While only a fraction of people regularly worked from home before 2020, this working style was adopted en masse during the coronavirus crisis, and many believe that it will continue for the foreseeable future. Experienced home office workers, who knew how to handle this, did not have much trouble adapting. However, it was (and is) worse for employees used to traditional office operations. They have frequent problems during home office, which reduces their productivity and their desire to continue working from home.
What are the most common mistakes these workers make? Experts from Colop, one of the world’s largest producers of stamps and presses, reflected on this. Colop has been helping its employees utilize the most productive home office practices for many years, long before the advent of Covid-19, and has discovered what works … and what doesn’t.
1. Too much reliance on the office routine
A good home office worker is like a top athlete: they both require training and a firm will. Even someone who is a busy, productive executive in the office can fail when they move to working remotely. Some people simply feel a strong sense of separation and lose their motivation. “In the office, when you see others working, you work too, because you have nothing else left. Suddenly you are at home, and you have completely different habits there. For beginners, this can be a problem,” says marketing professional, who has been working at the home office for many years.
Unfortunately, there is no universal advice that will work for everyone in this situation. Instead, you must be aware of your own work habits and motivation both in the office and at home, so that you can adopt routines that work specifically for you. Keep reading to look at some of these aspects one by one.
2. Failure to adapt work to your personality
Some people follow their workplace’s home office guidelines to the letter, and then wonder why they are not successful. Any advice you receive about working remotely requires adapting to your own personality and work habits. One person may work best with a short leash and continuous check-ins from their boss in the form of shared documents or frequent video conferences. If this is your style, talk to your direct manager about setting up this kind of supervision. Another person may be able to motivate themselves without this direct oversight. If this sounds like your way of working, you should also communicate with your manager. However, let them know that you work best when you can give the project your complete and undivided attention for long periods of time, and that you will be happy to inform them as you finish each task.
This kind of individualization also applies to the frequent warnings you may hear about your work attire or environment. Some people have worked from home in their pajamas for years and find they can be highly productive when they are relaxed and comfortable. Others need to dress for business, walk around the block, and then sit down at the computer with their mind set on work. Some work exclusively in a locked bedroom with noise-canceling headphones, while others play music as they work in the living room or from a table at the local coffee shop. Whatever working style is best for you and is compatible with your job position or boss’s approval, this is the approach you should take. If one method isn’t quite right, change it up until you find your fit.
3. Lack of self-discipline and routine
“Sometimes, employees start flirting with the idea that they will do nothing in the morning and catch up in the afternoon or evening. But this rarely works for ordinary employees, especially if they have a family and other responsibilities,” says professional.
Yes, you can do many parts of home office your own way and get them all done, but no one can be truly successful without self-discipline. Some tasks may need to be done at a specific time every day/week/month, or they may be high-priority because a colleague cannot move forward without your share. Alternatively, you may discover that you consistently put off certain tasks because they are dull or difficult. Whichever of these is the case, you must force yourself to complete these tasks at a regular time. Block out time in your calendar well in advance and commit to getting this task done. You may find that you can complete the work more easily with a little distraction, such as playing soft music or walking on a treadmill. Do whatever you must to get the job done, otherwise you can quickly get into an endless spiral of postponing work, procrastination, catching up at night, and subsequent total exhaustion.
4. Unclear boundaries
Most people work best with focus and concentration. If you do not live alone, you may need to come to an agreement with your family or partner regarding when you need to work and should not be disturbed. The other people in your life may be used to thinking that if you are at home, then your time is available to them.
“It often happens that people have a home office and instead take their wife to the doctor or go shopping. They or their family confused the home office with a vacation. Then the day suddenly passes, and they find out that they did nothing at all,” professional reflects.
Home office changes the usual mode and suddenly divides your presence at home into two types: work and non-work. The best solution is to find an arrangement with your family about when you are working and when you are free. For example, you might split your work into two-hour blocks; between these, take a half-hour break when you can take care of things at home, play with your children, or even just step outside. If you establish a routine at home, be sure that you honor it yourself — if you pause your work early today, don’t be surprised if your family expects you to pause tomorrow too. If working from home without interruption is simply impossible, you might consider joining a coworking space (or shared workspace) or becoming a regular at a cafe.
5. Over-estimation of IT security
When we work from a bedroom and connect to our home wifi or mobile phone, we don’t often consider that our work emails and materials are at risk of being compromised. However, with the advent of coronavirus, remote employees are not the only ones who have been improving their online skills. Hackers and trolls also have more time on their hands, and home networks become less and less of an obstacle for them. Therefore, make sure that your home wifi password is strong enough, and not widely known. Also, don’t forget to install security updates for your operating system and antivirus programs.
