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The COVID-19 pandemic means that many UK businesses are enforcing home working for almost all employees following government advice. This doesn’t just put a huge strain on business productivity, but on general mental and physical health. How do businesses maintain the same levels of output with every employee physically distant from one another? How do colleagues stay on the same page and coordinate work? Luckily, there are many remote working tools that can help.
If you’re not used to working from home, you’re probably finding it hard to concentrate and starting to feel a bit cooped up. It’s important to remember during this unprecedented time that we’re all in this together and all experiencing the same struggles, whether that’s dealing with distractions while you’re working or worrying about not being able to buy any essential goods.
While we can’t help you with the latter, we can provide you with some helpful tips on how to work from home so you can get your work done and keep your sanity at the same time. We’re also actively helping businesses use remote working systems – like cloud phone systems – to make them more flexible and better equipped to deal with these kinds of scenarios.
Quiz: How well are you prepped for working remotely?
So, you’ve got a computer, access to emails and a mobile phone. That’s it, right? There’s so much more you could be doing to make running your business as close to normal as possible during these strange times. See how well you stack up with the competition in our fun (and short) quiz:
Important tools for remote working
During this time, you’re going to become very reliant on technology. The obvious precursor to this is a fast and stable internet connection. Once you have this established, you’ll need to think about some key areas:
How do your customers contact your team?
If you’re running a small business (or playing a major role in one), using a personal mobile as your customer-facing number just isn’t enough. Customers expect a ‘business as usual’ response even during the COVID-19 outbreak. This means your phone system should function in exactly the same way when you’re at home as it does when you and your colleagues are in the office.
At times like this, a hosted VoIP phone system, particularly for small businesses, is crucial, whether you’re in the office or working remotely. It provides you with so much more than a means of communication. These systems have features that you can set up to make working from home easier, like calendar routing, virtual receptionists and IVR menus and hunt groups. Making the most out of these features will make your business come across as professional, reliable and trustworthy, something people will be looking for during this uncertain time.
How do you communicate with colleagues and other stakeholders?
It’s important to think about how you’re going to communicate with your colleagues when you can’t speak to them face to face. An obvious form of communication is through email but not everyone responds to emails right away, which is an issue if you need instant answers to critical messages.
Using systems like Microsoft Teams means you have a one-stop-shop for all your communications, particularly if you have calling set up using Direct Routing. You can quickly chat with other colleagues, set up meetings and book appointments into the calendar and run voice or video calls – all in one application. Video calls are our preferred choice of communication and are especially helpful during this period of isolation as you can see the person you’re speaking to.
How do you manage your productivity?
During this time, you might find that you’re distracted more easily or not performing to your usual standard due to working from home. To keep your business up and running and to make sure you’re using your time productively, try tracking your progress and working from to-do lists and schedules. We recommend task-based remote working software like Trello or Jira.
Using a service like Trello is beneficial as you can see your upcoming tasks and set yourself jobs for the day, week, month and so on. This helps you become accountable for your work, set deadlines and prioritise certain tasks. If you share a Trello board with your immediate team, you can also stay up to date with your colleagues’ day-to-day work and deadlines.
If you already use our services, there are many ways you can set things up within them to better your remote working communications. Look into call diverts, extension numbers and hunt groups, so your phone system can work effectively while you work remotely. All of these guides can be found on our support page.
How to work from home
Remote working is a lot easier than you might think. Although it’s out of the ordinary for the majority of people, it’s easy to work from home when you have the right measures in place. We’ve come up with some helpful remote working tips and tricks to make this period smoother and calmer, while also boosting your productivity and efficiency.
1. Stick to a routine
Start the day as you would if you were going into the office. Wake up at the same time and get ready as normal. We’re not saying you need to wear a suit but try to dress appropriately so you get yourself in the right mindset (avoid pyjamas!) Before you start work, use your newly-found free time to do things like work out, have a relaxed breakfast or read a book.
It’s important to work your normal hours. If you work 9-5 and take a break at 1 while you’re at the office, make sure you’re doing that at home. Your regular working hours are when you’re most productive, making it more likely for you to get all your work done. Plus, this is when all your co-workers and customers will be working as well, and you’ll need to be in contact with them and vice versa.
Remember to take breaks. Many remote workers feel they need to constantly be visible while they’re away from the office to prove that they’re working. This causes unnecessary stress and can be bad for your health if you’re having excessive screen time. Make sure you’re regularly stretching, getting fresh air and that you keep to your lunch break.
