Wow, what weird times these are. If you look at it purely from a work perspective, it’s possibly the biggest workplace/social experiment of all time: can the majority of office-based people work from home for a sustained period of time?
Only time will tell, but as someone who has worked from home for a good few years of my career, I thought I would have everything covered if I was ever forced into it. That’s until my 17-month-old son couldn’t go to his much-loved nursery Monday to Wednesday or have, as we call it, Granny Thursdays.
So, as we’re all in this together, I thought I’d offer some comms tips and advice from across my career, as well as some general learnings from the previous few weeks. Some will save you money, some you may have heard, some might be new to you, but I hope they’ll be useful. Lots of things may have come to a dramatic halt recently, but a bit of creativity can go a long way…
1. Improve your WiFi
There’s nothing more annoying than a buffering screen or embarrassing connectivity issues on a client call, so if you haven’t already, give your WiFi some attention. I know I know, having a WiFi router in the middle of your lounge isn’t the most wonderful thing to look at, but during a sustained period of working from home, if you can position your router temporarily away from other electronic devices you’ll see an improvement in speed and reliability. A bonus tip – running the Google ‘internet speed test’ will let you know if your Wi-Fi connection can handle video conferencing.
2. Properly learn how to use Skype/Zoom etc.
Don’t just have a call and hope for the best, take some time to learn how your software, whatever it is, works. It’s also wise to take a few minutes to test your set-up and be sure you know how to do things like sharing your screen, muting and unmuting. You don’t want to be the one that completes someone’s conference call bingo card! Also, if your mic or headset isn’t working, be sure to check out your audio settings in your conference call software as well as your computer audio settings, it’s almost always down to that.
3. Be conscious of limitations when presenting virtually
If you’re presenting a PowerPoint to others you really don’t want anything going wrong. Luckily, I work alongside presentation design specialists who really know their stuff and have given me some top tips to help you out. For example, your company VPN can limit the bandwidth available to streaming platforms, so it’s best to turn this off when presenting. It’s worth remembering too that Skype for Business won’t play videos embedded within PowerPoint, unless they are compressed to 50MB or less. Also, Microsoft Teams requires PowerPoint files to be 2GB or less. There’s too many tips and tricks to write here but get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want some help getting your presentations ‘virtual’ ready.
4. Phone – don’t just message – your colleagues
Out of the office, there’s less of the spontaneous conversation that naturally erupts, so you have to try a bit harder to get that sense of camaraderie. And instant messaging just doesn’t cut it. Pick up the phone a bit more often and share a laugh and a joke where possible. I played Scattergories last week with half a dozen colleagues after a long work week and it gave all of us a much-needed boost.
5. Use headphones (yes, even if you don’t need to)
Many of us use headphones in an office environment, so you might feel like working from home is an opportunity to blare your tunes freely and let those ears loose. By all means do this if that works for you, but if (like me at the moment) you live in a house where a combo of distracting noises can be heard at any one time, headphones can be a saving grace. As well as this, close the door of the room you’re working in if possible and don’t be tempted to put the TV on, it’s way too distracting and frankly there’s nothing good on at the moment anyway!
6. Claim a little bit of tax relief when this is all over
People that have to work from home have always been able to claim a bit of the VAT they pay on services they use for work, but it’s been a complete faff and, in some cases, hardly worth the bother. But HMRC have given a bit more flexibility given the current crisis and it might turn out to be worth a look. Lower rate tax payers could save up to £62/year and higher rate £124/year. Not megabucks, but it might just pay for that first meal out once this is all over.
7. Set a flexible childcare schedule (emphasis on flexible)
My wife and I are in the fortunate position that we can both work from home, and we have roles that fortunately allow us to have a little bit of flexibility. So we have devised a work week using all hours possible that sees one of us starting at 6.30am each day, switching at points during the day to accommodate calls and continuing on until at least 7.30pm and later evening/weekend time too. It’s not easy, and we have to expect the unexpected at all times, as well as factor in time to relax, but with my next point, it’s manageable.
8. Find your routine and really stick to it
This may seem obvious, but I’m surprised by the amount of people I talk to who don’t have a day plan. Try to keep a routine like starting work at a certain time and logging off at the end of the day. Mixing home and work life is incredibly easy when you’re working at home, so try to keep them separate as much as possible. I’ve seen a lot of people get burn out when starting to work from home as for many it is a novelty. But when the novelty wears off, you’ll be grateful for structure, as boring as that sounds. Besides, a tactical workday only makes for more fun when you do get time off the clock.