Sometimes, in the home environment, there is also a risk of an “attack” on your laptop or work mobile phone by children with juice or sticky fingers, or even a curious pet. Always be sure to close any work emails, documents, or applications before lending children a computer for online lessons or assignments. Remember to back up all of your current work. Finally, make sure that only invited colleagues and guests can access any video conferencing or shared documents. The Internet is full of stories where someone neglected to work safely from home and regretted the consequences.
6. Ignoring ergonomics
During long-term work in your home office, you may suddenly find that your back, hip, or cervical spine hurts. The reason often is the inappropriate position of your technology and ignoring ergonomics. It is recommended to supplement the laptop with an external keyboard and monitor, ideally also a docking station.
A laptop holder is also a useful aid, allowing you to adjust the position of its screen to eye level. In recent years, a popular trend has been the standing desk, which is helped by a height-adjustable tabletop attached to a wall or free-standing. If, on the other hand, you prefer to work while lying down, a high-quality mattress will not hurt. In that case, keep in mind that you do not put too much strain on your hips when working in a supine position.
For sitting, we recommend a high-quality, height-adjustable chair with armrests. And don’t forget about quality lighting. It will also help you concentrate if you have enough oxygen in the room, so think about your room’s ventilation: windows, fans, and even plants.
“Home office often does not benefit the body or lifestyle. I recommend getting regular home exercise and seeing a physiotherapist for signs of pain caused by your position. He will show you the activities and advise you on the optimal work position. Even when lying down, you can work so that it does not harm the body. I faced similar problems because I did not realize how difficult it can be for the body to work from home,” suggests professinal.
7. Omission of movement
When you work in the traditional office, you still have some movement every day.. You go to the copier, to the kitchen, to do something with colleagues, for lunch, to the bus stop. But this is missing in the home office, and we may then remain virtually motionless. Apart from the detrimental effect on your health, it is, of course, not ideal for work productivity either.
Dedicate yourself to go for a walk, jog, or bike ride at least once a day. This provides you with a much-needed break, and also will re-energize you to do better work. If you can’t force yourself, use one of the many applications that will “force” you to move or at least take a break from work (e.g., Stand Up! The Work Break Timer or Randomly RemindMe).
“All you have to do is walk for lunch and not use the courier service. Likewise, if you need to arrange something in the city or you are going to work in a cafe, leave your car at home and take a walk. Always associate movement with a goal. It is good to start slowly and naturally. That’s the way to persevere with exercise,” professional comments .
8. Underestimation of communication with your boss and colleagues
If you feel like you’re swimming on a task and don’t have enough support from your boss, be sure to discuss it with him and set up a video conference, for example, once a week. Don’t underestimate communication with colleagues either. The best ideas are sometimes created in informal conversation, so it may be necessary to introduce occasional “online coffee”. This will also prevent the social isolation that some people complain about when working remotely.
“It’s good to use Slack-type applications. On the one hand, you may be distracted by chat windows, but on the other hand, it’s good to be connected and able to react flexibly. E-mails are slow, and phones are sometimes useless. Slack can be the solution. It is possible to set correctly who will communicate with whom on individual projects and tasks. We have been using Slack for a long time, as has Trello,” says professional.
9. Neglecting the boundaries between work and personal life
Earlier, we discussed the importance of establishing boundaries between work and non-work so your families or partners know when you need time to focus. However, it is also critical that we draw these lines for ourselves as well.
Some people don’t mind working in blocks spread throughout the day, and can seamlessly alternate between work and personal life. This works mainly if you live alone and are the master of your time. Many other people need an iron curtain between their work and leisure or family time and do not know how to combine it with the home office. If it helps, set your work hours from x to y (08:00 – 17:00, for example) just like you had in the office. Consider setting an alarm clock to remind you that you have worked enough for today. It can also help to have one place in your home reserved only for work, where you then close the door from the outside behind and go to the “leisure” world.
10. Shock from declining productivity
Recently, many studies have emerged on how employees working remotely during the coronavirus epidemic have increased productivity. However, this is not always the rule! Sometimes productivity grows only in the short term, during the initial enthusiasm of the new way of doing things. Soon, though, the employee may begin to falter and slip through the cracks. What felt like advantages at the start turn into disadvantages in their eyes. They soon realize that they are still doing the same work, albeit in a different way, and discover that they need massive self-discipline to avoid the distractions of home. Motivation begins to diminish, and so does productivity. Such a drop in productivity from their employees in the home office was observed by companies as large as IBM or Yahoo, for example, which began to back away from this benefit.
“The variability and freedom in dealing with time are excellent at the home office. I have days when I work full of energy until night, and then days when I deal only with what is downright burning. But it would help if you were caring for a long time to stay productive. There are various tools to measure and analyze them, such as Toggl. I do this often,” concludes professional.
But don’t be afraid — this development is, to some extent, natural and can be reversed over time by applying the other principles mentioned above. To increase your motivation, you only need to realize that home office gives you one huge advantage and privilege for all its problems: more personal freedom. And that’s worth a bit of time and effort to maintain.