Guest Blog from Mark Williams, Senior Channels Partnerships Manager at Western Union Business Solutions. 

I have spent a good amount of my professional career as a remote worker, but as someone who spends the majority of a normal working week at business events and in face to face meetings, the realization of working at home for the foreseeable future knocked me somewhat off balance. Over the years I’ve debated with numerous office based colleagues the unique challenges that working from home presents, and consistently told it’s an easy life. It really isn’t, and I would wager that those used to working in a more social office environment are now beginning to truly understand that it isn’t as easy as many would like to think it is working from home. The current situation is somewhat extraordinary and with many businesses implementing business continuity plans which meet UK Government guidelines (and looking after employee welfare), there are hundreds of thousands of people home working who wouldn’t usually be doing so, many whilst trying to manage personal challenges such as childcare & caring for loved one. I therefore thought that the time is right to share some of my personal experience in the hope that it will help some of you to work happily & effectively from home.

Good Habits

It’s all too easy, particularly for those who are used to commuting to an office to think “I’ll get up a little later than usual” when the opportunity to work from home presents itself (or for many has been thrust upon them). I am a massive believer in the philosophy that your day will be as productive as you start it. The time at which my alarm goes off each morning doesn’t change whether I am getting up to travel to a meeting or whether I commuting down the hallway to my home office. Build a morning routine which helps ease you in to the day so that when everyone else is getting online you’re already there ready to grab the day by the scruff of the neck and truly make it yours. I have BBC news on in the background throughout the morning whilst I enjoy my morning brew and get myself freshened up. I am always online by 07:30, news still on, and ease in to the day with a few light emails & follow ups from the previous days activities which I might not have had the chance to pick up before logging off. At 08:00 I make a fresh fruit smoothie to have at my desk and have a bowl of cereal (Special K). Surprisingly this breakfast never seems to get boring even though I use the same blend of fresh fruit every time! At 08:30 my first internal conference call begins and by 09:00 I am getting stuck in to my to do list and calls for the day. I appreciate this might not be the formula for everyone, but having a routine that you stick to definitely helps kick start the day physically and mentally.

Organisation

I will be the first to admit, and those who know me will consider this an understatement, but I am a little OCD and hate being disorganized. Being organized is a really crucial part of effective home working, as is ensuring that you take regular breaks from your desk (I’ll come on to that separately). Being slightly traditional I keep a “to do” list which is made each Monday morning for the week, and daily for key tasks. This helps to keep the mind focused, however for those slightly more modern & tech minded you can block out times in your Outlook calendar, though this does make you time bound and you will inevitably find that you’re shuffling things along on a daily basis. A tip for “to do” lists is you can come up with a system that helps you to prioritize your tasks. I use the 1-2-3 system, with 1 being the most important and 3 being the least. Simply go through your “to do” list and put the relevant number next to each task. Tackle your 1’s first, then 2’s, then 3’s. You might find that the 3’s don’t get done for a few days so revisit the list regularly and change your priorities accordingly. If you do this properly you shouldn’t have any 1’s left uncovered by the end of the day and if you do, it’s because you’ve got too many 1’s and need to reflect on differentiating important & urgent.

Communication

As human beings we are social creatures and the feeling of isolation can feel quite lonely which can impact our mindset and in turn productivity, not to mention mental well-being. During these times where we cannot connect face to face it’s important that we utilize the technology around us to make our communications as personable as possible. Ensure you speak to colleagues every day, not even necessarily just about work matters, but socially whilst making a brew or before your lunchtime sandwich. Sharing your experiences is so important, as is supporting each other. When communicating with clients/partners/prospective clients try to use web-conference software or video call software such as Skype or Zoom (which is brilliant and what we use internally) with the camera ON. Nobody likes to be on camera (I feel particularly uncomfortable seeing myself on screen!), but it brings a human element which is otherwise missing and the traction/engagement you’ll achieve by doing this far outweighs that of a phone call. I have absolutely loved seeing people making things work this week with pets interfering with meetings or kids in the background really putting a smile on my face. Never underestimate the impact of visual connection and having the ability to smile and wave. In summary you aren’t alone so make sure you reach out and have conversations each and every day.

Take Breaks

Not only is it really important to take regular breaks from your work it’s important to find something active to do to keep your body and mind stimulated throughout the day, particularly when home working for several days consecutively as is the case for many at the moment. I start my day with some stretches/lunging exercises which were given to me by my physio which I find really good. You should be taking a break of around 15-20 minutes in the middle of the morning and afternoon and ensure you take a full lunch break of an hour. At lunchtime make sure that you get outside for a while to take in some fresh air, maybe even have a run if you’re more enthusiastic than I am! Walking works for me. Living in the centre of Manchester I like to take a 30-40 minute walk after inhaling a sandwich and have numerous different routes, my favorite being to Deansgate locks around the canals where I can smell the water and the trees. During my afternoon break I like to do little bits of housework with the radio on in the background (usually capital). I find it an amazing way of setting myself up for the final couple of hours and usually plan in my mind what I want to achieve from the remaining time back at my desk. It has the added bonus of reducing the amount of housework I need to do at the weekends!

Mindset

Positive mindset is important in all elements of life for our own well-being, but really important for home working when we can at times feel somewhat isolated. I hope that the above have given some pointers as to what works for me. The right structure coupled with a positive mindset is what will deliver the maximum results when home working. We are facing extraordinary and challenging times right now, never has it been more important to be there for each other and take reflection of the positives in our lives. I keep reminding myself of these things every day.

  • I am very fortunate to work for a company fully understanding of the challenges posed by the global pandemic and supportive of me. Many people aren’t fortunate enough to be able to work from home and have been laid off or placed on furlough so I am lucky to be able to continue to work and earn my full salary.
  • By being at home I am safe and able to take advantage of my daily exercise outing afforded under UK Government instructions.
  • By working from home I am helping the NHS and saving lives. Workers of the NHS are national heros putting themselves at risk to help others and fight this virus, the least I can do is my part by being at home.
  • I am not alone. My colleagues are only a phone call away and I can continue to meet with partners through zoom video conferencing. I will ensure that I have communication with people each and every day. I can still achieve everything that I want to in my role for my company.

Every day that passes, and every day that we adhere to the measures imposed on us by Government we take a step closer to resuming normal life and are supporting the fight against Coronavirus. I cannot wait to be back attending events and meeting with my network.

Stay safe, stay home, support our NHS, save lives.