I don’t profess to be an expert on how to manage working from home in a healthy and efficient manner, but given the rumblings on social media, I felt that relaying my experience may help some people.
The very first thing to accept is that being quarantined, self-isolated and working from home is not a vacation. It’s liberating, but it is not a vacation.
I started my own Licensed Insolvency Trustee practice in 2017 and at first, it was just me. For regulatory reasons, the firm had to have an office external to the home. Thanks to the advice of a friend, I learnt about serviced offices and have been happy with a reasonably small space that provided everything that was needed – furniture, WiFi, telephone, receptionist, etc. However, being a start-up small business, I didn’t actually need to attend the office very often and could work from an office at home most of the time.
The biggest challenge to working at home is the freedom. This may not apply to everyone, but as I was starting up a business, I could do what I wanted all day. It was important that time was not just flittered away and therefore it was vital to be disciplined and have a schedule. The schedule that worked for me was not set around time, but it was set around a series of tasks that I worked through in a disciplined order during the day. Thus, I chose not to set an alarm clock, but when I woke up, then I would get out of bed and proceed to accomplish the actions on the schedule.
I would set my goals for the day and then proceed to work through them. I rarely finish all of the work items, but as I deal with the more crucial issues first in the day, it is rare that an unfinished matter cannot be put over to the next day and its priority now rises.
In my case, it was important that I started to take care of my health now that I had control of my day. So, in the morning, after ablutions, I started to work out for about 30 minutes. Then after getting dressed appropriately for the business day and breakfast, I would then begin work. Often, work starts about 10 a.m. and I have found that time works a lot better than opening an office early in the morning when most people are just grasping for a coffee to stay alert. Then I work through my schedule and on some days, I take time off during the day to have guitar lessons, play football, volunteer or ski patrol. I have never managed to do all of those things on one day yet. Once I have finished my other activities, I go straight back to work and carry on with my schedule until I feel that I have accomplished enough for the day. Sometimes this can mean finishing at 6.00 p.m., but usually is a bit later. Other times, I can feel really energetic and go on until midnight (and occasionally later).
I still try to stick to this program today even though the practice has (thankfully) grown and there are unexpected needs to direct and assist colleagues, liaise with partners and manage the business itself. The schedule gets very distorted by a great number of interruptions, but the key is to break the scheduled actions or tasks into small time pieces. Thus, I will work on an issue for up to 15 minutes at a time, or until it is completed, with no interruption allowed. I have a series of clock timers around my office spaces and set those to go off . Then when the alarm goes off, I will check to see what crisis has arisen that needs immediate attention, but if there are no crises, then I continue with the schedule for another period of time. The key for me to work at home has been disciplined flexibility.
I can’t suggest that everyone is able to do this, and many people who are now remote working for the first time will still have time demands imposed upon them. Nevertheless, one can create a structure for the day and will achieve more by being disciplined enough to stick to it. Achieving more made me feel happier.
One thing I will mention that everyone should be aware of is that it is absolutely essential to exercise whilst you are quarantined, isolated or just reducing time when you are out of the home. The human body has a remarkable capacity for muscular atrophy when not used and walking to the fridge or larder cupboard more often does not count as more exercise if you keep emptying them. In order to stay healthy in these troubled times, you must build an exercise regime at home into your schedule. There are 7-minute workout apps or online that can be done several times a day at home. In addition, or alternatively, set a defined period of time when you will work out every single day, whether this be with no equipment or to lift weights, run on a treadmill, use an elliptical, hit a punchbag, or gulp, ride a Peloton.
As I said at the start, I hope that my experience over the past 3 years can help some people cope with the new reality. Most of all though, I hope that you and your loved ones stay safe and stay well.
Michael N W Baigel FCA(UK), FIPA, CIRP, LIT