How to work well from home

First published in the May 2020 issue of Socitm In Our View magazine

Large numbers of Britons have recently started working from home (WFH) for the first time or have turned an occasional practice into a full-time one. The sudden shift from communal office to kitchen table or spare bedroom, swapping colleagues for partners, children and pets, will have been disruptive for many.

I have worked regularly from home by choice for two decades and have discussed doing this with dozens of journalists when running training courses. Journalism is well-suited to homeworking, with ONS data showing that media professionals are second only to chief executives in working from home, with 58% having tried it.

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.

Some of the following may be difficult or impossible to arrange at present, but the ideal is a dedicated home office on which workers 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.

Several of those I interviewed from other sectors (see main feature of May 2020 In Our View) 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. Those who do expect to make a lot of
video calls, particularly with people outside the organisation, should get
some training in doing this well and managers could consider making
video optional for internal meetings.

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. 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 – but let’s make it a choice, not an obligation.

I cover ways to work well from home as part of my NUJ day-course, First steps in freelancing, which next runs on Friday 17 July. More details here