Running a business was never the most straight forward job and doing it all remotely brings specific complications. With the majority of businesses still operating remotely, and many likely to do so for the foreseeable future, it’s time to take a long hard look at your home working setup. Is it working for you? What about the rest of your team? Perhaps it’s time to revisit your current work-from-home setup to see if there are any improvements to be made. We’ve got five top tips to help business owners do just that.
1. Invest in good hardware
I know, it’s tempting to make do. But the difference a comfortable, ergonomic chair and desk can make to your life is not to be underestimated. Invest. Go for a standing desk if you can, because if your back isn’t already paying the price for sitting all day long (bed-desk-sofa-bed anyone?) then it surely will be soon.
How about the rest of the team? It may be that you would ordinarily contribute to their commuting costs – can this money be redirected to help them sit more comfortably too? It’s very difficult to concentrate when you are distracted by your own discomfort, and they’re no longer using the ergonomic chairs you’ve furnished your office with.
Another worthy investment is a good microphone or dedicated headset for all those calls you have to do. Bad video is not the end of the world (though a day lamp and a reasonably priced web cam could help!), but bad audio is intolerable – especially for important company-wide presentations.
2. Spend time creating a productive workspace
Tidy desk, tidy mind – that’s what my teachers used to tell me. It’s true, it is much easier to feel creative at a clear desk, where you haven’t got the distraction – and physical obstruction! – of scraps of paper, piles of books or loose cables. Hopefully your whole company has been equipped with laptops and aren't having to deal with bulky PCs taking up desk space. Have a good tidy and find an orderly way to keep everything you need close to hand without them cluttering your desk:
- Pens (that work!)
- A note pad
- That new head set
- Paper for the printer
If you are using your workspace to create videos, leave the camera and any lights set up so that you can record whenever inspiration strikes, without having to spend time setting up. Keeping your workspace neat will also ensure you’re always camera-ready! This also applies to video calls with the rest of your company, keeping a clear desk prevents anyone getting distracted by trying to read what’s on the CEO’s notepads.
3. Don’t mix your ‘productive’ area with your ‘relaxing’ area
Keeping separate zones for separate activities helps you to focus – not only on work, but also on relaxation. If you take your laptop to bed with you there’s a good chance you’ll still be thinking about that tricky project while you’re trying to get to sleep. And if your PS5 is in your home office, you might end up taking extended, continuous tea breaks. Physically dividing your space should help prevent such distractions. This is a general home working tip, but something that a lot of people working from home still haven’t adjusted to, and will be invaluable even when people are only home working part time post-pandemic.
Of course, it can be a case of easier said than done, depending on your available space, but even if you, for example, turn your back to the TV during the day and turn to face it in the evening, you’ve created a distinction between work and ‘play’.
For a great illustration of why we need to compartmentalise our homes to survive this period, check out this short video: Lockdown Productivity: Spaceship You.
4. Set alarms at the beginning of the day
We’re used to using alarms to get us up in the morning – but that’s not all they’re good for. I set alarms to:
- Remind me of meetings
- Tell me when to stop for lunch
- When to end my working day
Because we’re missing the normal cues for things like getting lunch and going home it is really easy to a) graze all day long at your desk and b) work late into the evening. Neither of which is good for you.
Working from home is a good opportunity to make yourself a proper lunch – the kind to make Joe Wicks proud. So, take an hour, enjoy it, share it with your family, and go back to work revitalised.
Finishing work on time is also really important – not just for you and your household, but also for your staff. Set a good example by clocking off (and staying off). You know that if you’re sending emails at 7pm, they will feel obliged to do the same, especially if you’re emailing them. A visual demonstration of work-life balance by sharing pictures of your delicious lunches, or talking about the new route you found for your evening walk, or the boxset you’re currently bingeing, will help your employees understand the expected parameters of their day.
5. Keep your virtual door open
When you’re in the office together, it’s easy for your staff to see whether it’s a good time to come and chat. When you’re all working from home, however, picking a good time can be difficult – to the point that maybe that chat just never happens. As an employer, you have a responsibility to be looking after your employees' mental health, especially during a difficult time like the pandemic.
Advertise the best ways and times for employees to reach you, or where else they might find support if you aren’t available. Perhaps put yourself in the virtual ‘kitchen’ (via whatever messaging channel you’re using) for a coffee break mid-morning, or simply reach out direct to your team to find out how they’re doing from time to time.
Prioritise staff wellbeing and mental health support through open dialogue, plenty of resources and inclusive language. You don’t want to be the last to know if someone’s not coping. And make sure you have support in place, too – whether that’s within the organisation or outside it. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Working from home is here to stay – let’s make it work for all of us
Working from home is lovely and hard and rewarding and challenging, sometimes in equal measure. The companies that will thrive now and into the future will be those who commit to creating a productive, encouraging and stimulating environment for their employees – physically and emotionally. It’s not so different to what you’d do for them in your normal office environment, except you’re managing lots of individual offices – which can make it all a lot harder to monitor.
One roadblock to productivity a lot of companies face is poor IT, leading to slow connectivity and frustration. Check out our Work from Home IT guide if you need help figuring out how to make your IT run more smoothly.