Coronavirus: Seven essential tips if you have to work from home
You may find yourself regularly working from home over the coming weeks as employers attempt to limit staff exposure to the coronavirus outbreak.
Not going into the office is an effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, because it minimises the risk of you coming into contact with someone carrying the disease.
Many companies are suggesting workers who can get the job done from home do just that. Some technology companies which produce software used by remote workers, including Zoom and Slack, have subsequently received a bump in share prices in recent days.
But working from home comes with negatives which you may need to prepare for:
How to handle conference calls
Group meetings in-person can be difficult, but over the phone they can be absolute chaos.
Without any visual cues to signal where attention is focused, participants on group calls can end up speaking over each other for minutes on end.
This can be compounded by any lag on the line which amplifies misunderstandings about who is speaking and who is listening.
It is absolutely vital that someone is chairing the meeting. This person needs to determine the speaking order and call people to speak, as well as pick up again when the speaking is finished.
Ideally the call can be done using software which allows people to signal to the chair that they would like to speak without interrupting someone else, but if that isn't the case then the chair needs to set up a system to let people ask to speak without the line descending into chaos - asking people who want to speak to state their names and then calling on them to talk afterwards is a good tactic.
All of the other participants need to join the call at the right time, and most crucially - their phones need to be on mute when they're not talking.
Have a space to work in
I'm sorry to say you will need to get dressed and get out of bed. Maybe not as early as usual - the lack of a commute is always something to rejoice over - but having a space to work in is crucial for your state of mind, and not just in terms of being in a "working" mindset but also so you're able to turn off when the working day is over.
If you have children then you will need to realise that you cannot both parent and work at the same time. Working from home is not a cheap alternative to getting a babysitter, you simply won't manage to get any work done.
Most of the essentials for working from home are things people have already; a desk, a laptop, a work phone - you don't want to be running up your own phone bill if you need to make an international call - but take stock of what is available in the office and what isn't.
If you need access to your company's intranet, figure out how to access it securely. External connections in without security precautions could mean that hackers go unnoticed too.
If there are software packages on your work terminal then you'll need to see if you can access them at home or if you will need to find some way to do without them.
Have time to work in
You need to clock in and clock out. The working day for anyone in an office has commutes either side of it, but these aren't there if you're working from home and the risk is that the time between when you're on-shift and when you're off will merge into each other.
Whatever kind of communications system you're using to keep in touch with your team, turn it on when you start and turn it off when you stop. Working outside of these hours will just grind you down.
Remember to eat
Remember to eat properly. This takes planning if you're not going to find yourself dipping into the biscuit tin.
Usually we don't do much planning when it comes to our meals at the office. We have canteens or we're near to some shops, but working from home can disrupt the most considerately stocked larder.
If the food in the fridge is meant to cover tonight's dinner then you're going to find yourself caught very short for lunch, as NBC News tech investigations editor Olivia Solon found out on Thursday.
Most adults should have mastered the skill of forward-planning their meals, but the interruption to normal plans by working from home can undo that for even the most competent. Get ready to have something healthy for lunch.
Remember to take breaks
We can worry that we're not being seen as productive when we're working from home, but nobody is productive when they're hungry.
Without access to a canteen, shops or market stalls selling something nutritious you're almost certainly going to have to make yourself something for lunch.
This means you need to take a bit of a longer break to make the lunch. That is perfectly reasonable, and because you've planned your lunch in advance it's not going to take as long as you thought.
But at the same time, you need to...
Remember to work
Although you really shouldn't put yourself under ridiculous pressures, you are still working.
Working from home isn't an opportunity for friends to come round. You don't have the time to run errands during the day that you wouldn't be able to do normally.
Some experts suggest working in short bursts in order to maintain your sanity, this means regular breaks but it requires working too.
Keep in contact with your managers, and ask them to keep in contact with you
The worst aspect of remote working can be feeling ignored.
Hopefully there will be lines of communication open to your managers, colleagues and subordinates, but to make sure these are there requires forward-planning.
There should be clear expectations about how performance will differ from a normal day, whether because the office processes are a bit different or because particular jobs are going to be delegated to different teams.
One of the tactics to avoid loneliness (although some workers could well crave it) is to set up a video call with a colleague while you're working on a shared project.
You might spend the majority of your time working in silence, but the tele-presence of a colleague and the familiar taps of their fingers on the keyboard might offer some pleasant companionship.