remote working

A Guide to Remote Working

A Guide to Remote Working

I had often worked the odd days from home, and would have considered myself to be productive, so when I was presented with the opportunity to work remotely for an extended period, I jumped at the chance. For most people, working remotely means that you are working from home, but home can be a very different place for many people.

Your physical environment and access to services, such as high-speed broadband, can have a significant impact on how successful remote working is for you, but your own attitude is equally as important. If there are children at your home, you may find that they are looking for attention from you, which you are not able to give, as you are trying to do your job, so you end up with an unhappy situation. That isn’t fair on either party. If you live somewhere that does not have room for a proper desk and a suitable chair, you could struggle to work comfortably for 8 hours.

It is widely accepted that where creative collaboration is required, face-to-face interacti on usually leads to greater productivity. Data processing, or research type roles, do not tend to require much collaboration. With this in mind, it is important to consider if remote working is suited to your role. You may benefit from a mix of remote, and office-based time.

I have learned quite a lot about making full-time remote working a success for me, so here are some things which I believe are worth thinking about.

Get the backing of your peers

This depends on your role, but whether you have the backing of your manager, or not, can have a huge bearing on how successful your remote working will be. Some roles are better suited, because you are being measured on deliverables. It is quite easy for your manager to see if you are delivering, or not. For others, they are performance assessed, or evaluated in ways that are less clear-cut. If this is the case, you might find you are constantly having to validate your effort, almost over compensating so that you are not perceived to be at home with your feet up, binging on endless boxsets. If you have got the support of your peers, you will work with greater freedom and confidence, not feeling that you have to continuously justify your position, or contribution.

Get the technology you need for the job you do

Being in the company office will often mean that you take it for granted that you have access to the necessary resources. You probably have a phone, you will have access to shared files and folders, you will almost certainly have the ability to print out documents. Many organisations do not allow local administration rights on laptops, to standard users, so you could find yourself at home and unable to add your own print device as a printer. You may need certain tools, or applications in order to access company resources. It is a good idea to test all of these things before you are stranded at home, with a deadline looming. Having adequate broadband is also essential, particularly if you are accessing resources on the company network. While they were “local” to you before, they are now “remote”, so access can be affected by connection latency. Slow is the new broken, and poor connectivity can seriously impact on your ability to do your job.

Create a work space

If you are serious about working remotely, you should be serious about the space you intend to work in. Have a suitable desk, and the right chair. Consider the ergonomics of your workspace. A workspace that is customised to suit you, will allow you to work in a comfortable and safe way. Crouching over a laptop on the kitchen table is not going to be sustainable for long before you experience some strain. Prolonged periods working like this will leave you in pain and not very interested in concentrating on your work. Office chairs can seem prohibitively expensive, but spending on a high-quality chair is an investment in your health, your comfort, and your productivity. I can recall reading a number of separate studies, which reported productivity going up more than 17% when individuals work in an ergonomic setting with an adjustable chair. You may be lucky enough to work for a company that will contribute to the cost. Do not forget, by working from home, you could be saving the company a considerable amount of money. In most Western countries, it is not cheap to accommodate staff in an office building. Supporting you may even be tax deductible, therefore something that is seen as beneficial to your company.

Get dressed, you are going to work

I cannot stress how important this is in order to maintain discipline. You are still getting paid to do a job, all that has changed is your place of work. With that in mind, you should dress for work. That probably does not require you to wear business formal attire, but you should dress in something that you would be prepared to leave the house in. That includes footwear. There is a psychological significance to this. It sets you in the right frame of mind. Wearing your PJs and slippers around the house means you have not fully separated your day from night. Your personal time from your work time. My routine does not change, regardless of where I am working. Get up, have a shower, get dressed, “go to work”. It helps maintain your discipline. I have always found this a really simple thing that has genuinely helps me to succeed.

Stay in touch

When you are away from the office, you are missing out on the social interaction that comes with working around other people. I find this even more apparent as my neighbourhood is largely populated with young professionals, most of whom leave for work during the day, so it is incredibly quiet around the street. If you have other colleagues that work remotely, they may also be glad of some company for lunch, so stick an hour in your calendar and arrange to meet up. Look after your mental health, as working from home can be very isolating. Some people cope better with this than others. Even getting out for a walk, or going to the gym, could be enough to keep you sane. If you have the option to work in the office from time-to-time, it can also be beneficial to take advantage of this too, simply from a social perspective. Having Microsoft Teams is a great way to keep in touch with colleagues using chat, voice, or video calls.

