How to work well from home

Updated version published April 2021 by NUJ Training Wales

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen many people working from home for the first time or turning an occasional practice into a full-time one. The shift from communal office to kitchen table or spare bedroom, swapping colleagues for partners, children and pets, has been disruptive for many.

This has applied to journalists and other media workers who have written, recorded and edited from their homes while newsrooms and offices have been minimally staffed or deserted. It helped that journalism and comms were already well-suited to homeworking, with Office for National Statistics data from 2019 showing that media professionals were second only to chief executives in working from home, with 58% of us having tried it.

The easing of lockdowns will see many return to offices, but it looks likely that more of us will continue to work from home in future, at least some of the time. Some technology companies such as file transfer service Dropbox are going ‘virtual first’ with offices only for meetings and other collaboration. The UK’s biggest bank HSBC plans to cut its office space by 40% by increasing remote working, although rivals including Barclays are more sceptical. For financially hard-pressed media organisations, the chance to spend less on offices through more home working may be hard to resist.

I have worked regularly as a journalist from home by choice for two decades and have discussed this with dozens of journalists when running training courses for the NUJ and other organisations. Depending on job and personality, home can be the best workplace in the world – it certainly involves the best commute – but making homeworking work well requires some effort.

It may have been difficult to arrange during the pandemic, but if you plan to work from home long-term the ideal is a dedicated home office on which you can shut the door. As an alternative, turning a room into a home office for the working day then packing up kit to ‘go home’ can help maintain a distance between working and home lives, even if they now happen in the same place. Other inmates should be encouraged to respect the home office, whether it is a room or a temporary pop-up.

A good office chair with back support and a proper desk will help avoid back-pain, while placing a screen in front of a window makes it easy to refocus both eyes and mind every few minutes. It makes sense for that screen to be as large as is practical, a principle that applies to all IT equipment and services used for homeworking – don’t skimp on memory, keyboards or bandwidth. A speakerphone, a good-quality microphone or a headset are useful for calls.

Some executives I have interviewed believe video calls are the best way to stay in touch with staff and maintain team spirit. It certainly makes sense to avoid relying on text-based communication – it is easy to be piqued by a misunderstood email.

But short of a physical meeting, I prefer the voice call. It conveys a good balance of information, emotion and nuance, while video adds unwelcome noise regarding homeworkers’ fashion and décor choices as well as taking up bandwidth and being less reliable. In a recent academic paper on ‘Zoom fatigue’, Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University discussed ways in which videoconferencing could be causing nonverbal overload, including being stared at at close quarters and spending much of the day looking at a virtual mirror.

Those who do expect to make a lot of video calls should learn how to do this well. For example, videoconferencing controls can be changed to make images of other people smaller and to remove the virtual mirror. There is good advice available from trainer David Thomas and broadcasters Zoë Flood and Jeremy Vine.

While working from home can be great for those of us who are happy when focused on a solitary job such as writing or programming, it doesn’t work for everyone. I find full-time homeworking makes me appreciate getting out all the more, whether for meetings, training or conferences. Even remote working enthusiasts feel that it is hard to replicate the gossip and chat that helps build human relationships online. Some will return from coronavirus asking their employers if they can carry on homeworking some or all of the time, but others will sweep back to the office with smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts.

In future, many more workdays will be spent at home. If you decide, or are obliged, to be part of this trend, learn how to make it work well for you.

This is an updated version of an article first published in the May 2020 issue of In Our View magazine, published by Socitm, the society for innovation, technology and modernisation.

I cover ways to work well from home as part of my NUJ day-course, First steps in freelancing.

First steps in freelancing and Winning and negotiating training in July

Having moved them successfully to Zoom in April, I will be running both of my NUJ freelance journalism training day-courses online in July.

First steps in freelancing is on Friday 17 July, costing £40 for NUJ members, £30 for student members and £110 for non-members. Winning and negotiating freelance work will take place on Fri 31 July, costing £50 for NUJ members, £40 for student members and £130 for non-members.

These are in addition to already-planned dates for First steps on 16 October and Winning and negotiating on 6 November, both of which are for now still planned to take place at the NUJ’s offices in London.

For more information and booking, click on the links above. If you would like more information on the courses, please get in touch.

Update: the NUJ’s London Freelance Branch has voted to subsidise these courses for its members so they cost just £25 each. You can claim this subsidy when you book by email. Details here.

Learning to teach online; NUJ freelance training going ahead on 1 and 15 May

Three weeks ago today, with two weeks of my data journalism module left to teach, Birkbeck announced that Covid-19 meant it was shifting immediately from face-to-face to online teaching. The good news was that it had software in place to facilitate this. The bad news was that I had no experience of using it and a guest lecturer booked for the following Tuesday.

It worked out fine, mainly because the Guardian’s data projects editor Caelainn Barr did such a brilliant job of explaining her work to her laptop rather than a group of students. Along with a further online class last week, some great Birkbeck training sessions and advice from David Thomas, I have had a crash course in teaching online.

As a result, my NUJ training courses First steps in freelancing on Friday 1 May and Winning and negotiating freelance business on Friday 15 May will take place online. They will include the same material, discussion and experience-sharing as usual, but rather than you coming to London, these courses can come to you via the increasingly-ubiquitous Zoom platform. The NUJ has reduced its usual prices, so the cost for First Steps in freelancing is £40 for full members and £30 for students.

If one or both of these courses sound useful, why not join me in acquiring some new skills?

Full details and booking for NUJ First steps in freelancing, 1 May

Full details and booking for NUJ Winning and negotiating freelance business, 15 May

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Why don’t you ditch your smartphone and do some NUJ freelance training instead?

Times theatre critic Ann Treneman recently wrote about an Edinburgh Fringe show that encouraged the audience to use a smartphone while watching, and being told by an usher that “99.99999%” of people have one.

Actually, Ofcom research says the actual figure for smartphone usage in 2018 was 78% of Britons aged 15 and over, up just two percentage points on 2017 (see page 12 of narrative Online nation report). So there are 12 million adults in the UK who don’t use smartphones, including for several years me. Continue reading “Why don’t you ditch your smartphone and do some NUJ freelance training instead?”

Data in journalism training at the NUJ on 17 May

I am again running an introductory day on using data in journalism at the National Union of Journalists in London on Friday 17 May. The course, which assumes little or no knowledge of the subject, covers risk, quality of data, assessing sources including surveys, government and open data, Freedom of Information and graphing.

The course, organised by the NUJ’s London Freelance Branch, costs £55 for NUJ members, £45 for student and temporary members and £110 otherwise.

More information and booking here.