Tips for increased productivity, more satisfaction and better office relationships

New to remote working? It may not be as simple as getting comfy on the couch with your laptop, but you can do it — and smash it— with our foolproof guide.

Working from home (WFH) isn’t exactly a new concept. In the past five years, the US has reported a 44 per cent increase in remote working arrangements, and last year in Australia 68 per cent of employers allowed staff to do the same.

But what was a perk has become the norm in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing millions of us to log in remotely in an attempt to limit non-essential contact with our clients and co-workers.

Whether you’re managing your workload and your children, trying to block out noisy partners or housemates, navigating never- ending Slack/Google/Zoom threads and meetings, or struggling with the decision to get dressed or not, here’s everything you need to know about getting the job done when your home also becomes your office…

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E-working etiquette

We all know the basic protocol when hitting up a physical workplace — turn up in actual clothes (not pyjamas or loungewear), be professional, get your work done and then head home — but is there a different set of rules for when you’re logging in remotely? How do you conduct yourself in a Zoom meeting? Do you have to reply to every team DM? Are breaks OK? What should you be wearing?

Happiness & Its Causes conference director Beth Phelan manages a team of four permanent employees who log in from home a couple of days a week between their scheduled in-office days. At the moment — with the COVID-19 pandemic shaking things up — all staff are working remotely and keeping in touch via regular Zoom meetings, Teams threads and old-school voice calls.

With working from home now a reality for so many of us over the next few months, we asked the seasoned flexi employer to fill us in on everything that will — and won’t — fly on an average WFH day. Spoiler: napping and Netflix are out.

Do I need to contact my manager every day?

Regularly, yes. But this doesn’t have to be a lengthy phone call.

“Apps like [Microsoft] Teams, Zoom and Slack are great to get a quick message to someone without interrupting them as much as a call or email would,” stresses Beth. “We hold regular Zoom meetings once a week, so everyone knows their priorities and can catch up on what’s going on in the business.”

… what about the rest of my team?

“If we can’t see each other face-to-face we all keep in touch via our Tuesday conference calls and daily chat threads,” explains Beth. “Being in events, we all work to deadlines, so if someone disappeared and all of a sudden wasn’t doing their job, we’d know about it.”

Should I let my boss know if I duck out for a coffee/appointment?

Not any more than you would in the office, but giving them the heads up helps.

“We use Outlook Calendar, so if people have regular appointments we know about them,” Beth explains. “But once trust is established and an employee is self-directed, I’m perfectly OK with them structuring their day without being in constant contact.”

How quickly do I have to reply to an email?

You need to use your common sense on this one. If you know your boss may need something urgently from you, make sure you take your phone if you pop out or step away from your desk, so you can respond straight away if they get in touch.

If people are emailing just to communicate throughout the day, however, you shouldn’t be expected to respond straight away, but it’s just good manners to respond ASAP.

“If I call and don’t get through [to a staff member], I do expect a call back,” says Beth. “It doesn’t bother me at all if they’re out on a walk or grabbing a bite to eat, but I’d want a call, text or email back as soon as they were free.”

Does it matter if my partner/housemates/ kids are home while I’m working?

In the current circumstances, you certainly don’t have a choice, but even in normal times, most people are set up at their homes. As long as you’re productive, it shouldn’t be an issue but you’re the only person who knows how to set yourself up to get the most out of your work day.

“I trust my staff to be able to set their own boundaries with anyone else in their house,” says Beth. “Most people have their own spot to work, and when they do get interrupted — like when their kids come home from school — they know they can take a break and come back to work later.”

Is it OK to WFH in my pyjamas?

If you don’t have any video meetings with clients, then no-one will be any the wiser if you stay in your PJs all day. However, it’s probably not a good idea to make a habit of it, as it doesn’t put you in the right headspace in terms of productivity.

“Most people do get dressed, and there’s definitely an argument to do so,” Beth says. “On a huge deadline, though, one bonus of working from home is not having to waste time on showering and getting dressed.” But waking up and getting dressed will put you in the right frame of mind — even if it’s just trackie pants and a T-shirt.

Can I work from the couch or do I have to have a proper home office set-up?

This is a similar dilemma to the do-I-get-out- of-my-pyjamas one. No, you don’t have to sit at a desk, but it does help your productivity if you recreate the professionalism of an office environment.

“To work from home you’ve got to find a space to do it,” says Beth. “All my staff have their own spot — even if it’s just a kitchen table.” If you’re in a small apartment or share house, anywhere where you can sit — or stand — comfortably is key.

Any major no-nos when structuring my day?

Yes! Try to avoid getting into the pattern of taking long breaks after working productively for a few hours. It’s all too easy for that break to then segue into watching Netflix on the couch all afternoon.

“Radio silence is also a huge no-no,” Beth adds. You’ve got to build trust with your manager by keeping in touch, especially when you’re new to working from home.”

Can I take a nap during the work day?

“A little nap is OK if that’s how you want to spend your break,” says Beth. But for that to then turn into the above mentioned Netflix binge? That’s definitely not OK.

Some surprising WFH stats…

  • 45 per cent of people recently surveyed singled out that having the flexibility to do other things as the most significant advantage of WFH
  • Pinterest saw ‘tips for working from home’ searches skyrocket by 1411 per cent, over a two-week period
  • Studies show that those who work remotely are 30 per cent more productive and 50 per cent less likely to quit their full-time gigs.