Do not forget to eat

We are back to the importance of planning again. This time it is about planning for the fact that you will need food in the house for meals that you were previously having elsewhere. I found that trying to decide what I wanted to eat, where to go, getting there, then coming back, I was leaving myself with very little time to eat, and I was not enjoying it. If someone scheduled a meeting close to lunchtime, I may even end up not having anything to eat, because I did not have time to go out and get something. Once I planned my meals a few days ahead, I already knew what I was going to have for lunch on any given day, so that was one less decision to make. I also endeavoured to eat somewhere away from my workspace, so that there was a clear separation between work and breaks. This also helps take away the temptation to open the fridge, or the biscuit tin, because snacking can be a major pitfall for remote workers and it can be more problematic if you do not have proper food in the house. Having fruit available for snacks is a good alternative.

Keep the home at a comfortable temperature

If you are used to working in an office environment, the chances are that you have been somewhere that the indoor “climate” is managed, so that it is kept to a comfortable temperature. Depending on where you live, that might not be as easy to manage. It is important though, as it will affect your productivity. Make sure you are comfortable, even if it means just heating/cooling your workspace. Opening a window may not be practical, if there are external noises that will distract you, or will disrupt any calls you might participate in. The chime of the ice cream van has caught me out on a few calls during the hot, summer months. Thankfully, I have got very understanding customers. Investing in a small desk fan definitely improved things in that respect.

Plan your day

Procrastination can creep in if you do not have structure to your day, with defined tasks. Of course this depends on the type of job you do, but most people will have some tasks that must be achieved. One of the phrases that was often in job adverts was “must be able to work on own initiative”. It can be very true for someone changing from a situation where they were constantly under the watch of their manager, but now are suddenly hidden away at home. For me, creating tasks using Planner in Microsoft Teams is a great way to manage my deliverables.

I find that I will normally start the day an hour earlier than I would if I had to make an hour commute to the office. This can also be true in the evening, where I can work a bit longer than would be practical if I had to get on the road home. I find that the earlier start can be particularly useful when it comes to reading my mail, and getting on top of things before the office based staff start to come online. I’ll normally check social media accounts, and my personal mail, on my phone before I start the day. Minimising these distractions can help to stick to a schedule.

Plan your breaks and take them

When you are in an office environment, there is a natural cycle throughout the day, where people take breaks, and they leave their desks for a while. You will often be synchronised with this cycle, so you do not even have to remember to take breaks. I found that working from home meant I was much less aware of the time passing. There were no environmental triggers to alert my subconscious.

It is important to take little breaks, so do what works best for you in order to remind yourself when to take them. If I am particularly busy, I will substitute a break by walking around while taking phone calls. At least this means that I am not sitting in the chair continuously for 8 hours.

Discipline is essential

It is absolutely true that working from home is not suited to everyone. I regularly hear people telling me that they could not do it, or that they would not want to do it, as work gets them out of the house. If you do not think it is for you, or you struggle to motivate yourself, try to avoid getting into a situation where your primary workspace is your home. Your home can be full of distractions, be it the TV, a games console, boxsets on a subscription service, snacking on food, playing with your cat, or tormenting your Postman with stories about the woman up the road who dresses her dogs as children. How you manage those distractions is key to how well you will survive in the world of remote working.

If you have got the self-discipline, and the motivation, working from home can be very rewarding. It can take you away from the stresses of the daily commute, and allow for better use of your time. It works for me, and I think it makes my job more enjoyable, because I can be much more focused on what I am supposed to be doing, without the usual distractions you tend to have in offices.

As a Future Workplace Senior Consultant, I am part of a team at SoftwareONE that has extensive experience deploying and configuring Microsoft Office 365, particularly Microsoft Teams and we are always happy to share this experience to help others be as productive as possible from home.

Need help adjusting working from home or assistance supporting your remote workforce?

With the UK now in lockdown, the way we work has had to change. And fast. To help you adjust, visit our dedicted page on how to support a remote workforce, which we are updating on a regular basis.

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  • User Productivity, Unified Communications

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Peadar O'Sullivan

Peadar O’Sullivan

Senior Consultant – Future Workplace

User Productivity, Unified Communications

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