4 Tips for Improving Your Remote Working Setup.
No 6am alarm. No dressing up. No commute. This remote work thing sounds alright, doesn’t it? If there’s a silver lining to this global pandemic, it’s that a record number of people will get to experience the joys of working from home.
But as with any seemingly ideal situation, there are a few potential downsides. As difficult, inconvenient and annoying as office life can be, it does have its advantages.
Happily there are ways to minimise the pitfalls and maximise the perks of remote work. Let’s take a look at four of the main challenges, and how you might go about tackling them.
Problem 1: Your IT just doesn’t work
Your office IT system has been built from the ground up to handle very specific work. Your home IT system has not. COVID-19 changed the game quickly and completely, leaving businesses scrambling to get their workers set up remotely. This has left many people either relying on basic hardware, or whatever they had at home. Perhaps your home computer or laptop isn’t quite up to scratch, or you lack a printer or monitor. Perhaps you’re left to rely on fiddly webmail, rather than an efficient installed mail program. Most critically, perhaps there isn’t a way to remotely access your internal systems.
The best solution to these issues is to get in a time machine, go back six months, and prepare for what you now know to be the inevitable, to ensure that all your systems can be remotely accessed, and that all employees will be supplied with the hardware and software they need. Those who can’t do a Marty McFly will have to do a MacGyver instead, working with your IT team on workarounds that will make your remote working setup as close to an in-office experience as possible.
Problem 2: Your home and work lives aren’t separated
Out of habit, you roll out of bed at 6am. Do you start work straight away, or watch a bit of that terrific breakfast TV? The doorbell rings, the dog is begging for a walk, and the kids are in constant need of a playmate. Do you take 15 minutes out of your day and make it up later? Boy, it’s tempting. Then an email comes in at 6pm. Your office is right there, so you might as well answer it, or so you suppose.
Working from home makes it extremely difficult to manage your time. The line between your personal and professional lives blurs, resulting in you not working enough, or, more likely, working far too much.
Where possible, set up an office with a closable door, and treat the hours of 9am to 6pm as sacred. Only break from your normal routine when you really need to.
Problem 3: You’re having communication difficulties
You and your in-office telephone system have parted ways. You decide to forward calls to your personal mobile, but that just results in the same problem as above – a personal call stops business calls from coming through, or your mum keeps on ringing while you’re in the middle of an important conversation. Her heart is in the right place, bless her, but her phone calls aren’t.
Working from the office monitor that you’ve wisely taken home, you’re buzzed on a video call (a vital source of face-to-face contact for a remote worker). But when you answer, you realise that the monitor doesn’t have a camera. You’re nothing more than a ghostly voice; a perfectly black square amongst a team of smiling faces.
For your telephony, invest in a VoIP/PBX system. These solutions allow you to access your business telephone system from anywhere on almost any device, and give you control in redirecting, forwarding, queuing and even analysing calls through advanced reporting.
For video conferencing, utilise a solution like Microsoft Teams or Lifesize, and ensure that every team member has access to a webcam. If this means that they join a call using their own laptop or smartphone, so be it, because as we’ll discuss next, the importance of face-to-face contact cannot be underestimated.
Problem 4: A lack of human interaction
“You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” sang Joni Mitchell, and while she might’ve meant the environment, a remote worker could just as easily apply the sentiment to Carol from accounting. Water cooler chat doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, until there’s no water cooler or anyone to chat with. Social isolation, and the loneliness that can stem from it, is a very real and very difficult challenge for anyone working remotely.
In pre-pandemic times the solution was simple – work from a café or a co-working space. But when a nation is in lockdown, remote workers need to be a little more creative. The best solution is to schedule regular team video conferences, and ensure that time is allotted for fun chat as well as the serious stuff. The frequency of these meetings will depend on the work that you’re doing, but no matter your job, a 10 minute conference call is a great way to start and/or end your day.
Working remotely is a double-edged sword. But if you put proper plans in place and bring the best parts of the office home with you, you’ll ensure that the positives of the experience far outweigh the negatives.