As life slowly starts to return to a semblance of normality, some people are heading back to work, but those who can work from home may be in no hurry to get back to the office.
The extent to which the COVID-19 crisis will change working practices remains to be seen, but people who’ve adapted to getting up and logging on, virtual meetings and not having to face the rush-hour commute, won’t necessarily easily give up the convenience of working from home.
The benefits of working from home
For some employees, there are distinct benefits to not having to physically turn up every day.
The obvious one is the cost and inconvenience of getting to the office and back, particularly in South Africa’s congested urban centres. Options include paying for public transport that isn’t always safe or reliable, the costs of a ride-share service or using your own car, which means finance repayments, insurance and maintenance. Add to that a frustrating couple of hours each day sitting in traffic or waiting for delayed trains.
There are other advantages besides cost and convenience, and they don’t just apply to employees. People working from home are generally more productive. They don’t get dragged into unnecessary meetings, water-cooler conversations or distracted by office politics. Fewer employees in an office also mean less office space is required, potentially saving the employer rental or reducing the costs of expansion.
With advantages for both employers and employees it’s likely that for those personnel who can do their jobs remotely, working from home, at least a few days a week, will increasingly become the norm
As these new arrangements become formalised and entrenched, the temporary lockdown solution of working from the kitchen table may not be ideal. It could be time to invest a bit to create a proper home office.
If that’s what you’re planning to do, here are five tips to maximise working from home:
1. Set up a dedicated workspace just for you
Working from two or three different spaces at home is far less productive than having a dedicated workspace. If possible, choose a separate room where you can close the door to minimise distractions and keep productivity in and family, friends and pets out.
If that isn’t an option, try to find a space that is reasonably quiet and where other people in the home don’t need to navigate around you. It’s why the kitchen isn’t ideal. Not only does having a dedicated space signal that when you’re there you’re working, but it also means you don’t have to pack up and unpack your work and equipment at the start and end of each day.
2. Make sure you’re comfortable
Backache, a stiff neck and other aches and pains are common complaints from people who work from home. Often this is because they work from any convenient table and chair, rather than ones that were designed to provide the right support and ensure you’re a suitable distance and height from your laptop. If you can, invest in chair that will give you proper support or find out if you can borrow one from the office.
If neither are an option, use what you have to ensure you avoid working from home literally becoming a pain in the neck. There’s plenty of online advice about the optimal seating position and where your computer should be situated to prevent stiffness and strains. You don’t need to buy an expensive stand to get your screen at the right height.
3. Review your internet package
There are few things more annoying for your employer and colleagues than you dropping off virtual meetings, not getting or being able to send email or missing deadlines because of a poor internet connection or insufficient bandwidth. It’ll get on your nerves too. There’s not a lot of point in replacing the torture of your daily commute with a buffering internet connection. Ensuring you have sufficient bandwidth will prevent a lot of stress.
Get the best package you can afford. It’s also worth speaking to your employer to find out if there’s a policy to help cover the monthly costs of a decent internet connection. If not, it may be worth suggesting one be considered.
4. Make sure your workspace has sufficient light
Poor lighting can lead to eye strain, fatigue, headaches and blurred vision. Open the curtains or blinds and let in some natural light, but also make sure you have enough overhead lighting or a soft-light desk lamp.
5. Set boundaries
One of the difficulties of working from home is that it’s easier for work to intrude into your home and family time. Studies have found that people who work from home are more likely to overwork than those in a traditional workspace. Take little breaks, get up and move around, do some stretches. Get some sun. These mental health moments will make you more productive.
You may also need to be firm with colleagues who think because you’re working from home, they can call you at any time and over weekends about routine things. Be clear about what your working hours are. You’ll be a better colleague, friend, partner and parent if you keep a healthy work-life balance.