While we ride out the Covid-19 crisis, homeworking is looking like the norm for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of tips on homeworking flying around the internet, but the most important tip to remember is that successful homeworking is about finding what works for you. A contractor’s homeworking style may depend on both their current assignment and personal situation. For example, many contractors will be used to working from home, but unused to the additional pressures that coronavirus has introduced. This article isn’t about what works best for everyone, it’s about addressing three important factors in home working that will be common to most people.
One – Workspace
Unless you regularly work from home, you might not be lucky enough to have a designated workspace or an ‘ergonomic’ chair. In fact, you don’t need an office, a desk, or anything out of the ordinary to work effectively from home. Many professionals who work out of the office do so in diverse environments, ranging from coffee shops to kitchen tables or even their beds. The main requirements about your workspace are that it’s somewhere you can concentrate, somewhere where all your bits and pieces (computer, notebooks, files etc) won’t be disturbed or covered in Crayola, and somewhere that’s comfortable.
If there are other people in your home, working in the room that’s used the least makes sense – this could be a spare bedroom, loft, or even a garage space that you can heat. If you live alone, the homeworking world is your oyster, and you might want to consider working in different spaces/rooms during the week, both for a change of scene and to place less continuous strain on certain areas of your body.
One thing you may start to notice is that homeworking can take its toll on your back. Working on beds or sofas can leave your back unsupported for long periods of time, while dining chairs etc aren’t height adjustable. Rather than ploughing on until you’re bent into the shape of a question mark, it’s time to get creative and make sure you adapt your workspace so that it places the least strain on your body. The NHS have published these recommendations on adapting your workspace, but as there’s limited access to shops to buy new equipment, you can make a few important adjustments with things you have lying around the house.
Use cushions both to support your back and to bring yourself up to the required height for working. If the desk or table you’re using is too low, you can also consider raising your desk with breezeblocks etc, or standing your laptop/monitor on a box.
For those used to a standing desk, which can greatly benefit your back, you can consider adapting a dresser, or placing a flat coffee table on top of a utility table. It may take a little creative DIY, but you can easily create different height levels for monitors and keyboards.
Two – Broadband
For contractors working from home, broadband is their lifeline for keeping in touch with clients and anyone involved in current projects. Many networks are currently overloaded in high-density areas, and this will significantly slow down internet speeds. If you have an iPad with a sim card, an iPhone or an EE4G device, then you can use these to create WIFI hotspots to support your home broadband. Satellite broadband may also be an option for some people, especially those who live in remote areas.
It’s worth remembering that the more people in the house who are using the broadband connection simultaneously, the slower it will be. This is particularly true if people are downloading or streaming entertainment, which takes up a lot of bandwidth. It could be worth having a discussion with other members of your household to work out times that are off-limits for streaming entertainment so that your work doesn’t grind to a halt.
Apps like Skype, Teams and Zoom will allow you to have online video meetings and keep in touch with your clients, as well as allowing you to share your desktop and files. If you’re having regular online meetings, a headset and webcam can be used to improve picture and sound quality.
Three – Routine
A lot of homeworking advice tells you to keep to an office routine. However, for many contractors, working outside of 9-5 hours is normal. In many ways, if you’re able to work at non-peak hours, such as late at night or early morning, you might benefit from faster internet speeds and less distractions. Although it’s worth bearing in mind that clients might need to contact you during working hours, contractors are often able to get on with things independently, without the need for continuous input or direction.
This means that contractors are usually good at setting their own schedules and motivating themselves. However, in the current situation, contractors might find themselves distracted by family commitments and friends who aren’t used to working from home. While it’s important to stay connected to those around you, it can be difficult to focus on work with your social media notifications going into overdrive, so consider turning these off or muting them during working hours. Similarly, you may need to remind other members of your household not to disturb you during certain times.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the current situation is stressful. Even if you don’t feel overtly anxious, there are many other ways that anxiety can manifest itself, such as difficulty sleeping or a tendency to drink more alcohol than usual. Being mindful of your mental and physical health is important. This includes accepting the situation and having realistic expectations about how you can manage it. It’s likely that you’ll encounter difficulties with homeworking at times, so make sure your routine includes conversations with others about how the situation may be affecting you.
With the current restrictions, it can be difficult to get the exercise or the food that we’re used to. However, it’s important not to let things like nutrition, exercise and getting enough sleep deteriorate, as these form our core resilience mechanism. Making time to prepare nutritious food, keep yourself hydrated and exercise every day is important. Make sure you take regular breaks, including a lunch break, where you can get up and move around, maybe incorporating some stretching exercises, or catching some early-Spring rays in the garden.
ContractingWise has a range of options to help you keep your contracting career on track, including help with completing your tax returns, setting up or reopening a limited company, or finding an umbrella company to suit your needs. To talk to a member of our team, call: 0203 642 8679