By Jessica French, Development Manager at CABA, the charity supporting the wellbeing of chartered accountants and their families
Since the beginning of the pandemic, our working lives have changed dramatically, with many of us spending more time working from home. As we start returning to the office, perhaps only for a few days per week – how do we make the most of these days where we work from home? Whilst offices can be distracting environments, with plenty of chatter and noise – that’s likely to be even louder now we’re back together – it’s easy to forget that our homes can also be barriers to productivity.
It’s been over a year since we were asked to work from home, yet many of us are still plagued by the same issues we faced back in March 2020. Internet speed tests remain up by 60% and we’re still googling to find the perfect office chair. Here, we’ve identified the top 5 issues that workers have faced over the course of the pandemic, and are still contending with, and how to overcome them:
When working remotely, it’s easy to feel as though you need to constantly show that you’re working and present. Instantly returning messages, hitting reply on an email within seconds of it landing in your inbox and answering every single out-of-the-blue Zoom or Teams call. Of course, we need to be in contact with our colleagues, but that needs to be in a way that doesn’t hinder your progress.
When we’re head down in a chunky piece of work, battling off constant distractions can seriously impact not just the time it takes to get it done, but also the quality of your work. If you feel guilty for ignoring your notifications, let your team know that you’re switching them off to complete a task, and that you’ll get back to them as soon as you can. That way, they know you’re busy and will respect your boundaries.
Presenteeism can also cause unnecessary stress. It will blur your work and home life blend, and leave you constantly checking your apps, and often leaving tasks half done.
Working away from a desk
When working from home first became normal for many of us in March 2020, hundreds of articles were published about how to navigate this change. We were told to go for walks, to get up and move every few hours, and create a dedicated office space.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible for everyone, and make-shift offices have become the norm for office workers across the country. Searches for ‘cheap desks for sale’ rose by 70% in the past year. Dining room tables, spare bedrooms, sofas and even our beds have become workspaces. Whilst they might not be the easiest places in which to tick off our to-do lists, we have to make the most of what we’ve got. Ideally, separating your working space from your living space will help to section off your day, but if that isn’t an option, there are other ways.
Getting your computer out, setting up any tech you might need and preparing your workspace each morning will go a long way in feeling as though your day is beginning. Then at the end of the day, packing it all away will not only reinforce the feeling that your day is done, but should also stop you from picking up work throughout the evening.
Kids & Pets
Thankfully, the majority of children are back to school, and the days of trying to home school whilst simultaneously getting your own work are almost a bad memory. But what about those children who are too young for school? Or those stressful school holidays, inset days or even sick days? How do we carry on with children who need attention and entertainment while we work from home?
If it’s viable to do so, it’s definitely worth looking at your working hours and seeing if they can be adjusted to work best with your children’s schedules and routines. If you’re able to, work during quieter hours or nap time and close the laptop when they’re at their liveliest. If you know you have a tight deadline to work towards, or an important call, pre-empt any issues that may come up with your children ahead of time. Make sure they’re settled in front of whatever activity they’re involved in (and that it won’t end before you’re finished) and set up a snack and drink station that will stop them from running to you when they get hungry.
According to the BBC, 3.2 million pets have found their way into our homes since the pandemic, and like children, they can be a huge distraction. But how can we ignore those adorable faces? Keeping them busy is the best way to ensure you can get on with your day. Consider buying or devising a playpen, where your pet can roam freely with their toys, eliminating the concern for their whereabouts. Make sure you tire them out as much as possible, with long walks or trip to the park during lunches to buy you some quiet time during the afternoon.
Please connect to the internet
Internet and tech issues are easily some of the most frustrating issues, especially when we just want to get on with work. Thankfully, we’re not limited to our homes anymore, and when the situation gets dire, look for locations with Wi-Fi close by. It’s not just going to give you a better connection (hopefully), but also an opportunity to be in a different environment and away from the regular distractions of your home.
Make sure you run regular speed tests on your laptop or computer and keep a note of the results – that way, if you contact your provider to flag your issues, you’ll have evidence to back you up. Most providers guarantee a certain speed, so shop around and make sure you’re getting the best deal possible for your area.
If problems persist, or if you live in a rural area, speak to your employers, they might be able to provide you with a solution, a dongle or even a work phone to hotspot.
It’s so easy to be distracted by jobs in our homes when working. Didn’t do the washing up last night after dinner? Got a huge pile of laundry to get through? Constantly getting up to open the door to your deliveries? Whilst these might feel like little jobs to do during the day, the time can quickly add up, and these distractions can often take precedent over our work. In fact, research has shown that it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task in hand after a distraction. Just 3 distractions a day and you’ve lost over an hour of working time.
If you’re easily distracted or prone to procrastinating, focus on disciplining yourself. Either make sure all the jobs that could distract you during the day are done before you begin or dedicate a portion of your lunch break to doing them. Failing that, work on completely shutting them out, and try to alter the mindset of ‘I’ll just quickly…’. Because in the grand scheme of things, it’s rarely urgent.
For some of us, working from home isn’t the right fit, and being in the office and around colleagues is essential to thriving at work. But for those who want to continue working from home, be that every day or just some of the time, making it work for you is vital to ensuring you continue to succeed and enjoy the experience.
For more advice and guides, visit caba.org.uk