Like many companies and organisations around the world, here at Keystone we have had to quickly adapt our working life in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. One of the most significant changes was the recent switch to home office to maintain the safety of our team, and help reduce potential spread of the virus.
Many of us have not worked remotely on a full-time basis before, so there was perhaps a slight sense of trepidation when departing the office last week. However, after a few days it was surprising how a smooth the transition actually was. With the help of technology and a few key organisational strategies, I've quickly adapted to my new home office.
For those of you who may not be finding it so easy to switch or simply want some pointers, here are my top tips designed to help you make get the most out of your time spent working from home, whether you work in higher education or any industry!
Set up a dedicated work space
The first thing you need to do when working from home is to select a working space that suits your specific needs. Selecting a dedicated area will help you make a proper distinction between “work” time and “home” time in your space, making it easier to transition between the different modes of your day.
Whether it is a desk in an airy, well-lit room, or your kitchen table, claim your space and keep it as such during the time you work at home.
If you like to move around, don’t stress as there is no expectation for you to stay glued to an exact spot all day, but the act of setting up an identifiable base will help you to create a unique sense of place within your usual home environment, and set you up for the realities of working from home.
Structure and plan your days
Apart from scheduled meetings and calls, it can be easy to lose track of time without the usual markers of a normal office day. By planning out the day's tasks, and setting a loose structure with specific times designated for breaks and other activities, you can make a huge difference to your day.
It is a common misconception that working remotely means working less. In fact, for many, it may mean working more hours than normal due to the lack of a proper structure, increased pressure from employers, and intense workloads.
Stick to a schedule
When switching to home office, it can be easy to lose track of time, or continue working beyond normal hours. While it is absolutely fine to continue working as needed, aim to maintain control over your workload to avoid burnout. Keep track of your daily tasks, and communicate with leaders if the workload does not match normal expectations within the office.
In a US study from DigitalOcean, a survey showed 82% of remote workers reported feeling "burnt out" and identified feeling the need to contribute more as a result of working remotely. According to the Harvard Business Review, working remotely can also create a feeling of indebtedness from the employee to the employer as a result of being in a flexible situation, or feeling the need to" prove something." "This feeling of indebtedness can lead some remote employees to keep their foot on the gas until they run out of fuel."
Maintaining a positive work-life balance is just as important when working from home, so keep track of this during the transition. Keep yourself in fighting shape!
Communicate more frequently
When shifting to remote work, you will undoubtedly be using more non-verbal communication methods such as email and messaging as part of your workday. You will not have the same random encounters or casual interactions as you normally do in the office, leading to even a potential loss of information in some cases.
To offset this, consider setting up daily and weekly meetings between yourself and colleagues, as well as wider workplace community meetings to keep everyone connected and up-to-date with the agenda.
Stay connected – keep in touch with the outside world.
The current situation we are facing isn't just about remote work, but also about distancing oneself from others to avoid spread of the coronavirus. Try using your breaks for social interaction, whether by Face-timing your colleagues, friends or relatives, and make sure to connect with others. If others in your household are also working from home, set up "coffee dates" with them and interact at designated periods during the day, just as if you would in real life. Stay in touch, and connected!
Take advantage of technology
In 2020, remote work is not a new concept. In fact, in the US alone approximately 3.4% of the population works remotely. Not to mention, our globalised world economy has paved the path for an avalanche of tech solutions designed to help the world stay connected, and be able to work in non-traditional ways.
The following solutions can help you make a smooth transition to home office, perhaps even improving your efficiency:
A master tool for anyone wanting to communicate with video and audio, use screen-sharing or to host group meetings online. It is very simple to use, and even has been implemented by higher education providers to host virtual classrooms!
Communication is key when working remotely, so you need to be able to stay in touch with your team. Luckily, there are plenty of messaging applications available in addition to the standard WhatsApp and SMS. Slack is considered by many to be the communication and messaging tool of the business world, favoured by many for its "hip" and easy to use interface.
In my case, I was lucky enough to already have access to a Office365 subscription, which includes Microsoft Teams. With Teams, the instant messaging features have not only reduced the need for email, but increased communication between my colleagues and myself. There is also built-in functionality for Skype, the application is connected directly to our OneDrive file storage and I can share files with other team members in a snap.
Hint - If you have a subscription to Office365 for Business, you may find that you already have access to Microsoft Teams, making it easy to message your colleagues, share files. Microsoft Teams has a handy mobile app, which you can use in place of WhatsApp or text message to stay in touch with your colleagues throughout the day.
Time-tracking - Timely
if you need to track your time across various projects, Timely will automatically track activity on your computer and help you keep records of your day. While you will need to pay a fee to use the service, Timely has an excellent interface that requires little orientation and the power behind the app is that it essentially does all your tracking for you. If you experience difficulty keeping track of your hours, this tool is a no-brainer.
File Storage & Sharing - Dropbox & OneDrive: Organizing and sharing your files when working from home can be difficult, especially if you normally use a common server in the physical workplace. Dropbox and OneDrive are two services that make it easy to keep your files in one place and quickly share with others. They are also useful to help keep track of potential changes when working in teams, ensuring full transparency.
I tend to use a lot of post-it notes when trying to remember my individual tasks, but there are two applications that are excellent for organization and planning once my supply runs out!
Trello is the gold standard in visualisation of planning, with a post-it note style interface allowing you to create planning boards, lists and individual cards. It is also geared towards teams, perfect for collaboration and planning of new projects. With easy drag and drop features, as well as colour customization, Trello is a favourite of many, whether individuals or groups working together.
For the individual, Todoist is a great tool for creating tasks and lists, both for work and personal use. It integrates seamlessly with email and has a dedicated mobile app, helping you to stay on top of your tasks. One of their best features it the ability to quickly link tasks directly to specific emails in your accounts, organize tasks by priority, as well as push to a later date with a single click if priorities change.
For teams managing a lot of content, CoSchedule is also a great tool for planning, creating and tracking content. It has connected social publishing features that can make it easy to simultaneously promote new content on social platforms when publishing.
Take breaks regularly
While it seems like a simple idea, it can be very easy to forget to take breaks when working from home. Make sure you remember to take some time to switch off, and have a cup of coffee or whatever you would normally do at work. For fans of structure, you can set specific times to take breaks, use a timer or even allocate a given amount of time each day for downtime. Otherwise, you may find you burn out quickly, and become less efficient overall.
If you do take regular breaks, ensure to keep them monitored. It can be easy to get too comfortable and lose track of time. You may find yourself working into the night to complete a task that you could have completed within a normal working day.
Be flexible & do what works for you
The above tips are merely designed to act as guide to help you adjust to working from home. The most important takeaway from this post is to experiment and find solutions that fit you best, selecting the methods that enable you to work most efficiently. It may actually be that you work best moving about the house, or working with less formal structure, depending on your role. See what feels natural in your new environment - just go with it!
Enjoy your time working from home - make the most of it!
The coronavirus is having an unprecedented impact on everyday life, so it is important to remain positive. Try to make the most out of your time working remotely, free from the confines of the office. Do what it takes - whether by playing to your favourite music, using breaks to play with your children, gamify completion of your tasks, or for some perhaps merely enjoy the opportunity to work in your pyjamas!
Good luck! Please share your COVID-19 home office experience with us by tagging #KeystoneAtHome across your social media accounts.
Editor's Note: This is a guest post written by Ashlee-Maree Courtney-Eman, Director of Digital Marketing at Keystone. All thoughts and opinions are my own, this content is not sponsored.
If you have also any tips or ideas on how to switch to home office, or have great applications designed to help #highered institutions during this time, please drop us a line here.