Lessons learnt from 10 years of working from home

Paul Crabtree 18th March 2020 Work Practices & Wellbeing

Yesterday, Velo was established 10 years ago. Incredible. Our growth and success are down to the individuals who work here, the clients we’ve retained and the working environment we’ve created.  Thank you to them all.

Back then, working from home was the default, so we learnt some lessons about how to do it well without compromising working effectively as a team, and building a good team culture.

Because of corona, Like many companies, most of our team are again working from home. So in this article, I wanted to share some of the lessons we learnt in those early days to make working from home a success.

Make a space that is suitable for working

The first lesson is to find a desk and chair in the house that means you can work effectively. Not balanced on your knee, not sat on a bed, but a sensible work station. Make sure your internet is strong enough where you choose and you can work sat up properly. Otherwise, sore backs will happen. Distance yourself from any distractions. After all, there may be others at home.

Being able to shut the door on the “office” or pack things away out of sight at the end of the day is important too. For my own well-being, having my house returned to where I live and relax and not having my office on plain view helped keep my home precious. I’d urge you to do the same. On the same note, getting dressed in my “work clothes” also helped signpost (to me) when I was working and when I was not.

Keep drinking, and take breaks

One thing we noticed about WFH is that we all drastically reduced the amount of water we drank. This isn’t good for your health point, but also as trips to the bathroom weren’t needed, so the team spent longer and longer at their desk without breaks. More sore backs. I’d highly recommend having a dedicated work water bottle; drinking from it regularly forces you to get up to refill it, as well as keeping you hydrated.

Guilt

In your normal office environment, you have breaks at work, and likewise, you don’t work on your commute. Keep the same habits going at home. Start work at 9 am, take breaks – including time away to have lunch – and if you have outside space, I found making/taking longer calls out there very refreshing. You will know if you’re getting through your work, so don’t feel guilty about having the same breaks you would have in the office. Stay focused in the time you would work to get your work done, but make sure you don’t forget to take those important “brain breaks”.  Don’t expect everyone to be available all the time, but if you are away from the desk for extended periods, let people know. If/when you need someone urgently just call their mobile.

I used to force myself to walk around the block regularly too, including sometimes doing a loop around Greenwich Park even if I made calls on the way round, or just had a think. Again, fresh air is so important.

Staying connected

WFH can be a lonely experience. I found it hugely isolating and didn’t enjoy it, needing to see people at least every two days. Video call each other – (Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom – there are multiple free-to-use video technologies now available) – just seeing each other lifts the spirits; it’s the same as you would do when talking to people in the office and more importantly, you’ll get to check out their house 😉 .

Speak to your clients as much as you can too. They will also be suffering from WFH fatigue in a similar way. Suggest video calls if you usually only speak to them on the phone. They might welcome seeing a familiar face.

Ask how people are doing

When you WFH there is no-one to chat to about what was on TV last night or what you cooked for dinner. I rapidly missed this, so don’t be shy about calling your colleagues to “check-in” even if there is no express purpose. Both parties will benefit. Calling for a chat helped me navigate my own well-being.

Avoid being sucked into “keyboard warrior” behaviour

If you can’t see the person, you can’t read their body language.  WFH means more and more contact will happen through electronic channels. Emails and skypes can be misread. Tempers can escalate. Intentions can be misunderstood.  If you find yourself bashing your keyboard, it is time to speak to the intended recipient.  Put the kettle on, take a breath and dial their number.

Virtual drinks/meetings

Although it feels quite strange at first, we tried to have company-wide meetings as best we could over Skype and Webex. There were fewer of us back then, but keeping the information flowing together was so important.  As weird as it may seem, pouring yourself a drink from your home desk on a Friday, and raising a glass while looking at your team via your computer, is a lot of fun! Try it – you may enjoy yourself!

Dashboards, workflow and work – speak up

We trust everyone in the team to get through their work and have dashboards/reporting to make sure everyone is ok and on top.  But when people are spread in different locations, one phenomena that happened was that individual members of the team used to try and perform tasks that they were not best qualified to do.  They “gave it a go” thinking that was the only option, but of course quality suffered and the end product often needed redoing.  Watch out for this – ask for help if you’ve not done it before. After all, no-one walks past your desk anymore so they can’t spot when you need help.

Most of all, look after each other.  Teams can still work well even if they are not sat on the same room.

Paul Crabtree

Paul Crabtree

Managing Director