As governments around the world struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses are urging employees to work from home. In the UK, for example, several big legal and accountancy firms have triggered emergency remote working plans as part of ongoing business continuity planning. With more businesses across sectors likely to follow suit, many finance and accounting professionals will find themselves as first-time telecommuters.
“Many people can find it a lonely way to work,” said Gerhard Hartman, vice-president, Medium Business at Sage Africa & Middle East, a provider of cloud business management solutions. “One of the major challenges that you will face if you are not accustomed to working from home is communicating effectively with others when you can’t just walk over to their desk and chat. It’s important to think about how you will keep the channels of communication open during this time.”
While technology firms such as Google, Microsoft, and Slack are now offering some of their tools for free to facilitate ongoing communication between remote teams, first-time telecommuters arguably have to think beyond technology and develop strategies to remain engaged, efficient, and inspired in their newfound isolation.
We spoke to productivity experts to pinpoint the essentials for first-time telecommuters.
Keep communication with colleagues flowing. “If you’re accustomed to a structured environment with a lot of management support, be sure to keep colleagues up to date about your progress and any roadblocks you are facing,” advised Sage’s Hartman. “When you’re not physically present, your manager won’t know if you’ve achieved something noteworthy or encountered a problem unless you put a virtual hand up to let them know.”
Create distraction-free workspaces. Erik Kruger, founder of The Mental Performance Lab, a coaching consultancy based in South Africa, said that it’s important to create comfortable, distraction-free spaces in which to work. Take proactive steps to enhance your home working environment, such as investing in a comfortable, ergonomic chair.
“If you can, try and switch up your environment and create different workspace options. For example, I recently bought a standing desk … and I frequently switch between this and my regular desk,” he said.
He also suggested allocating different spaces to the different types of work one is tasked with.
“For example, I do my core business-related work while sitting at my desk, and I do any other side-hustle tasks in a dedicated space in the lounge area.”
Dress as if you’re going to the office. “While it can be tempting to move from your bed to your desk in your pyjamas … don’t do this,” said Annemarie Lombard, Ph.D., founder of Sensory Intelligence Consulting, a South African consultancy focused on workplace health and wellbeing. “Brush your teeth, comb your hair, and dress as if you are going to the office. Your body and attire will prepare your mind for focused work.”
According to Lombard, this step is important because “the unsaid and unseen have great power in our output and attitude”.
Set clear personal boundaries. As a first-time telecommuter, you’ll need to set clear boundaries around your availability for your work colleagues and your family.
“Tell people what your usual working hours are, so that they know when to get in touch,” said Hartman. “And set clear rules for family, too. Use your calendar to schedule time for work and personal commitments.”
Anchor yourself to a balanced routine. “It’s really important that you also make time to disconnect, and make time for the people around you,” advised Kruger.
To achieve this, he said that first-time telecommuters should create some form of routine whereby you can “check in” and “check out” of the work that you’re doing.
“So, for example, give yourself a starting time in the morning, and a checkout time in the afternoon,” he said. “Once that is done, don’t go back to the work because it’s easy for work and your spare time to become one … as all of a sudden there’s no clear differentiation or boundary. Be very vigilant with this.”
Build stretch breaks into your day. “Sitting for hours and hours in your home office will have the same detrimental impact on your brain and focus levels as when you are at the office,” cautioned Lombard.
“To keep yourself alert, build stretch breaks into your home working day,” she said. “Using the ‘movement senses’ will improve your focus and attention levels … and help you to have longer periods of productivity.”
For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how management accountants can handle challenges related to the outbreak, visit FM’s coronavirus resources page.
— Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in South Africa. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.