Working 9 to 5 at home
As the coronavirus forces the profession to embrace remote working, Giles Mooney has tips for those who are new to working from home; enjoy the freedoms, flexibility and fun, but remember your home has become your office.
In the last week or so I’ve started working from home in a brand new way, delivering courses from my study to people across the UK and interacting with them as normally as is possible from over 100 miles away.
But working from home is not new to me, it’s something I’ve been doing for 20 years and I have learned some tough lessons along the way. I thought it might be worth sharing what I’ve learned as many people head home to start living the home working dream…
The first excitement I felt was realising that I could work any time I wanted. I put to the test the idea that, as many people claim, I work best in the evening/morning/through the night along with a brief flirtation with the Spanish ‘siesta’ model of working. I discovered that none of them work and actually just make you unsociable and grumpy.
In fact, like the vast majority of people, I work best from just after breakfast until just before dinner with a break at lunch time. My advice would be to work as closely as possible to your normal office times. The loss of commute is a benefit which can move the day forwards or backwards slightly to suit you but stick within those times. I promise you, a French style seven course lunch for three hours sounds good but, really, it’s not.
One piece of advice I’d like to offer (and I’m ashamed to say I still fail with this frequently) is to decide on a space to work and stick to that space. I get bored and move to the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, even sitting on the bed all in a desperate attempt to change the mood or change the dynamic, when actually a short break or drink of water would probably do it.
If you are going to be at home with other people, having a space that is yours and won’t be invaded is far better than muddling through on the kitchen table. Find somewhere that you can be comfortable (remember you don’t have that office chair anymore), somewhere with good light and minimal interruptions and, most importantly, make sure you actively go there.
Go to work
Don’t replace the commute with random stumbling around the house in your pyjamas before falling down to your laptop with a piece of toast hanging out of your mouth. Arrive as you would to work and then get on with the task, dressed, fed and ready to go.
Noise and distraction
It’s amazing how quickly you can persuade yourself that you can carry out detailed tax computations just as well in front of ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ as you can in a quiet study. You can’t, so don’t.
Remember that the silence at home is completely different from silence in an open plan office. There are a number of white noise apps that work well but don’t turn to the radio if you wouldn’t in the office. Whether you end up getting annoyed by a James O’Brien caller or dancing around the house to the Pointer Sisters, it’ll distract you and you’ll end up not getting the work done or, worse, getting it done badly.
It’s still a real job. Many people will be working from home for the first time since they had a shop or a garage in the living room aged three. Often the brain starts to doubt the seriousness of what you’re doing. It’s still a proper job with all of the standards that would be expected of you in the office. Files can’t be left around, documents left open on computers or, worse, your emails left open while you make a coffee as your five year old walks past…
GDPR is more important than ever when people are working away from the office. Have a look at your firm’s GDPR policies on homeworking and make sure you’re happy you’re able to follow them. Employers think about whether those policies might need updating and staff reminded of their responsibilities.
Do something else
I’m often struck by people in offices who say they do nothing but work. The truth is they do. For a start they go to work and come home again. You can’t do that when you’re already there. While the commute is often stressful, it is also a break between finishing work and getting home – a chance to section off the day. Try to introduce that when working from home to prevent work spilling over into other aspects of your life, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
During the day there will be notably fewer people who might make you a cup of tea. It’s always your round, but the round is a lot smaller. You have to remember to get up, make tea, stretch your legs, look out of the window and, when it’s time to stop, stop.
At work people will come and ask questions. If you get a phone call, try to walk with it, even if it’s just to the kitchen and back it makes it more like the water cooler moment that you might otherwise have had.
I’m sure there are many people who work from home tearing up my thoughts and would tell you other things to watch out for instead but, for me, these are the areas I would advise to pay attention to if you are about to start working from home for a couple of months or so.
Quite simply, keep as much structure as you can and remember just because you work all the hours that you’re in the office doesn’t mean the same applies when you work from home.
Hopefully these few thoughts will help you and help you maintain professionalism, a work-life balance and good mental health as you become used to working from home. And just be glad there’s no sport happening, that’s a distraction that no one has worked out how to deal with…
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Giles is a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser and has been involved in UK tax training for many years, presenting across various media channels. He is also a partner of The Professional Training Partnership, Managing Director of PTP Ltd and a director of Absolute Software Ltd.
Giles started his career with a small firm of...