In light of the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic, the UK government has advised businesses to encourage employees to work from home if they are able to do so. With many already working remotely, knowing how to get the most out of the situation is vital for both productivity and wellbeing.
While the idea of working from home sounds appealing, in reality, many of us find it a daunting prospect. Without being surrounded by colleagues for encouragement and empowerment, how are we meant to stay engaged and productive for a prolonged period of time?
On top of this, many workers find themselves confused by their employer’s remote working policy. In SRG’s recent 2020 STEM Survey, over 50% of respondents working in the STEM sector were aware of their company’s policy around flexible working and working from home, but their ability to access the policy was dependent on their management’s interpretation of it.
Of course, it’s easy to see why letting people work from home can raise leadership’s anxiety levels. Out of sight does not necessarily mean out of mind, and many managers harbour legitimate concerns about the productivity levels of their team when left to their own devices. Thankfully, there are ways such concerns can be addressed.
By nurturing a positive company culture in which internal communications related to work-from-home policies are clear, consistent and avoid being condescending, senior leadership can engender a high level of trust around the subject.
As Kelly Morton, SRG’s Managing Director comments:
“Everything starts with culture. At SRG, we have built a business based around putting people first, and creating people strategies around working practices is part of this. While enabling this requires placing a lot of trust in your people, strategies and processes that mitigate potential breaches of trust can easily be implemented.”
From an individual point of view, a number of small changes to routine can make WFH a more productive and rewarding experience for employees and businesses alike. Before we delve into them in more detail, here are some of the upsides to remote working.
The benefits of working from home
Once an individual has established working hours with their employer, working from home gives them greater autonomy in both where and how they work. As a general rule, however, remote workers should work according to their organisation’s standard hours and cover the core hours to meet business needs.
2) Improved productivity
Contrary to popular belief, recent studies support the idea that working from home actually improves productivity and also reduces stress. People report having more energy due to less commuting and feel more engrossed in their tasks thanks to fewer interruptions and less noise.
3) Greater job satisfaction
An Acas report showed that its “employees who worked from home tended to feel happier in their roles than the staff in the office.” This can be attributed to less supervision, greater freedom to move around, increased productivity and less commuting-related stress.
4) Time and cost savings
In the United States, the average one-way commuting time is 26.1 minutes. This means that most people spend up to an hour a day commuting. Aside from taking valuable time out of the working day, commuting also adds up financially. In the UK, the average commuter spends almost £70 a month on travelling to and from work. Working from home frees up time and saves people and businesses money.
5) Improved work-life balance
By eliminating the commuting time, having control over the workplace environment and optimising the working day, WFH employees can dedicate more time to non-work activities. Greater work-life balance prevents burnout, irritability and stress — and creates a happier workforce. And, generally speaking, when people are happier, they are more productive on the job.
How to make working from home work for you
Create a boundary between work life and home life
When working from home on a regular basis, it’s important to create a clear distinction between work and leisure. Responding to emails on the sofa may be fine for a while, but quickly becomes uncomfortable and over time will likely affect your posture and wellbeing.
By creating a separate office environment, you’ll retain the professional and productive atmosphere of a more traditional workspace — but also have more privacy and be free of distraction.
Firstly, you need to identify the best place to set up your home office. If you have a rarely-used spare room that doubles up as storage space, then this could be a good option. If you are pushed for space, a kitchen or dining room table serves well.
(If you don’t have a spare room and working from home has become business-as-usual, you could consider building an office in your back garden instead. Of course, this depends on budgets, but converted sheds and shipping containers are spacious enough to house an office without taking up too much garden space).
Secondly, it’s important to allocate time for non-work responsibilities. Usually take an hour for lunch in the office? Do the same at home. Usually finish up at 5pm on the dot? Aim to shut your laptop at that time.
While it can be tempting to try and get some errands done while working from home (e.g putting the washing on, tidying up or cleaning the kitchen), make sure it doesn’t eat into your pre-planned working hours.
On the flip side, make sure you properly switch off at the end of the working day. Without a commute to worry about, it can often be appealing to work long into the evening. However, this merely eats into personal or family time and can negatively affect your sleep schedule.
Maximise what you already have
If your office is small, you’ll want to make the most of the space you’ve got. Just as you would in a traditional office environment, creating clutter-free spaces can help you feel more organised and in control.
Ideally, you need to be free from distractions. If you can’t create your own work zone and have to share with other family members or cohabitants, have a frank discussion around how you like to work and reach as many compromises as possible. This will help make for a smoother, more productive day.
Thankfully, most work nowadays is carried out and stored digitally and/or online. However, if you need to store paper copies for documents, maximise your space by storing paperwork in file dividers or boxes.
Finally, it’s important that your workstation is optimised for performance and productivity. If you can, set up your desk near a window, invest in an ergonomic chair for comfort and make sure any accessories are not disruptive to your workflow. Ensure your lighting keeps you awake and alert while reducing eye strain, and aim to maintain a room temperature of between between 16C and 24C
Be mindful of your mental health
The day-to-day reality of working from home can be very different from the original reaction to the idea. If left unchecked, an isolated work environment can have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing.
When we don’t have an office to show up to, we miss out on opportunities for regular social interaction and connection with colleagues. As the Chicago-based clinical psychologist, Ryan Hooper told the Huffington Post, “for some people, the feedback and encouragement loop of the work environment is critical to their jobs.” Indeed, a 2019 report by the software development agency Buffer found that loneliness was the second-most reported challenge for remote workers.
While businesses need to ensure their online communication strategy is in place to keep teams as united and in the loop as possible, the actions of individuals can also bolster interactions and help to reduce feelings of isolation.
Setting up daily Skype video calls at structured times, for example, will help to reintegrate workers who are used to face-to-face interactions. The video aspect is important because managers and team leaders will be able to visually monitor how their team is fairing.
Aside from regular check-ins with colleagues, it’s important to keep your spirits up and your mind calm. Exercise is one such way to give your brain and body a much-needed boost (if you're self-isolating, indoor exercises such as push-ups and yoga are a good substitute for outdoor activities such as jogging), as is meditation. Keeping plants and family photos around your workstation can also give you a boost.
The key takeaways
These are undoubtedly stressful times. For many people, getting to grips with a new WFH arrangement is only adding to the stress. As Alison Jones, Regional Manager at SRG acknowledges:
“Working from home might lead to increased anxiety or stress because of the perceived pressure to appear busy. People can start to feel like they need to be constantly online, making themselves available or otherwise prove that they are spending their time productively.”
With a few small changes, however, remote working can be something of a blessing amid the constant news cycle. To summarise:
Establish a work zone
Creating a working environment that’s conducive to productivity will help you focus and maintain your wellbeing.
Stick to a routine
A consistent routine can punctuate the day and halt unhelpful procrastination. Set clearly defined working hours and try not to work outside of them. Dressing slightly smarter than you would when relaxing at home can also help you feel more professional and engaged.
Make time for exercise and relaxation. You need to be able to disconnect from work at times in the day to help you feel refreshed and motivated.
Working from home is undoubtedly new territory for many of us. But through organisation, self-motivation and constant communication, we can give each other the necessary support to make it fruitful.