Beware of the Pitfalls of Working From Home

Working from home can seem like a perfect scenario for both employers, employees and sole traders. After all, it minimises overheads, reduces the need for office premises and allows for greater flexibility, with opportunities to work when busy and do other things when not.

But there are a few potential pitfalls it's important to be aware of when working from home.

- In this post-COVID-19 world some staff may be apprehensive at the prospect of returning to work, are concerned at using public transport or may not have enough actual work to sustain them in a return to full-time employment. Home working can accommodate them being available as needed, be able to work their hours to suit and then gradually regain their confidence after possibly weeks away.

- Sole-traders may have had to cut back on their overheads, let go of support staff and may be trying to recover some of the ground lost during lockdown. They may have to effectively start all over again, building their businesses from scratch. Working from home is the first step on the road to recovery, with many important support services able to be engaged virtually, as and when required.

- Some logistical considerations need to be investigated, at least at the outset. Is creating a designated work station viable? Trying to work on the kitchen table or in an area that's busy, noisy or has several demands made on its usage does not contribute to a productive work environment. Neither is sharing kit with children and their homework requirements. Assess the availability of space, software requirements, internet capacity, data security and any additional training requirements. Will some staff need PPE or other safety equipment?

- Meetings, networking and team building are often a key component in a business's success. Good relationships oil the wheels of commerce. Those with a reputation for being fair and treating their staff and customers well invariably do better. Check to see where there's a convenient hot-desking space, hotel or venue that would be suitable for necessary briefings and meetings. Online offers important business connectivity, but in-person is crucial too.

- Working from home offers the option to work one's own hours, to fit in around children and their school times and assorted demands, to be able to schedule personal appointments or deal with domestic matters more comfortably. But these non-work items can become an increasing distraction, where you find yourself all too frequently going to the gym, meeting friends for coffee, or doing chores rather than actual work.

- Set yourself clear times for starting work where, even if you're not especially busy, you check-in both mentally and physically, do some emails, social media updates, make phone calls, network and engage in conversations with colleagues, problem-solving and building relationships.

- But also be clear about finishing work too. Clocking off can be a pitfall of working from home; it being tempting to keep on working until something's finished or 'just' check in again out of fear of missing out (FOMO) or being perceived as not being productive enough.

- Distractions may not only come from not being in a formal office setting. Sometimes it can be tempting to dip in and out of several pieces of work, not finishing one piece before starting something new. Unless a new urgent matter arises it's far better to remain disciplined and focussed on one piece of work at a time.

- Good list keeping can ensure that there's no danger of forgetting something new, important or that still requires attention. It can prevent time-wasting and randomly hopping from one thing to another.

- A significant pitfall in working from home could be the aftermath of longterm social distancing and how apprehensive some staff or sole traders may be at leaving home to meet others. Some people will have experienced personal tragedy, maybe first hand. The prospect of going into busy meetings or seminars may be daunting and need to be managed with everyone's mental and physical safety in mind.

- Also how to dress now? I daresay many of us have spent weeks in casual lounge gear, occasionally freshening up the top, visible part of our bodies for the next zoom or skype call. Dressing in more professional work attire can be a good discipline as it conveys a more businesslike impression and mindset.

Working from home requires a different set of a skills where you manage your own discipline, self-care and regime. Commit to proper stress management, exercise, eat well and have fun. Yes, you can do chores, attend the gym and parents' events, have a lunch or game of golf but it's also important to invest in the success of the business too.

As Oprah Winfrey once said, if you had a young child that you cared about and wanted to grow up healthy and well you'd check in with it every day to ensure its continued growth. The same applies to your business.