2. Plan your day
Identify what work you need to do each day and make sure you do it. Formulate a plan, to-do list or schedule for each day so you can get all your work done and remain focused on what you need to do. A great way to stay on top of this list is by colour coding or ranking each task in order of importance or urgency so you know what to start with. This list can be physical, like a planner or diary, or it can be digital. Personally, we recommend Trello.
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3. Have clear boundaries between work and play
When working from home, it’s important to set clear boundaries and differentiate between work and play. Make a clear space for where you intend to work. Ideally, make sure this isn’t your sofa or your bed as you will inevitably get comfortable and avoid doing work. This space will act as your desk, so try to find a place you can sit at with your laptop and other documents around you. Try to limit the amount of rooms you go in while you’re ‘at work’. For example, if you’ve decided the dining room is your place of work, try to avoid going into your bedroom or the sitting room during your work hours, so you don’t get distracted or tempted to sit down and do nothing.
4. Avoid distractions
A lot of the time, people find it hard to concentrate while remote working because they’re not being supervised and can do things that they wouldn’t normally be able to do in the office. While it’s tempting to put on the TV for background noise, you’ll get distracted and won’t get on with your work. This also goes for your phone, food or any other device that will draw your focus away from the task at hand.
We’ve come up with a list of things you can do to avoid these distractions:
- Turn off the TV and hide it from view by putting a blanket over it
- Keep your phone in another room
- Come up with forfeits or a points system if you’re caught indulging in distractions
- Make up an imaginary colleague for you and your other half to blame things on to avoid arguments if you’re working from home together
During this time of quarantine, you might find yourself working alongside your housemates, significant others or have kids running around. These people can and probably will become a big distraction. Let’s give an example. Say you’re working from home alongside your spouse. Try to have designated rooms or spaces in which you’ll be working, for example, you take the living room and they take the dining room. Make a rule that when the door is shut, it means you don’t want to be bothered or that you’re in a meeting.
5. Communicate regularly with your team
Since you’re not in the office, you need to find a way to communicate with your team. Now more than ever, you should be speaking to your colleagues to ensure there isn’t a loss of productivity or business while you work from home.
Schedule daily catchups with your immediate team, so you can stay updated with their tasks and can discuss any issues you or they are experiencing. You can do this via voice or video calls. We recommend video calls. They’re easier and it’s helpful to be able to see the people you’re talking to. This will also curve loneliness and boredom during this self-isolation period.
Other than your immediate team, make sure you’re still talking with the rest of the company. Keep your meetings as normal and make sure you’re running everything past the relevant people. You can do this several ways: by email, chat systems and phone. We recommend systems like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom or Skype.
When people start to work from home, they feel they need to constantly be online to prove they are working. Despite you working from home and not being ‘supervised’, you’re still expected to work your normal hours and take breaks as you would in the office. This is where you should be taking full advantage of status and messaging updates.
Manage anxiety & stress
With the recent outbreak, it’s OK to feel anxious and worried about what the future means for you, your business and all those you care about. It’s also normal for this to affect your productivity and output. The world has become – in the space of a few weeks – a very different place. But things will return to normal. Concentrate on things you can control and try to ignore those that you can’t control through your efforts. This doesn’t just apply to Coronavirus, but any uncertainty.
During this time of isolation, try to keep your day to day life as normal as possible and prioritise your mental and physical health. We’ve compiled a few tips and tricks to help you manage anxiety and stress while isolating and remote working:
- Try to only read reputable and reliable sources for information surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak
- Stay connected to your colleagues, friends and family via phone, video and social media
- Try to get fresh air regularly and take time away from screens
- Exercise regularly
- Try something new, like crafts, yoga, meditation, or simply start a new TV show
Look out for your colleagues
While we’re on the subject of communication, it’s important during this time of lockdown to look out for and check in with your colleagues. This unknown and uncertain time can affect mental and physical health, which is why it’s crucial – now more than ever – to check in with people and look out for each other. Whether your colleagues have explicitly said something about stress or you’re starting to notice their work is slipping, now is time to reach out. Below are a few examples of ways you can do this is:
- Have regular calls with colleagues to catchup on work and ask them how they’re feeling
- Have group video sessions over lunch or drinks
- Offer to pick up a piece of work that they might be struggling with / don’t have time for