating.

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One-to-one contact with colleagues creates understanding and eases the path for collaborative working. So, if you’d normally have a conversation or meeting about matters with a co-worker or your manager, you still need to do it and that means calling them by phone or video, usually for a quick chat or more detailed discussion on what needs to get done.

It’s also important to know expectations about how often you should report or check-in. Many organisations and project teams are organising regular daily video calls. If your manager hasn’t told you this, or you haven’t told your direct reports, you need to clarify that.

Of course, email and file sharing remain important. As would normally be the case, only copy in people who are directly involved in your work. This helps to avoid stressing people out who may also be busy on other fronts and in other work groups.

If in doubt on any aspect of your home working role, ask someone else how they are getting on and share tips and experiences.

Working from home can be somewhat isolating particularly under the current circumstances. It may take time, but everything will work out. You should also keep some notes of the tasks you have accomplished and your personal experience in home working to feed this back to your organisation in due course.

Socialise, while social distancing

Working remotely, particularly for the first time, it can be hard to maintain the bit of banter and friendly interaction that characterises every great place to work. So, apart from using your technology just for work, stay in touch with colleagues by phone, video, emails and social media, particularly at normally designated break times, for example by organising a virtual lunch or coffee break.

Continue your usual social interaction with colleagues by reaching out and chatting regularly. This is also particularly helpful for any colleagues who may be a bit stressed out by everything that’s going on.

A friendly word, a cheerful smile, even through the medium of technology, means everything.

Finally, when you get ‘home’ from work (imagining that ‘transition’ in your own home as such), be sure to socialise with family and friends, particularly anyone who is self-isolating at this time and anyone who is vulnerable or elderly.

The latest films, books, and yes, even the news, are a good place to start. The immediate novelty, if that’s what it is, of home working could wear off a bit in the weeks and months ahead but by having a well-structured routine and ensuring ongoing, regular interaction with colleagues and friends, you will prevail.

John Cunningham is the commercial director of recruiter Morgan McKinley

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