For many people, working at home has suddenly become the new working practice. This may be familiar for some, but a big change for many. Working from home is notjust working from the office without a commute. There are a number of things to be considered on both working practicalities and home life. Here are a few reflections after two and a half days of working from home. I was going to entitle this piece “Broad thoughts from a home”, in tribute to the poem of similar name by Robert Browning, but didn’t think I would get away with it.
Working day: In general, try to keep to the same working hours that you do when in the office. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, it is easier to communicate with colleagues if everyone is more-or-less following the same working pattern. Secondly it helps to ensure that you maintain a good work-life balance. It is very easy to “quickly” check email in the evening “because we can”, but this isn’t necessarily beneficial. No one is going to read your email until the next working day anyway, so you might as well wait till then to write it.
Breaks: it’s very easy to set up your laptop at home, and then sit and type away for the rest of the day without a break. This morning I did four hours without getting up from my chair. Think about how often you move about the office at work – even if it’s only to walk over to talk to someone on the other side of the office, or go to collect printout. Take a quick walk round the house or garden from time to time. If you regularly pop to the canteen for coffee or lunch, take a walk round the block. There’s a co-op with a coffee machine about the same distance from my house as the canteen is from my office, so I’ve got into the habit of going there to get a coffee. Take a proper lunch break, and move away from your desk to eat (OK, I did write that sentence with one hand while eating a cheese roll with the other).
Noise – or lack of it: This is the first thing I notice. It’s very quiet in my house. No clicking from colleagues’ computer keyboards; no talking; no phones ringing; no steady stream of visitors; even no doors opening and closing from the corridor outside. It’s very spooky. Today I found this YouTube clips to play ambient office sounds in the background – and have to say, odd as it sounds, I quite enjoyed it.
Ergonomics: laptops are badly named. They should not be used on a lap! Spend a bit of time setting your working environment up as best you can. Great if you’ve got a study with an office desk, but if you are sitting at the dining room table like I do (and really annoying the members of the household who want to use it for eating) remember to move around frequently.
Communication: communication for remote working is much harder than when co-located. There is more reliance on instant messages and emails; these take longer to read and write than face-to-face communication. On one of my days in the office this week, I overheard a conversation between two colleagues and realised that I had the answer they were looking for. That sort of informal communication is lost when we are working remotely.
Social: I hate to say it, but work forms a large part of people’s social interaction. Home working means no conversations around the water cooler about what we did at the weekend, sport, TV, etc. You may or may not miss such conversations but “banter” has been mentioned by several colleagues as the thing they miss most. Next week I plan to call each of my staff individually jut for a chat. I may even set up regular conference calls as well.
Household: Your being at home is unusual so be aware that you may be upsetting (or at least getting in the way of) the usual daily household routine. This might cause friction and you will have to work out how best to fit in with everyone else. The first thing I learned was that getting up later than usual does not permit me to take my daughter’s slot in the bathroom! Conversely, there can be a tendency for family and friends to expect you to be able to do family-and-friends type things, and you may have to explain that just because you are at home doesn’t mean that you are “at home”.
There may be other things to think about too. If you have unexpectedly found yourself working from home this week, let us know what differences you found.