WHAT do disparate companies like Apple, Mitsubishi and UDA Holdings have in common? They’ve all instituted remote working in light of the Covid-19 virus scare. Actually, they’re just a few of the many companies in China, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, USA and — increasingly, Malaysia — which have encouraged or ordered their employees to work from home.
Remote working or telecommuting is something Silicon Valley firms and start-ups have been experimenting with for years now but Covid-19 has forced the whole world to start thinking about new ways of working.
As someone who has worked from home for several years now, I’ve learned through trial and error some best practices for maintaining productivity while working in the comforts of my home. But if someone is completely new to this, they might find working from home challenging, precisely because it’s so comfortable.
The absence of colleagues and bosses and the presence of so many temptations (food, sleep, leisure and entertainment) can make it quite difficult to get work done. Here are some tips on how to stay productive if you’re new to remote working.
Like most things in life, there’s an art and science to remote working too. It’s not something that most people can instinctively do well. That’s because home is usually a place to relax and take it easy, not to work. So, it requires some learning, training and experience before you can get it right.
Unless a company already has a remote working culture with systems and policies in place, most companies will not be in any position to provide much guidance on how to work remotely in a productive way.
It doesn’t matter because employees themselves can start learning about remote working through online resources, books and so on. These days it’s possible to learn practically anything you want through e-learning.
When I decided to go freelance, I knew it would be for good so I invested in setting up the right infrastructure for it. For example, I have a home office which is a room dedicated for doing work. If you don’t have a spare room but suddenly have to work remotely, what you can do is to find a dedicated spot in your home where you’ll do your work. Having a dedicated space help you maintain the discipline to do work during office hours.
It goes without saying you should have a computer — either a desktop or a laptop. If your company wants you to work from home and you don’t have a good computer at home, they should provide you with one.
A fast computer is useless without the necessary software so your company should make sure you have all the applications you need to do your work and to communicate with other workers. And if you don’t have fast Internet access, again, the company should be the one to provide you with that.
Beyond that are peripheral stuff like a good headset and microphone for teleconferencing. You could do without it but it provides for better audio when you have proper equipment. You might also want to get a scanner and printer too.
Other niceties to have could be a good speaker so you can play some music. The one thing you can do at home that you can’t do at the office is play music without earphones. And to give you some peace of mind, you might want to have some house plants around your workplace area.
It’s helpful to put in place some system, as a kind of roadmap on what you should do each working day. Having a system or routine ensures that everything that needs to get done actually gets done. Freelancers can usually work anytime they want as long as they deliver good work on time.
However, if you’re simply replacing your office with your home due to Covid-19, you probably have to maintain regular working hours. This will make it easier to coordinate with co-workers, partners, suppliers, etc. So, if your office hours are 9 to 5, then it makes sense to maintain that.
To facilitate collaboration with co-workers who are also working from home, it would also make sense that some form of real-time communication be maintained. The most practical would be group instant messaging so that anyone can contact anyone else in the group. If a virtual meeting is needed, Skype would be good for that.
You also should self-impose some policies on when to take breaks. Unlike a freelancer who can take a break or even take a nap whenever they like, if you’re a remote worker who maintains regular office hours, you need to treat working hours like working hours.
The difference is that in an office, people can physically see that you’ve gone to the pantry or went for a toilet break. When working remotely, people won’t know when you’re gone or where you have gone so it makes sense to post a status update to alert your colleagues so they’re not left wondering why you’re not returning their messages.
Think of systems as a way to ensure that you maintain an office-like work ethic even though you’re away from the office.
Ultimately, for remote working to be productive, it takes a lot of self-discipline. At home, no co-workers, supervisors or bosses are around to look over your shoulder. You could goof-off half the time and nobody would really know.
And for sure there’ll be lots of temptations. The bedroom is nearby. It’d be so easy to take a nap. The kitchen is also nearby. And so is the living room with TV. Heck, even your computer can be a temptation. You could while your time away going through social media or watching videos instead of working. Of course, if you give in to such temptations, you’ll produce poor work and eventually this could land you into a lot of trouble with your company.
There are many benefits to you personally and for society if more people were able to productively work from home. Traffic jams would be a thing of the past. The environment would be better off with fewer cars on the road and you’d save a ton of money on petrol as well. But for the company too there’d be a lot of advantages. Happier workers are generally more productive workers.
The Covid-19 scare has thrust remote working onto the world in very quick fashion. It has forced companies to seriously consider this mode of work and I think we’re all better off for it. Many companies are conservative and wouldn’t have considered remote working if they didn’t have to. So, in a way, Covid-19 has accelerated change in the future of work.
Eventually the Covid-19 threat will disappear but remote working will probably stay. Once companies realise the benefits of it — especially if they see productivity gains and cost savings as a result of it — they’ll want it to continue wherever it’s practical.
Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at [email protected].