As the entire world adjusts to life at home, everyone is working to overcome the challenge of how to set up for success. From finding a comfortable and productive space, an Internet connection that can handle online meetings, and all the tools you need to get the job done, there’s a lot to think about to make this transition.
CDC issues reopening guidelines for Americans
As businesses around the country slowly begin to reopen, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines on May 14, 2020 to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as you go back to work.
The CDC advises Americans to continue to routinely clean workspaces with soap and water, and disinfect often-touched surfaces and objects with EPA-approved chemicals.
For more steps you can take to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19 both at home and as you go back to work, visit the CDC website.
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Finder has produced hundreds of articles across multiple topics. We have a Coronavirus hub page with a satellite view of everything you need to know. On this page, we’re burrowing down into the work-from-home requirements. Here is an overview of what is available to you — find more information and tips further below.
There is no golden checklist for working from home for every situation. The optimal environment varies slightly depending on the type of job you do. However here are a few key points to consider as you set up your space to be productive:
A good monitor. The larger the screen, the more multitasking you can do. The better the resolution, the less it will hurt your eyes.
Comfortable office chair. If you plan to sit most of your day, look for an ergonomic, adjustable chair with plenty of backside cushioning to minimize the aches and pains.
Fast internet. You’ll be surprised how a modern router upgrade, a better plan, or even some tricks to maximize bandwidth, can help your Internet speed.
Webcam. Teleconferencing has become a standard requirement for employees working from home.
A powerful desktop or laptop. Some software requires lots of space, while other programs are in the cloud. The size and age of your computer may come in to play as you determine which tools you need to work.
Headphones or speakers. To keep focus if you have kids or roommate who are also working. During meetings it keeps the interruptions to a minimum.
Desk. Even if it’s something small that gets you off the kitchen table, a desk gives you a chance to distance yourself from other household members.
Software. Your home PC may not have all the software of your office laptop. Microsoft Office, Zoom, Skype, Chrome, VPNs, antivirus and, yes, even Spotify for your WFH playlist.
Mobile phone. Likely you already have one, but for hotspotting, staying contactable when away from your desk, and multitasking, you may want a new phone or upgraded phone plan.
Printer and scanner. Not all workers will need one, but if you do, the trick is to find a printer that won’t cost you and arm and leg to refill with ink.
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11 tips to successfully work from home as an employee
Waking up, eating, sleeping, relaxing, parenting and working all in the same place isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But in these times, like it or not, you’re going to have to do some work from home.
I’ve been working from home for almost two decades and one of the most common things I hear from friends and colleagues is, “I could never work from home.”
With that thought in mind, I’d like to offer the following 10 working from home tips that I try (not always successfully) to apply each day.
1. Start early
My dad has a saying that I’ve found to be very true as I’ve emerged from out of his shadow: “One hour before lunch is worth two hours after.” The biggest mistake you can make working from home is to assume you can sleep in and work late. After all, it’s not like you need to account for a commute, right?
It’s much harder to stay focused at home as the afternoon approaches. As the weather improves, you get more restless, and so do you pets and family.
I like to get up early and get in a few hours of work before 9 a.m. and give myself some space during the middle of the day to take a breather and recoup. Or to take the pressure of performing at the end of a day.
2. Improve your Internet speed
This may seem obvious, but everything is bottlenecked by broadband Internet. When you’re working from home, you need to be productive no matter what else is going on in your home. If you share a space, there’s a chance you’ll have a video chat while someone else is trying to stream a movie.
An obvious starting point is to compare broadband plans and to see what else is available on the market. While signing up for a new service may take some time, you could upgrade your existing plan to a faster category in the interim. It will cost more, but that investment could be worth it.
There are other options available to you outside of upgrading plan. Many people use underpowered routers to distribute their Wi-Fi around the home. Your router could be bottlenecking your speed, so check what else is out there.
There are also ways to improve Wi-Fi speed in your home through the placement of your router and the connectivity of your Internet of things devices. And in a worst-case scenario, you can back up your home broadband with a good cell phone plan. Then you can always hotspot using 4G to get around any congestion issues in a pinch.
