BRINGING HOME THE BACON
Updated: Jun 19, 2020
The first few months of 2020 and the alarming spread of the coronavirus pandemic has given new meaning to the idea of ‘taking the work home’. At one point in April 2020, it was estimated that between a quarter and a third of the world’s population was on “lockdown” or “shelter-from-home” orders.
As a tech writer, it’s been fascinating to watch, because I’ve been writing about “telecommuting”, and other remote work concepts for well over a decade. But year after year the promised remote revolution failed to arrive at any scale, particularly in South Africa. It was clear that the technology wasn’t holding us back as much as the mindsets of some workplaces and managers, and the slow spread of fast and affordable connectivity.
Fast forward to today: the #flattenthecurve efforts that helped give government and the medical sector the time they needed to prepare for a wave of Covid-19 infections have also led to the mainstreaming of work-from-home (WFH) for anyone who can. And although many workplaces are preparing to reopen, it is highly recommended that if you can do your work from home or while social distancing you should.
So here are our first five principles to setting up an office or WFH situation that works for you, while you work…
There are a million tools, gadgets, devices, and software suites that all promise to transform your WFH situation, but honestly what works for someone else might not be the right fit for you. So instead of “five top tips” that are too general to be of any use, here are five WFH principles that are as applicable as they are practical – and you don’t need a user manual to understand them.
Before you buy or commit to rearranging the furniture, think through what a work day looks like for you. Maybe you’re stuck in meetings all day.. so you’ll need a good pair of earphones with a built in mic. Maybe you’re coordinating a team, and will have to replicate a physical whiteboard using a collaboration tool like Trello. Maybe you’re home-schooling kids in the morning and consulting after that, so your space needs to be dual purpose. Stopping to give this 30 minutes thought, and drawing up a list of needs, will ultimately save you hours of wasted time.
If you’re working from home, you will need a means of connection. Maybe you have fibre in your neighbourhood, and you were already using this for streaming content. If so, a fibre connection should be sufficient (in terms of speed and data) for Zoom meetings, as well as increased use. If you see that your needs increase noticeably, you may need to upgrade to the next package. Talk to your manager to see if work can assist in covering the cost differential. If you don’t have fibre, broadband and LTE are your next best options. Using your mobile phone as a hotspot can work well if you have decent signal, but it can also be expensive. You should look at data usage warnings (using built into your phone’s settings) to avoid any nasty surprises when you bill arrives, and – again – make a good case to your boss for a data allowance. In a pinch, audio uses less bandwidth than video, so turn off your camera. You can also set your youtube and streaming video to lower data use settings.
If you worked from home occasionally before, you could probably get away with sitting at the kitchen table, or even propping yourself up in bed. If this is your new normal, take some time to tweak your set up ergonomically. Raising your screen to a comfortable height is essential. Buy a laptop stand for this purpose, or repurpose a box. Anything that prevents straining or stooping is welcome. An external keyboard and mouse are very useful for this too. Then, budget-allowing, an office chair is much more comfortable than a dining chair over extended hours. You can also get lower back supports or foot rests. And just like in the office, find time to step away from your desk to rest your eyes and stretch your limbs.
If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to work – when the general apocalypse vibes of 2020 feel too heavy – a (space) makeover might help. It won’t solve your time management or domineering colleague issues, but at least make your work space pleasant to be in. Curate a clear and uncluttered space for yourself, with good light and bright energising colours. You can repurpose things from the house, like a lampshade or rug. An indoor plant on your desk seems so simple, but it’s a cliché for a reason. And try to reduce visual “noise” if possible, by putting things like the router inside a gift box, or swapping to wireless speakers and keyboards.
A common complaint regarding WFH set ups is feeling like you’re always at the office or never completely in one place. Sticking to a work routine will help. If you have kids at home, talk to them about when you’re available and for what. If you have a home office, close the door when you need to concentrate. If you work in your lounge or kitchen, try designate a specific area, and even set up a physical boundary like a screen. Then – and here’s the tough bit – leave the laptop behind when the work day is over. You will need to respect your own schedule and, sometimes, train your boss and colleagues to respect it too. Just because you’re home, doesn’t mean you can be constantly on call.