Five top tips on working from home – based on the experiences of BT’s seasoned homeworkers.

Homeworking isn’t new. But many of us are finding ourselves being new at it - with some of us experiencing long term homeworking for the first time. We office dwellers are also rapidly discovering that working from home isn’t as easy as we might have thought.

BT isn’t a newbie to this homeworking thing. Our first homeworking trials were back in 1992 (the Inverness Experiment’, which involved 11 volunteer directory enquiry agents in – oddly enough – Inverness). By 2000, a significant part of our workforce worked from home. I spent much of the 1990s interviewing BT homeworkers and making sure they had everything they needed to work effectively… but I never became a homeworker myself. I’m also not the world’s best homeworker, so I thought I’d turn to people who have decades of experience for advice, tips and suggestions for doing it successfully – namely BT’s veteran homeworkers. Here’s their working from home guide.

Top 5 tips on working from home, from our people to yours

1. Build a workspace that suits you and your environment

  • Create an environment that works for you and the space you have (but be mindful of security) – whether it’s the sunny spot in the house, or a separate room with a door you can close, creating a space to work’ is important.
  • Get dressed (even if you have fabulous ‘day pyjamas’) – you don’t have to power dress - but dressing appropriately can be a way of distinguishing weekdays from weekends.
  • Get a good chair – household furniture can wreck your back, so invest in something a little more ergonomic (this came up again and again).
  • Pack things up at the end of the day – if it’s a communal room, your family will thank you. If it isn’t, it’s a good way of switching off.

2. Establish a routine, set goals and know when to switch off

  • Routine is everything – it’s clear that it doesn’t matter where we work, but how we work. Re-establish routines that help you to become more productive and embrace the flexibility that home working can give you.
  • Motivate yourself by focussing on what’s important to you and your role – figure out what energises you, make 'to-do’ lists, define objectives and key results with your manager.
  • Plan your time – don’t mistake activity for productivity and fill your diary up with (often pointless) back-to-back meetings. Make sure you schedule in 'me’ time.
  • Switch off at the end of the day – with no physical distinction between work and home it's easy to work long hours. Whether you take the dog for a walk, remove your 'work’ clothes, or shut down all your devices, make sure that you draw a distinct line between work life and home life.
  • Negotiate boundaries with your family (when you can) – set ground rules with other house dwellers so that times when you don’t want interruptions are well defined.
  • Recognise that priorities and deadlines may have to change as work and home collide and distractions increase –don’t feel uncomfortable if dogs, cats, or stray children gate-crash the party.

3. Keep healthy and don’t feel guilty for taking breaks

  • Don’t be open all hours – let others know when you are busy, free, or unavailable using status settings on your technologies.
  • Schedule meetings sensibly – don’t do ‘death by meeting’ days.
  • Keep on moving – sitting is the new smoking. Take time to stretch and move regularly·
  • Beware of the fridge… and the coffee pot – the call of the kitchen can be bad for the waistline and sleeping patterns.

4. Connect with colleagues, have virtual coffees, and recreate ‘watercooler’ moments

  • Create connection – make an effort to stay connected with everyone: your team, your colleagues and even your boss!
  • Open a virtual watercooler – create informal chats, coffee breaks and virtual happy hours so that people can share things outside of a formal meeting context.

5. Make remote working less remote by using technologies effectively

  • Video conferencing creates a better sense of connection – usage of video can create more social conversations, but remember some people may not like it (especially if they are having a bad hair day), or have sufficient bandwidth to use it, so open up audio channels as well.
  • Keep the conversation going with chat and social media – whether it’s sharing cat photos, interesting articles, or funny stories, keep the connection going.
  • Get a good wireless, noise cancelling headset – whether it is the ability to unchain yourself from your desk, or mute your family, good headsets also came up frequently as a must have.

We’re in the midst of a big global shift in remote, virtualised digital working. Our experiences in BT have shown that, done well, homeworking can be an extremely fulfilling and productive way of working. But it may take a while for all of us to establish new habits and routines. The results of this experiment will be fascinating, but one thing’s for sure: the ways we work are likely to change forever.

Want to find out more about how to work from home effectively? You can download and read Dr Nicola J. Millard’s full working from home guide today.