Last year I sought to highlight the growing number of professionals embracing remote working, inspired by the distributed workforce model advocated by Auttomatic’s CEO, Matt Mullenweg.

Little did I know that less than a year later, millions of us around the world would face the prospect of being asked to work from home, for an indefinite period of time, for the first time in order to minimise the spread of COVID-19.

What do we already know about remote working?

A record number of us are working from home.

1.7 million:

The number of people in the UK who regularly work from home

In the United Kingdom, which will celebrate a National Work from Home Day on 15 May, the TUC (a UK trade union) has reported that by 2018 over 6% of the entire UK workforce was regularly working from home, a total of 1.7 million people, with every industry impacted.

If you contrast that with the 1.3 million people who regularly worked from home in the UK in 2008, this represents a rise of in excess of 25% over a decade.

Meanwhile, the Australia Bureau of Statistics has reported that over 30% of all employed persons in Australia now regularly work from home.

Even before the onset of COVID-19, working from home had become evermore commonplace.

What can we learn from Hong Kong?

In 2003, Hong Kong faced a similar crisis to the one the world faces today. That year, 299 people in Hong Kong lost their lives following the outbreak of a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and extraordinary measures for that time were taken and lessons learnt on how to deal with future epidemics.

Fast forward to January of this year and, following the declaration of an outbreak of a novel coronavirus, the local government responded swiftly by asking all workers in the public and private sectors to work from home.

Not all businesses were prepared for such a decision to have their workforces work remotely, but whilst the decision had an immediate and material impact on supply chains and the economy, as well as daily life (with school closures, reduced government services and the panic-buying of consumer staples such as toilet roll and rice), most businesses and professionals willingly heeded the government’s advice.

Nothing to fear

What Hong Kong can prove is we have nothing to fear about remote working. Sure, some industries and jobs cannot be done remotely, but at least for those who are typically office-based a sense of pragmatism and decisiveness set in.

Unsurprisingly, the businesses which rose to the challenge:

  • acted swiftly
  • were pragmatic
  • set clear boundaries and expectations
  • demonstrated strong leadership and trust in their team~challenges of home working

This resulted in teams feeling empowered, trusted and capable of rising to the challenge individually.

Are you prepared?

Drawing from experiences in Hong Kong where government advice around working from home has remained in place for over a month, the emphasis is on having the right working environment and tools, with a myriad of ways in which to be able to effectively work from home thereafter.

Start by…

  1. Creating a defined workspace. This means somewhere as free from the distractions of home-life as possible. Ideally this will be a separate room, but a defined space within a room can suffice and it’s really important to have a comfortable chair and desk or table to work from with as much natural light as possible.
  2. Having the right tools. This typically consists of a computer, phone and a strong Wi-Fi connection but it also extends to the software and any other equipment you will need.

What else?

  1. Be in the right headspace. When working from home, it’s not easy living and working under the same roof. Try establishing a routine as well as going for a walk or exercising before the working day begins.
  2. Introduce ambient sounds.Playing some background music, a podcast or the news will instil a sense of calm or connection with the outside world.
  3. Dress up. Working in PJ’s may seem appealing, but wearing comfortable clothing which is work-friendly aids the transition into a working state-of-mind. It also spares you from the embarrassment should your boss decide to video call!
  4. Take regular breaks. Numerous studies have demonstrated how important it is to take regular breaks irrespective of where you are working, and that includes a lunch break. Either cook something healthy and appetising, or better yet go out for lunch.
  5. Minimise distraction. Yes, that’s your social media, but also housework and all other chores which become tempting as the day progresses.
  6. Communicate clearly and effectively. Minimise forms of communication to the most effective for your team and be clear and aware of the perception of what you type.
  7. Befriend other people who are working from home. Who better to understand the challenges of, and to share tips on, working from home than a fellow home-worker.
  8. Meet people. Diarise face-face meetings through technology to ensure that you feel you are still seeing your colleagues.
  9. Create boundaries. Some will take to working from home with scepticism and mistrust whilst others may frequently contact you for the sake of being able to talk to someone. Try not to apologise when you step away for a toilet break and miss (or don’t take) a call. Instead, create boundaries and inform people when you are available.
  10. Embrace technology. A plethora of products and services now exists to enable you to be as agile, productive and effective anywhere.
  11. Ask for feedback. Everyone will want to adapt how they work and interact with their stakeholders. Ask people if they like how you work and the tools used to communicate and collaborate.
  12. Seize the opportunity. Whether you embrace working from home because of the reduced environmental impact from not commuting or the sense of a stronger work life harmony, go into working from home with an open mind.

It takes time to feel comfortable working from home and you’ll learn over time what works best for you as well as what tools and resources you need.

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