How to work effectively at home

Allan Leibowitz
Monday, 20 April 2020 ( #971 )
Allan Leibowitz is an old hand when it comes to working in isolation
Allan Leibowitz is an old hand when it comes to working in isolation
I've been working remotely since before it was "a thing". In the late '80s, I was appointed the editor of a tourism magazine in Lisbon, Portugal and the publisher, based on the other end of the country, gave me an Apple IIe, some hastily cobbled-together instructions and a four-week deadline to produce my first edition single-handedly. Fast forward to 2000 and after editing an Australian regional business newspaper in Brisbane, I was asked to manage the content of an Australasian trade magazine published in Sydney. My predecessor had operated remotely, but spent a few days each month at head office, working with the graphic artist. After doing this once, I told the publisher it was a waste of time and money, so we switched to full remote collaboration and shaved days off the production schedule - and saved a flight and accommodation costs each month. I had set up a home office to provide marketing and corporate communication services for a number of business and professional clients, some of whom I had only met once or twice at the beginning of the contracts. In fact, I had clients I had never met - and this was before the days of Skype and video calls. When I began working with Forkliftaction, I continued to work remotely - even though I live 20 km from the Brisbane office. Over the decade-plus that I have been part of the team, I have never worked in the office and only seen my colleagues at special staff meetings, office parties, or, more commonly, at trade shows in other cities or even different countries! The main lesson I have learned about working from home is the need to have a dedicated work space. This gives you the discipline of "going to work". I learned the importance of keeping my office door closed during school holidays, and those with children around now will soon discover how hard it is to teach them that even though you're home, you're not available for them. That's also true for your spouse who may be tempted to ask you to hang out the washing or fix a leaking tap "now that you're home". Obviously, not everyone will have access to a dedicated work space, but if you can rearrange your home, even temporarily, this will be very helpful. Routines are vital, especially if you don't have a separate work space. I recommend keeping your normal office hours, not least so your colleagues know when to reach you. This also helps your family members know when you're at work and when you're off the clock. In today's technological world, it's crucial to have the right tools. Previously, this meant a dedicated work phone line, but with mobile phones, that's no longer crucial. Thank goodness the fax is no longer widely used, so that's one less thing to clutter your desk. However, a powerful computer with a big screen are very much the minimum requirement - connected via high-speed, unlimited Internet. Hopefully, your employer has provided a suitable computer because you can't hope to be productive with just your phone or tablet. Remote work means you can't just talk to your colleagues or drop around to a client's office. Instead, it may require some honing of your email skills and I find this a very efficient form of communication. It allows people to respond thoughtfully - at their own pace. Of course, that can mean that you're a captive to someone else's schedule, so it's important to set and adhere to deadlines. My Forkliftaction colleagues are sometimes shocked at the deadlines I try to impose! Communication is a major challenge when you work separately from your team - as I am discovering now that a number of our editorial contacts are no longer working at their head office. They can no longer just pop down the corridor to get a quote or some information as they too rely on email and phone calls to reach their colleagues and managers. The biggest challenge for me, having worked remotely full time for more than 20 years, is probably the opposite to that facing novices who find it hard to get motivated each morning when they see a lone empty chair in a vacant office. I, on the other hand, have had to learn to avoid "going to work" too early. I also have to fight the urge to nip into the office after dinner, "just to check emails". Of course, that's even more tempting when you deal with people around the world, all in different time zones. I'm sure most people will be overjoyed to go back to the office when this is all over, but many may well find that working from home has plenty of benefits, not least avoiding traffic headaches and tiring commutes. You will probably also notice that your productivity increases when you don't get bogged down in office politics and endless meetings. So, I would't be surprised to see much more work done remotely after the COVID-19 crisis ends. I know I'll still be here! Of course, not everyone is able to work in isolation at home and many working parents not only have to worry about work, they also have to juggle domestic duties and home-schooling their kids. If you have any tips for juggling your workload your other obligations in this challenging times, we'd love to hear them. Share your experiences in this week's Kitchen Table Mingle thread. Finally, just for fun we have put together a little challenge called 'Name that forklift', CLICK HERE to play along.