I’ve Been Working From Home For 11 Years. This Is What I’ve Learnt.
With lockdown extended, it’s time to get back on track with your work life. You may have been able to get away with half-arsing it up until now, but now that the long weekend is behind us and the kids are back at (home) school, we could all do with a bit of order.
Independent financial advisor Bryan Nicol has been working from home since 2009, first running his own recruitment business and, in more recent years, working for a financial advisory company that’s based in another city. We asked him for his tips on how to be productive when you’re not going into the office.
Change Your Mindset
Adjusting to not working with colleagues didn’t bother Bryan too much, but adjusting his self discipline was a process of trial and error. “In the beginning I approached being at home as being in a place of leisure and not in a place of work,” recalls Bryan. “I would wake up as late as possible, and although I would start work on time, I wasn’t mentally ready. I would often only shower and get dressed around lunchtime. After a while I realised that was completely wrong.”
“If you’re not dressed and presentable, you’ll think, ‘I’m not going to take that Zoom call or pop out to that meeting’ and that can cost you in business,” says Bryan.
Have a shower, brush your teeth, make breakfast, go to gym. Do everything you would do if you were working offsite. If you don’t do that, you won’t be in the frame of mind to work.
He got into a routine of waking up early and going through the motions of getting ready for work. “I was immediately more productive because my mind had been productive for an hour already, getting things done,” says Bryan. “I don’t think you can just roll out of bed and be the best in your industry from the outset – I think you need to wake yourself up. Act as if you’re going out to work at your office, which is far away from home. Have a shower, brush your teeth, make breakfast, go to gym. Do everything you would do if you were working offsite. If you don’t do that, you won’t be in the frame of mind to work.”
Set Up A Dedicated Workstation
Physically separating your working environment from your living environment can help you strike a balance. Bryan set up a dedicated room in the house to be his office. “So that for me is work,” he says. “If I go in there it’s with the mindset that I’m going to go in there and work. Same when I leave – I’m leaving work.” If you don’t have that luxury, try to find a corner where you can set up a table as your “desk” for the duration of your time at home. And if even a table is a big ask, think of your work tools as your “office” and pack them away at the end of each working day. “I shut my computer down when I leave work; I don’t sleep it,” says Bryan. “That signals to my brain that I’ve left work. I don’t have a commute where I sit in traffic and wind my brain down listening to the radio, so I go through the ritual of switching my computer off. I also never take my laptop out of the workplace. It stays ‘at work’.”
Structure Your Day
It’s way too easy to be distracted at home. Have a cup of coffee in front of the TV or take a break to vacuum the house and next thing you know, three hours have gone by. Bryan plans his breaks around mealtimes. “I have a structured meal plan – snack, lunch, snack. And I have three to four cups of coffee a day. I have to get up and make those so as long as it takes to make them is as long as I will be away from my desk.”
As important as it is not to take too much time away from your desk, it’s equally important to end your working day when you would at the office. “I know I’ve done a lot during my work day – more so than I would if I was at the office chatting to a colleague about their child’s hockey game. So I don’t need to feel guilty that I’m home from work, so to speak, at 5pm because I’m comfortable with my outputs.”
Don’t Be Forgettable
“As an employee, remember you’re already out of sight, so if you don’t do your work, you won’t be at the forefront of your manager’s attention,” says Bryan. It’s also important to stay connected to your colleagues in order to keep the team working well together. “We schedule routine meetings,” says Bryan. “Management meetings happen weekly at a certain time and date on Microsoft Teams. We also have a period of 30 minutes where all of us as staff go onto a Teams meeting during lunch. Anyone can join in – there might be one or two people or everyone. It’s a nice time to say hi and ask those little questions, like how was your kid’s birthday party?”
Use The Right Tools
Teams. Zoom. Skype. There’s no shortage of meet-up tools doing the rounds during lockdown, but they’re not all created equal in every situation. Bryan and his colleagues keep Teams and Skype open during the day for spontaneous chats, although if it’s urgent, there’s always a good, old-fashioned phone call. As for working calls, “Zoom is the most useful tool, followed by Teams because you can have many users on them,” says Bryan. “But of all of them, I’d say Zoom is by far the most stable and you can have more users on it if you have a paid licence. Skype is okay, but I prefer not to use it for my clients because it’s not as stable – it drops calls and the quality is often grainy. You want one less thing to worry about. For the people watching your presentation, Zoom works much better than Teams.”