WFH: make it work for you

Mark Robinson

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Years ago, before WFH even became an acronym, I was employed by a small technology company where everyone worked from home, apart from when we had to make necessary business trips to see clients. So home-working due to the arrival of the Coronavirus and the need to help prevent its spread is nothing new to me. Of course, in those days the technology was not what it is now. Communication was generally by phone, so we all had unlimited call packages with our respective phone companies, and we had to remember to finish and redial if the call lasted longer than an hour in order to avoid additional charges. Skype was a revelation when it arrived. Document sharing meant emailing changes back and forth and testing required the developer to email the code (zipped so Outlook wouldn’t quarantine it) to the tester…

My experience of working from home – or let’s call it WFH and bring me into the 2010’s – was largely positive. I was pretty disciplined and didn’t let myself get distracted, so I was productive. At the time my children were small so being able to be flexible about my working hours meant that I was usually available for the school run, sports days and school fairs, so I was lucky to be able to enjoy those. Not something that’s an advantage at the moment with the school closures of course…

My business trips were invariably long distance, either by train or plane, hence we were able to get by with just one car. In theory this meant we could save some money, but in practice we just bought a more expensive car. The lack of a daily commute effectively provided an extra hour a day, which I spread evenly between extra work or play time.

I became very friendly with the postman and delivery drivers once they realised there was almost always someone in our house, which is why we get excellent service from them to this day – one in particular will still redeliver almost any time we like. Of course, at busy times like Christmas our porch was full of other people’s parcels, but that did mean we got to know our neighbours a lot better too. And learn that some of them thought it entirely reasonable that you store their package for a week or so.

I recall feeling somewhat isolated at times, and I was fortunate to have my family in the house with me when I needed some human contact – though admittedly it’s hard to bounce ideas on the best way to model the cells in a  demo mobile network off a four-year old who really wants you to build him a train track.

The lack of face-to-face contact was a struggle occasionally, though of course today’s video conferencing through apps such as Teams does mitigate that in the main. However, nothing replaces being able to park yourself by someone’s desk and demand their attention; when remote it’s too easy to ignore emails or chat messages! You also miss out on those office conversations you overhear and become part of that can spark a great idea or help solve the problem you or a colleague has been fretting over.

Discipline is very important too. By that I mean disciplining ourselves to stop work, rather than falling into the trap of checking emails, replying to chat messages and finishing tasks off that if we were working in an office we’d probably leave and come back to the next day. And even with my almost fifteen years prior experience, I still catch myself doing that this time around.

So try and make the most of these strange times we’re living through, use the available technology to stay in contact and don’t be afraid to admit it can be difficult sometimes. I look foward to a face-to-face chat in the pub one day…

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