3. Don’t multitask with entertainment
You’ll be tempted to double dip while working from home. To get your work done and catch up on the latest episode of your favorite TV show at the same time. Or to have a YouTube video running in a little window, filled with people faceplanting and bellyflopping.
Squash this temptation flat. Even at lunch, leave the TV off. Your half-hour break will quickly stretch to 45-minutes or the length of a video. Not to mention that at home, you’ve got to clean up after preparing food, which tends to happen after the TV show has ended.
In an office environment, you tend to do a lot of movement relative to what you do at home. You might even rack up thousands of steps just getting to work on your commute. Then you go to meetings, walking with colleagues and even just go out for lunch and coffee. All of that goes out the window at home unless you force it.
I have set up a little 1000-setp walk around the block that takes about five to ten minutes and I do this once every 90 minutes or so. This activity does wonders for your longevity through the day and can break the cabin fever you get staying in your own home. I time this with phone calls I need to make, or at a time when I’m due to check in-company messaging or emails, so it’s not “wasted” time.
5. Use headphones
There can be plenty of distractions at home you rarely experience in a workplace. That’s become even worse now that many of us are working at home during coronavirus alongside kids thanks to the closure of schools. Be it your children, your partner in the kitchen, the next-door neighbor’s dog, the people renovating across the road, garbage trucks, or whatever, the domestic experience can be quite distracting.
So, get some good quality, even noise-canceling headphones, and block it out.
6. Set realistic goals
Working from home requires far more discipline that working from an office. Psychologically, it’s your place to unwind and relax. All your chores and those odd jobs around the house that you can usually ignore are now in your face.
This problem exponentially increases if your partner is also working from home or you have children.
It’s therefore important to set realistic goals each morning and to be flexible in how you can achieve them. This ties into getting an early start, but extends beyond that. I like to start with about five hours of work to do in any given day. That’s because an additional three hours of work always finds its way into any other given day and you therefore have room to accommodate it.
An unplanned long phone call from a client. That sudden Zoom meeting your boss just requested. A government press conference that impacts your business and needs to be analyzed. One of your children falling off the couch. Stuff just happens.
This approach allows you to set a goal and then, when something suddenly comes up, for you to reschedule it without overburdening your day.
7. Be available
Unless you’re a sole trader, chances are you’re working with other people even if you’re doing so remotely. You could be working with hundreds of people simultaneously through intra-company services like Slack, or even just over good old-fashioned email. Nothing makes a boss or colleague question your productivity more than not responding quickly.
While it’s important to set goals and stay focused, when working from home it’s also smart to keep one eye out for messages from colleagues or employers. Ignore everything else if you need to, but not those. Even if your response is, “Can I call you back in an hour once I finish this report?”
I’ve found that modern businesses are a lot more trusting of your productivity at home than old-school employers. A good rule of thumb is just to be aware of the trust level your employer is putting in you and don’t break it.
8. Keep communication channels separate
At work, you get work calls and you get work emails. At home, you get communication from your work and from everywhere else in your life. To keep from distractions, avoid responding to the emails, texts and messages from friends until you have time to engage and respond.
Accessing your work emails through a separate email client so they don’t mix. And on your mobile or desktop, turn off notifications for your social media channels. If you simply cannot block it out, perhaps try a separate work mobile phone altogether.
9. Be computer smart
Perhaps one of the most daunting prospects you will face working from home is dealing with the lack of any IT support. If your email stops working, or you can’t remember the Wi-Fi password or everything suddenly freezers, no one is going to come up the hallway and fix it for you.
The best way to keep ahead of these issues is to have a powerful, new computer. Your old desktop that the kids use for school projects, or that is only used for Amazon shopping and emails, may get you into trouble. You’ll likely need to install new software that you use from work that requires more power than your computer is used to. It could drag it to a crawl. If you’re not using the latest Windows or Mac OS, these could simply not install at all.
