(This blog post first appeared on paulmowat.co.uk)
Four years ago, I got the opportunity to work from home full time. I had never worked from home more than the odd day here or there before and wasn’t sure what to expect. This was before the world had to do it during the Coronavirus pandemic, and information on how to be effective was a bit more scarce. I decided to go for it and jump in, below are the key takeaways.
I had just recently moved house and was lucky to have a spare room that could be turned into an office.
I created a comfortable setup with the following:
- Large Desk
- Comfortable chair
- Three monitor setup
- All in one Printer/Scanner
This was everything I needed to get going. I know that not everyone can set up a dedicated space. However, I felt it was essential for me if this was going to work.
Takeaway – I’m glad I spent some time and money getting myself setup to be comfortable and effective work environment. My office lets me focus fully on my work. I’ve recently upgraded a few items to make it even better, more storage, a new webcam, microphone and better speakers. I’m now able to have video calls without the need of a headset, which is great.
At work, we used several different communication channels. Sending emails was always the primary one and is used heavily. We also had Skype for Business for speaking to each other and screen sharing when required.
To begin with, there were challenges being the remote member of a team. During calls where everyone else was in an office, it was hard to hear, follow along and interact as well as possible.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the entire company moved to use Microsoft Teams. I noticed a significant improvement instantly. The sound and video quality were better, and since everyone was working from home there was more acknowledgement around better communication.
We’ve evolved along the way and now have an accepted meeting etiquette. Video calls are also used much more than before to try and add that personal element.
Takeaway – This has been a difficult one. We all need to stay in touch and it’s went from few meetings to lots of meetings due to the pandemic. It’s now starting to calm down which is great. A good suggestion is to look at how you can do async communication more. Always think, do you need that extra meeting? Could I just have a group chat instead?
Being able to focus on work while at home is something that concerns a lot of people. For me, though this was never a concern. I love what I do and enjoy coding and building new applications.
As someone who happily spends hours coding, I found my productivity levels increased drastically due to fewer interruptions and background office noise. I could turn on Spotify and get on with it.
During my first two years working from home, I was the lead developer for two brand new applications. These were built using entirely new technology stacks to me. I loved the challenge of it!
Once the pandemic started, things began to change as everyone was trying, to understand how to work effectively. There was a large increase in meetings being scheduled. All the meetings were starting to impact our developers getting into the Zone and being as productive as possible. We’ve since introduced blocked focus time which has made a significant difference.
Takeaway – It is ok to indicate to others that you need time to do your work. Block that time in your calendar as Focus Time. Outlook has a great feature to help automate this now. Constant distractions have a large impact on productivity but also on morale/stress levels.
If you work where you live, how do you separate them? It’s a difficult question.
The first few years working at home and learning new technologies, I struggled with the balance. There were deadlines to meet and a lot of learning to do, which meant quite a few midnight sessions when I got stuck to learn how to unblock myself. Not ideal, but needs must.
Over the last two years, I’ve been much better. I tend to work from 8 am to 5 pm and stop. My son, coming in every day at 5 pm and shouting “It’s dinner time, Daddy”, signals the end of the day for me.
Takeaway – If you focus on one, more than the other you are going to have a problem in the long run. Stay in control of your work by planning your day. Create a to-do list, book out your lunchtime in your calendar. Don’t answer calls or emails after work hours. You need that separation to maintain your health.
The single best benefit of working at home is getting to spend extra time with your family. I’m married and have two sons, one five years old and the other eight months old.
I started to work from home when my firstborn was six months old. I’m lucky in that I’ve got to see all the key milestones. Today, for example, I got to see my eight-month-old clap his hands for the first time.
I also get to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with them every day. I don’t have to waste hours in a commute back and forth to the office.
Working at home also gives you that bit of flexibility that’s handy when you have kids.
Takeaway – Spend as much time with your family as possible. They appreciate it. It’s the little things like being able to go for lunch together at the local cafe or go for a walk together at lunchtime. Make the best of it!