With COVID-19 cases on the rise, employees around the globe are telecommuting more than ever.
Companies have begun rolling out mandatory work-from-home policies, keeping operations intact while enforcing strict social distancing. Among such businesses are global brands such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon; shifting their tasks from the physical to the digital, and restricting all non-essential business travel.
Those new to the world of remote work may need that extra time to adjust, and figure out their best methods of maintaining productivity. Below, we dive into the four key aspects of successful telecommuting – whether you’re soldiering through a pandemic, or adopting the position full-time.
Though a more comfortable set-up to your traditional 9-5 office day, working from home requires a disciplined daily schedule, excellent time management, and the ability to set boundaries between you and those who share the same space. Basically, act as if it’s an actual day at the workplace.
In an article for BBC, professor of management at Boston’s Northeastern University, Barbara Larson, states, “Take a shower and get dressed. Treat it like a real job.”
Avoid the temptation to lounge about and procrastinate by creating to-do lists of your everyday tasks. This helps create structure in your day, keeping you focused on what needs to be done.
To optimize efficiency, experts suggest determining your most productive times in the day, scheduling your most challenging work during these hours. This can be especially helpful for those who rely on company to get them through the “slumps” in their work day; familiarizing yourself with your optimal “working rhythms” can help you more productively manage and prioritise your workload.
Those living with family or housemates will also need to set clear limits on their daily interactions. Help them respect your schedule by establishing strict, “do-not-disturb” working hours. Additionally, avoid having visitors over or tending to non-work appointments during this time.
Lastly, it’s important to know when to switch off for the day – as telecommuting can often blur the lines between work and home life. (In fact, a 2019 Buffer survey cited the “inability to unplug” as the topmost complaint among remote workers.) Nevertheless, sticking to your business hours and having an end-of-the-day ritual is crucial for avoiding burnout and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Invest in the right online tools
With 70% of the world’s workers now telecommuting at least once a week, online communication and collaboration tools have never been more accessible.
For remote work setups to be effective, clear and consistent communication is vital. One must know exactly what is expected of them during the day; and since effortless, face-to-face interactions are off the table – digital conference and messaging tools are a must.
Companies have increasingly turned to popular chat apps such as Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts for instant, easy communication (even within physical workspaces). Skype, Zoom, and Cisco WebEx have all gained mainstream use for video conferencing, with project management tools such as Trello and Asana making virtual task delegation as seamless as possible.
Cloud computing has deservedly gained strong growth among Australian businesses, with 42% now using some form of paid cloud software. The technology has furthered the ease of online collaboration, providing remote workers with live access to company resources and projects (hosted on physical or virtual servers) regardless of geographical location. The same goes for an individual’s files and folders; uploading these documents to a cloud storage service helps them access their materials from any device with an internet connection.
Additionally, working through cloud-based platforms provides remote workers with greater security; with options to employ user-specific passwords and file encryption to avoid unauthorised access and data breaches.
For extra measure, avoid leaving your work devices unattended, and logging out of company accounts (both in public and at home) when not in use.
Avoid total isolation
For all its productivity benefits, working from home can often result in high levels of loneliness. In the same aforementioned Buffer study, the phenomena was reported to be the second-most cited challenge among telecommuters, leading to reduced motivation and productivity.
Of course, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing is a temporary must. Even for full-time remote workers, catching up with friends or loved ones after business hours is no longer an option (for now).
To avoid struggling with complete isolation, businesses are encouraged to shift team gatherings and social activities to the online sphere; such as a hosting “virtual pizza parties” and “happy hours” where employees can share a drink and converse over Skype.
Having the radio or background music on (provided they don’t cause unnecessary distraction) can also help simulate the background noise or “buzz” of an office. Additionally, having someone to connect with after business hours – be it a live-in family member, spouse, or a friend to chat to over the phone – will help alleviate feelings of loneliness.
On the flipside, employers are advised to acknowledge the stressful difficulties of this time, while continue to keep workers’ spirits up. Accepting the possibility of prolonged remote work is crucial; setting up “new norms” to help their teams ease into this new set-up can help maintain productivity and operational efficiency.
Set up a comfortable, ergonomic workspace
Finally, an established, quiet workspace is essential – both for new telecommuters and those at it full-time.
Though having your own home-based, private office is a bonus; simply setting aside an exclusive “work area” can do just as well in maintaining productivity. Investing in appropriate equipment – such as double monitors and a comfortable business chair (though these will depend on how long you’ll be telecommuting for) – can also keep you inclined to work, as well as enforce ergonomic health.
Jodi Oakman, Associate Professor at the La Trobe University Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors, recommends the use of a separate keyboard and mouse; as this grants you more flexibility with achieving the proper eye-level for your computer screen.
At the same time, Oakman also advises intermittent exercises throughout the day (applicable for office workers, as well). Getting up every 20 minutes or so to move and stretch one’s legs will help in avoiding cramps and muscle strains.
Lastly, a designated space helps create a physical boundary between your home and work life. Try and keep business relegated to this area, leaving your professional tasks and responsibilities here at the end of the day. Doing so will prevent work from seeping into your personal life (as telecommuting often does); maintaining a healthy psychological balance.
Though still considered an “unconventional” work set-up, working from home comes with a wide range of employee benefits – including increased productivity, reduced stress from commuting, and minimal office politics. Whether you’re waiting out a viral outbreak or have adopted the role full-time – with the right practices in place, one can get accustomed to their new position in no time.
Study-from-home options are also possible with DDLS
About two-thirds of Australian employees believe in the importance of further training while in the workforce.
Luckily, those working from home now have plenty of options to study digitally – helping them access their education from anywhere they please.
DDLS – Australia’s leading provider in corporate IT training – provides aspiring ICT professionals with the “telepresence technology” to undertake courses through exclusively-online services.
With their DDLS Anywhere, students can attend live virtual classrooms with the opportunity to interact with instructors and peers; all while eliminating burden (and costs) of travel. Participants thus have access to courses delivered by industry experts across states – all from the comfort of their own home.
Develop your IT and business skills today, and enquire with us on a course.