working from home SARS

Image via Adobe Stock

Coronavirus: Here’s what you need to know about working remotely

Avoiding the daily work commute may sound marvellous but working from home requires self-discipline and the ability to say ‘no’ when necessary.

working from home SARS

Image via Adobe Stock

As the effects of the coronavirus are increasingly felt in the South African business environment, expect many more companies to follow international trends and encourage – or even dictate – that employees work from home. This is a way to limit face-to-face contact and protect staff members with compromised immune systems or other underlying health issues.

And while working from home may sound like a lotto-winning moment for anyone who typically spends many hours a week commuting or hates crammed open-plan offices that force you to share the body odour and inane chatter of colleagues, there is some planning to do and challenges to be overcome.

Make sure you have the right tools for the job

It may sound obvious, but remember that at the office your every need has likely been seen to. High-speed Internet, wi-fi, notepads, pens, paper, printers, ink cartridges – and a whole lot more besides – are all there for you to use when you need them.

Achieving this at home may take a bit of planning, which you should do up front so as to avoid having to constantly dash back to the office, or your local stationery store, to get what you need in order to operate smoothly.  

Suitable Internet connectivity may be one of your bigger challenges at home, especially if you live out of town, behind a mountain or in a so-called “dead spot”.  Downloading a few personal emails a week is very different from having Skype meetings, sending large files or downloading reams of data.

Don’t forget the impact of your good friends at Eskom

If you work at a medium to large corporate, a generator likely kicks in the moment load shedding occurs. At home it’s a different ball game. Do you have some sort of power back-up system that will enable you to keep working? If not, find a suitable coffee shop where the lights are on while yours are off. Power points and wi-fi (hopefully free within certain limits) are what you need.

My backup is my local Virgin Active gym, which is on a different power grid to me. Between about 10am-3pm it’s very quiet and the coffee shop is more spacious than most. Plus, the snacks are healthier.

Set aside a suitable work space in your home

Not everyone will be lucky enough to have an entire room that you can set aside to be your temporary office. But find a work-friendly spot that you can designate as your “office”, at least in your mind.

Experts advise that you should avoid working in the same place that you relax. Otherwise it’s difficult to “switch on” when you start working in the morning and “switch off” when you finish up for the day.

Ideally, your designated work space should also be reasonably neat, tidy and work-appropriate. Having a Skype meeting with colleagues is less than ideal if there’s a dog-eared girlie calendar from 1998 in the background or a half-eaten Big Mac from three days ago.

Act like you’re still going to the office

Self-discipline is one of the biggest work-from-home challenges. Slopping around in your pyjamas until noon or wearing that tatty Michael Jackson t-shirt you rescued from the cat’s basket are not good habits.

If you’re a guy, shave. If you’re a female, do your hair and makeup more-or less as you normally would. You can leave your tailored Armani suit or high heels in the cupboard, but still dress appropriately to your situation.

If you’re urgently called into the office or your CEO demands a Skype meeting in five minutes, will you look the part?

Set a routine and try to stick to it

If your daily routine is going to include a lot of Facetime chats, Skype meetings or teleconferences then your routine is probably being set for you to a certain degree.

If not, designate a start time and an end time to your day – just as you would at the office. If you don’t you may find that you’re working less than you should because of all the home distractions. Or that you’re suddenly pulling 18-hour days because you can’t switch off. 

Set boundaries with your family and friends

For granny and Mrs Ndlovu from next door who has been a stay-at-home mum for the past 20 years, your being at home could seem like a golden opportunity for long mid-morning coffee chats. The kids may also believe you’re now free to referee all their petty arguments over who gets to watch what on TV.

Set ground rules that stipulate when you’re available and for what reasons. Place your designated work space out of bounds during your working day, unless it really is an emergency.

Avoid being the “just quickly” person in your family

If other people in the household are still going to work in the normal way, you staying at home will provoke a string of “just quickly” requests. “Just quickly drop off the laundry”; “just quickly pop to the supermarket to pick up more milk”.

Be firm. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t necessarily make your time any less valuable, or more flexible, than anyone else.

Finally, don’t spend 24/7 in your home

Initially it will be a pleasant novelty to be at home. But after a few days you’ll find yourself going “stir crazy”, a saying from the days when prisoner slang for a jail was “stir”. If you don’t get out after hours to walk the dog, go for a run, visit a friend etc than you’ll start to feel very much like you’re imprisoned too!

Disclosure: Mike Simpson has worked from a home-based office for more than a decade. He’s faced all of the above challenges and even managed to solve a few of them.