Kate Betts runs Capital B Media, a PR and communications agency which is usually based in an office. Here she looks at the challenges of working from home.
A lot of us are finding ourselves suddenly flung out into this strange world of home-working. And it is a completely different world.
I have been running a business for over 15 years, but this is all new for me. It will be new for you; it is new for everyone.
It doesn’t matter where your business is on its journey; established or start up, we are all learning as we go along and helping each other along the way.
If you are normally in an office with others, before too long you will find yourself at home and it will be different.
In the office we have co-workers to discuss what we are watching on Netflix, now we have the cat, and possibly the partner and kids too, for company.
Where we might have had a cupboard full of stationery and a printer that worked, we now find ourselves scribbling notes on the back of a random scrap of paper.
And realising that your internet connection at home is about as fast as the proverbial yoghurt pot and piece of string is enough to test the patience of anyone.
There are upsides. You don’t have to commute (thus saving money) and you can sit there in a scruffy T-shirt and jeans. Please no pyjamas; especially in these days of video conferencing!
I work in an office now where there are five of us. But in the past I worked from home and at remote offices for years, both while working as a ‘district’ reporter for radio and newspapers, and in the early days of Capital B Media. My colleagues on the other hand are fairly new to this game and already we have had some teething problems.
So, a few pointers:
- If possible, do a dry-run. It might be that you have been forced already to work from home, or you are planning it within the next few days. If you haven’t already embarked on the adventure, then what about a practice first?
Everyone can work from home to try it out. Then you go back to the office for a day (if you can) and collect all the little things you forgot. So far our list at Capital B Media includes: highlighter pens, paper for the printer, the office mobile, the office calculator, the spare printer, numerous documents and an ethernet cable. It is amazing what you take for granted!
- Keep the routine as much as you can. We are trying to keep some semblance of normality by continuing to work 9 to 5 and having a catch-up online every morning to discuss what tasks we are working on.
- Remember your internet at home might not be as good as that in the office. So, don’t expect to be downloading, and particularly uploading, big files at any speed. If you do need to work with large files, can you compress them? Video in particular is a bit of a nightmare.
If you have an IT support company talk to them about what the system’s limits are – and then factor in that there are several dozen people trying to get on to your server and several million people also working from home. So, patience is a virtue, as is an ethernet cable – at least being wired is quicker than Wi-Fi.
- Think about where you are going to sit. Most of us don’t have the luxury of an office at home, so we end up perched at the kitchen table. But how is that for your back? And are you constantly interrupted by the rest of the family? Or are you stuck in a room with limited natural light? Try out different locations – and chairs.
- Give yourself a break. It is easy to feel guilty about the 20-minute walk with the dog or watching the lunchtime news while eating scrambled egg. But remember you take formal, and informal, breaks in the office too. How many mornings does it actually take a good quarter of an hour for people to start work because of an office conversation about football/ the latest film/ their journey? And then part way through the morning you all get lost in a conversation about some random TV programme and then you spend ten minutes in the afternoon looking at cat videos…. It is ok to take breaks in the office and at home.
- Keep in touch. It is a lonely world, especially if you don’t have anyone else in your home. (And if you do, it might be worth reminding them you are working.) Regular contact with your colleagues can keep up the team spirit. Set up a WhatsApp group, chat on Microsoft Teams, email random thoughts. We are all in this together.