By Mitchell Davis
2020 was a year of many new ‘unprecedented’ experiences for the entire population of the world. For those of us that were able to, working from home became the ‘new normal’ and for many, myself included, it has actually remained that way. According to research from Roy Morgan, 32% of working Australians (4.2 million people) were working from home in the March to June height of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Many people are predicting the working from home trend could continue long into the future.
I started working from home in March of 2019. If you work from home you will be familiar with comments from friends and family such as “That sounds amazing, you can wear whatever you want and watch Netflix all day”. The wearing what you want part is mostly accurate, but the slacking off from work just isn’t true (unless your goal is to get fired).
In recent months, I have come to really enjoy working from home and truly believe it makes me a better employee. I will explain why that is and explore the pros and cons of remote work to help you decide if working from home, or anywhere in the world, could benefit you too.
The real outcome that business leaders want to know is whether working from home makes their employees more productive. Paying staff wages is a massive portion of most organisation’s costs of business, so productivity levels have a massive effect on the bottom line and ultimately the profitability of running the business.
One school of thought that business owners subscribe to is that if the workers aren’t in an office setting being observed by managers, they will not be producing their best work. This kind of boss believes that there are too many distractions at home such as partners, children, housemates, TVs, or housework.
The truth is that no matter where you work there will be distractions. When you are working in an office setting, coworkers can walk up to your desk and interrupt you, there are phone calls happening all around you, watercooler chat, packages being delivered, and any number of noises to take your attention from your task.
Being easily distracted is something that an employee needs to work on internally. I don’t think there was a year during my school life where I wasn’t described as easily distracted. Whether I am working in an office setting or from home, my attention is not hard to grab. This is something that I have really had to work at. I utilise the focus mode on my phone to stop unnecessary notifications and consciously notice when my eyes wander from my screen and make sure to stay focused on the task at hand.
I personally find working from home more productive than working in an office as it is much more clear when I am being distracted from my work. In an office setting, a casual chat with a coworker can feel like you are staying ‘busy’ but in most cases, it is definitely not productive.
When I work from home, there is no point in merely staying busy as no one is there to see it. I have to stay productive as it is the outcomes of my work that are noted and measured rather than just showing up somewhere for a certain amount of hours a day.
Working in a marketing agency setting means tracking my hours is still vital as we need to meet the commitments of our billable hours for all of our clients. My time is tracked via an app called Harvest, and the outcomes of my work are checked to ensure that the time I am attributing to clients is accurate and efficient.
I’m sure you are well aware of the endless distractions that technology can distract us with throughout the day. Apps and websites are specially designed to keep you coming back time and time again and have sophisticated design elements in place to ensure they maximise the time of each visit.
In order to maximise my productivity, I will put my phone into ‘work mode’ where only a select few apps are able to accessed or send notifications. This helps to eliminate all of the other notifications that can wait until I take a break of finish work for the day.
Another useful way to use technology to your advantage is to utilise the sharing features offered by Google. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are able to be shared among a team of people, who can all access and edit the same document in the cloud and it is automatically saved as you go. No need to save multiple versions of Word docs anymore.
Google also lets you share your calendar with colleagues, which is something that we utilise at Dragonfly Marketing. I share my calendar with Jane and Ellie, who can also see my calendar so we are able to check and see if it is more appropriate to call or send an email if something urgent comes up. It also helps when you are booking meetings as you can see the availability of team members without having to call and ask.
With the lockdowns that were a result of COVID-19, a lot of in-person events were cancelled and online solutions were offered instead. When I have spoken to people who were remote working pre-COVID, they say that one of the downsides was not being able to access a variety of training and networking events.
This all changed during the pandemic. Being based in regional NSW, I arguably have greater access to training, mentoring, and networking opportunities than I ever had access to before.
If I did want to attend events I had to travel to Sydney and pay for flights, accommodation, and food. Now I just open a new tab on my computer and I am ready to go. Many of these events have actually become cheaper to attend too due to the fact that there is no venue hire or catering included in the cost of the ticket.
The way that I ended up getting my job here at Dragonfly Marketing was actually thanks to a mentoring program through the Australian Marketing Institute. The mentoring program was being offered in a digital capacity for all attendees Australia wide, meaning I was able to be involved. Without this event being online, I may have never seen advertising for it due to not being based in their main target market of the metro areas.
One of the most important aspects of being able to successfully work from home is setting a good routine. It can be easy to lap up the freedom and work at all different hours of the day and leave things to the evening if you are not feeling in your best working headspace during the day but I personally have found that this doesn’t work for me.
As part of a routine, I think it is really important to allow time to talk to your work colleagues about things other than work for at least 15-30 minutes a week. This can be over a Friday evening Zoom with a drink in hand, or a Monday morning chat about the weekend before discussing what work you have on for the week. This can help make up for the connections that would otherwise be made if you were working together in an office.
I like to start work before 8:30am and enjoy taking a full hour for lunch so that I can eat and still have some time to enjoy reading a chapter of a book, going for a quick walk, or laying in my hammock to reset ready for the afternoon.
Other than these specific things, I just try to complete as much of my work as possible before 5pm so that I don’t have to do too much in the evening. One of the downsides of working from home can be the loneliness and isolation so I fill my evenings with soccer training, going to the gym, or catching up with family and friends to ensure I maintain a social life.
This is something that will definitely change based on how you work best. Some people like to work early in the morning or late at night because there are fewer distractions for them and they can get into a flow state much easier. If you work better during these hours, just ensure that you make time during the day to be able to call or email people who work the more mainstream nine to five day.
I have always been lucky to live in regional Australia. I have never had to drive more than 15 minutes to get to a place of work. However, I am aware that for a large percentage of city workers, working from home has been refreshing as they have not had to commute to and from work. This has meant that many employees have had more time to spend with their families, pick up hobbies, or just sleep more. The positive effects that this will have on these employees’ mental and physical health are far from trivial, and will most likely improve their work performance as an added benefit.
Another part of my routine that may sound unimportant is that I enjoy getting take away from my favourite restaurant every Friday night, as it subconsciously signals to me that it is the weekend and helps me to switch work mode off and enjoy my weekend fully.
So now you have a small insight into what it is like to work remotely. It is something that takes practice and dedication to get right, but I believe that it can be enjoyable if you make the effort to set yourself up for success.
Will working from home continue to be the ‘new normal’ for the 32% of Australians who got to try it during lockdown?
Personally, I think it depends on the companies having the right processes and procedures in place to ensure their employees can succeed in their roles while working from home. If employees can’t be trusted to take personal responsibility and a company is built on a culture of poor communication then working from home arrangements probably won’t last long.
For companies that do get it right, I think a blended arrangement is sensible. Working from home three days a week would allow for enough productivity and freedom, with a couple of days in the office a week to collaborate, share ideas, and have meetings. I think (and hope) this is what the future of work will look like, but be sure to let me know what you think too!