While 2020 was the year when we all had to work from home, 2021 isn’t starting out much better. However, if the exercise wrought by Covid-19 taught us anything, it’s that we CAN work effectively from home. Thus, more employers are ditching their expensive buildings in favor of distributed workplaces and work from home options. With this in mind, here are some of the ways you can make it easier to work remotely, both for yourself and your team, from the comfort of your own home.
Photo by Wouter Beijert on Unsplash
Get your team working in the cloud
You might think that the most important thing to get right when it comes to work from home situations is the hardware. Or you may think that working from home requires you to transport your whole desktop computer onto your dining room table. In reality, it’s highly likely that you already have devices at home that can allow you to carry out some of the basic tasks you do every day at work. After all, most folks have a smartphone, tablet, or personal laptop, and many folks have multiples of these devices they normally use for their personal pursuits. So, unless you use software specific to your industry, you can likely download free software, free apps, or find a browser-based application to complete many of your required tasks. The Google suite, for instance, supports word processing, spreadsheets, deck creation, as well as other common tasks. For additional needs, your company can usually arrange for multiple licenses for use by remote employees working from home.
While it is important to have the equipment necessary to complete your tasks, it’s more important to have access to the right documents. Before starting on your journey to work from home, you probably never considered the challenges of file sharing across a distributed workforce. You simply logged onto your computer and all your files were there waiting for you. It may seem logical to simply email those files to yourself, or save them onto a personal hard drive so you can take the files home and work on them.
The main problem with this, other than discovering you’ve forgotten to save one of those all-important files once you’ve arrived home, is how you then update those on your office computer and how to keep different versions of a document or other file straight when you have multiple copies.
Moreover, often, many people need access to those documents, so it’s important that they also have access to your updates. While it seems simple to send a file to one of your colleagues to download back onto the server, this is massively time-consuming. It can also be confusing to figure out which version is the latest one. Sending files via email also potentially exposes them to those who should have no legitimate access to the document.
The only way you can confidently know you’re working on the most accurate and up-to-date files is to get your team all working on the same cloud system. That way, you know you can access any file at any time, wherever you are in the world. It also means that as soon as you click ‘save’ on a document, everyone has access to those updates no matter where they are working.
While a cloud-based system makes working easier, some are surprisingly difficult to set up. Before you start moving any documents around, make sure you plan your cloud adoption framework carefully to avoid any problems moving to the new system. Make sure you always consult your employees about what they need to have on the system to ensure whatever cloud solution you choose works well for their specific needs. Also, ensure everyone knows how to use the cloud solution effectively and makes the transition to the new system. Operating a legacy system is wasteful and confusing, as well as increasing problems and efficiency.
Set up a dedicated workspace
While your work from home allows you to work from pretty much every room, it doesn’t mean that you should just sit down in any spot in your home, spreading chaos throughout your house. You might find it tempting to bring your laptop into your bed rather than drag yourself out of bed when your early alarm goes off to signify a meeting. However, this also potentially results in several health problems. For instance, the poor posture of sitting up slouched in bed can cause back and neck pain. It’s also important to get out of bed and stretch your legs, even if it’s simply to walk around the house to make sure you don’t develop aches and pains in your legs or, worse, blood clots. You may also find it hard to relax and fall asleep at night if you’ve turned your bedroom into your office.
Spreading your work all over the house not only makes the whole house less appealing but makes it harder to find something you need, such as a document, stapler, or stamps. If several people share your home, spreading your work stuff all over the house means others access needed materials, some of which might represent a danger to small children. And, of course, spreading all over the house opens up your work to destruction when the dog eats your work or someone spills grape juice all over it.
Instead, try to find a dedicated space to work in your home, even if that means dedicating a corner of your bedroom as a workspace. Also, avoid workspaces with distractions, such as a TV or a pile of dishes that need cleaning. Make sure you have a chair that gives your back enough support and that your keyboard and screen are at the right height.
In addition, buy a cheap desk or make one from an old table or even a board across 2 end tables. Anything that provides space when working from home. Furnish your workspace with needed support materials, such as pens, scissors, envelopes, etc. Buy or make a small filing cabinet to keep files together and organized, since you can’t put everything in the cloud.
Set a work schedule
One of the most important aspects, when you work from home, is to set a work schedule and stick to it. For instance, if your work hours are typically 9-5, then quit working at 5 pm. And, be sure to take time away from work for lunch and several breaks during the day to ensure you reduce burnout. Obviously, sometimes an emergency happens or you have a tight deadline that requires extra hours, but ensure that working beyond your normal day doesn’t become part of your routine.
By the same token, don’t get distracted by housework, friends, or other non-work activities during work hours. Let everyone know that, even though you’re working from home, you work during certain hours and interruptions aren’t welcome. Again, just as with working beyond your schedule, you need a little flexibility, especially if working from home also means your kids are learning from home. I find that setting my kids up in my office where I can see their screens helps manage both my work and their learning. Thus, I can see if they’re playing video games rather than doing classwork with a glance over at their screen (and, you should look away from your own screen every 20 minutes or so to protect your eyes). I’m also available if they have a quick question about their school work. But, I can still focus my attention on my own work.
Keep in touch with the rest of the office
If you’re working from home a lot, you might feel isolated from the rest of the team who are also working from home. Not only will you miss hearing about important updates, but you could also miss out on a lot of the important social interactions with colleagues that grease the wheels of collaboration. A joke or asking someone how they are might not seem like much when you briefly pass someone in a corridor at work, but you may find yourself missing those little interactions when working from home.
To combat feelings of loneliness and to avoid any chance of isolation from the office, ensure you regularly organize Zoom meetings, even causal events such as happy hours or shared lunches. Another idea is to set up time before and after work meetings where workers can socialize or use breakout rooms where teams can work on shared projects even when working from home. As well as using Zoom, ensure your smartphone is also close at hand and connected to your work email so your colleagues can contact you quickly in case of any emergency or if urgent action or information is required.
Working from home is a wonderful thing, saving you time and money you’d normally spend on commuting, as well as being good for the environment. Working from home also allows workers the flexibility to live anywhere they want, which means some are moving from their high-cost urban locations to less expensive areas with a better situation than they faced in crowded cities.
But, working from home is a disaster without careful planning and adherence to the advice shared in this post.
If you have questions or comments, please enter them below. Also, I’d love to hear your suggestions for future posts.