You’ll also no doubt have to multitask, with lots going on at one time on your computer. This requires not just power, but also memory. You may need more hard-drive space to hold that new software. Then if it’s something like an Adobe product you need to use, graphics cards come into the equation. Old monitors can be hard on the eyes, too.
With that all in mind, now could be the time to buy a new laptop or to upgrade your desktop computer. Alternatively, you may want to get some new anti-virus software and see if it can audit your computer for gremlins slowing it down. It’s also worth familiarizing yourself with IT forums problems with community members that are eager to help.
10. Define your space
Don’t mix business with pleasure is never truer than when you’re working from home. Do your best to define and block your workspace separate from your living space.
In times like the coronavirus pandemic, that can obviously be quite challenging. For example, you may have suddenly found yourself working on the kitchen bench in an apartment. But that’s where your distractions are. Where a child can put yogurt-covered little fingers all over your keyboard. Where you must push all your paperwork to the side just so you can eat.
It might be worth considering other temporary measures. Shifting the two kids into one room so you can dedicate the other to your office. Parking the car on the street and setting up in the garage. Buying a small desk that fits in your bedroom. Be creative.
Once you have that space, create its rules and stick to them. For example, Mom isn’t available for snack requests between 9 a.m. and noon. When the door is closed, Dad is working. If the doorbell rings, I’m not getting it.
11. Don’t overwork
If you’re new to this work from home thing, you may be wondering how you could ever find yourself overworking. But when your work is always there with you — not sequestered away in a distant office — you’ll be surprised by how often you lean towards doing it.
Suddenly you will find yourself answering emails at 9 p.m. or telling your kids you just need to finish one last thing in the middle of a Saturday. Or even just skipping your lunch break day after day.
This behavior turns happy homes into sad houses. It ruins relationships. It crushes your health, your spirit and your mental wellbeing. And it does it slowly, so you don’t see it happening.
That’s why it’s important to nail the other tips I’ve listed above. That is an unhealthy side-effect of working from home that sneaks its way into your daily routine, then your weekly routine, then your life, before you know it. So be aware of it and be watchful.
Are there any downsides to working from home?
There are plenty of benefits, but you should also consider the negatives before speaking to your boss about a more flexible working schedule. Some things to consider when making your decision are:
Isolation. Some people really enjoy the social dynamic of a working environment. Since work can provide a location to meet others and make friends, removal from this environment can be depressing for some. Whether or not you’ll feel lonely working from home will ultimately depend on how often you intend to do it, your personality, your relationships with coworkers and your accessibility of resources to keep in touch.
Distraction. Many people feel less distracted being in control of their environment and working in their own space, but this is not the case for everyone. Workers with young children, for instance, may find they’re continually interrupted if no-one else is available to watch them. Some people also have difficulty separating home from work and may be tempted to use some of the time in the day to take care of other responsibilities. Things to consider are your own self-discipline, as well as who else will be home with you.
Missing out on developments. Things can happen very quickly within the working environment and without being there in person, you may find yourself missing out on important updates. If you’re working from home, speak to your boss about trading emails or instant messages to ensure you’re staying in the loop.
Working hours. While working from home can present you with the option to work better-suited hours, some people have a tendency to overwork in this scenario. You may feel the pressure to prove yourself and your abilities in this new arrangement. You also may not register it’s 5 p.m. in the same way you would in an office environment when everyone is packing up to go home. If you do decide to work from home, stick to your regular hours and set yourself an alarm to let you know when it’s time to clock off.
So, should you work from home?
At the end of the day, the decision to work from home for at least part of the week will come down to your individual needs.
In general, however, if you’re less concerned about the social aspects of a working environment and feel you have a good level of self-control, working from home can have some really positive impacts on your work-life balance and overall wellbeing. If you tend to feel lonely without the company of others or find yourself easily distracted, you may want to stick to your current working arrangement.
Lauren Chaplin is a shopping writer at Finder, covering the latest in fashion, home, tech, wellbeing and beauty. She has a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of South Australia and has been published in South Australian newspaper The Bunyip. When she isn’t working, she's reading or bingeing on Netflix.
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