Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were around 1.5 million people already working from home, but now almost everyone else will have to do the same.
The situation becomes more challenging because, while lockdown measures are still in place, pubs, cafés and other public places are closed, you can’t simply pick up your laptop and take it anywhere to work – and you can’t go out or meet up with friends once you’re done with the workday either, which can lead to people feeling frustrated.
As contractor accountants, we know that working from home is not without its difficulties, even if you’ve done it before, so we’re offering some tips on how you can make the most of it and keep up productivity.
Dealing with Cabin Fever
This is probably one of the most popular complaints in people who find themselves stuck at home all day and night. Self-isolation is important to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but, while some people thrive on spending the days in pyjamas and avoiding their commute, others feel cooped up and experience cabin fever.
This means feeling bored, restless, anxious and even irritable, especially if you’re restricted in what you can actually do. For those who enjoy the freedom to go out for lunch or to walk around the neighbourhood to stretch their legs, the current climate can be disruptive to their productivity and even motivation.
Your daily routine may have now changed, but it’s still important to maintain social connections and to get some fresh air in order to avoid cabin fever. Keep in touch with other people via your mobile and the internet, from social media apps to Skype, which also allow video – this can make you feel less lonely as well. Even if it’s just a brief catch-up, your mind will benefit from talking to other people.
While social distancing is critical in combating the pandemic, the government has said that people can still go out, although with some rules in place. You can go shopping and you can exercise; even if you can’t stay out for very long (or go out as many times as you’d like), this still goes a long way to help you clear your head.
Structure Your Day
While the beauty of working from home is the flexibility to make your own hours, you should still have a semblance of a schedule. Choose the time to start and finish work that is most convenient for you but try your best to stick to it. This is because it’s easy to become distracted if you don’t have regular hours.
If you prefer to start work in the morning, get up early and finish early. It’s probably for the best if you can take some time for yourself in the morning before jumping straight into work, however, since going straight from the bed to the desk can be disconcerting.
If you are more productive in the evening, create a schedule that will reflect this. People with families will also want to create a structure that works from them while still maintaining a good work-life balance. If possible, keep up the same schedule you had before the coronavirus outbreak.
In addition, incorporate breaks into the schedule. Taking a break from work will help you to return with fresher eyes and a refreshed brain, allowing you to keep up productivity.
Get Ready as If to Leave the House
For some, spending the day in pyjamas is a big perk of working from home. For others, however, it is a big distraction that causes problems with discipline, as they associate loungewear or pyjamas with rest time and sleep.
If this is a concern of yours, a great way to get into a work mindset is to actually get dressed as if you were going out. You could also have a dedicated space for your work, be it a small desk, the armchair or the kitchen island – what’s important is that you have a space to go to work every day, which will further help you get into ‘work mode’.
Change Things Up a Little
Routine and structure are imperative, but this doesn’t mean you can’t make changes to the way you do your job. This is especially important if you’re feeling restless or tired of working in the same spot and want a change of scenery. Working at the coffee shop next door is not an option, but why not switch locations within your home?
If you have a balcony, set up your laptop there if the weather is nice. Some days, instead of working at a desk, work from the sofa or from the dining room table. You may even be able to work from your garden, which will prevent you from feeling cooped up between four walls.
What if You Have Kids at Home?
Now that schools and kindergarteners are closed, working from home becomes even more challenging for those with children; after all, many self-employed individuals who work from home don’t have the kids with them all day.
If you do find yourself having to work around the kids, it’s important to put boundaries in place. They should be aware of when you can’t be interrupted and when you can play with them or answer their questions. They should also know when they can’t be noisy or knock on your door, especially if you’re in meetings with clients.
The same goes for adults sharing your space too. Set ground rules that will help you to stay focused and that will allow everyone to know not to disturb you between certain hours.
To stay focused and productive when working from home, especially if you’re unable to exercise as usual, is to make sure you have comfortable furniture. Now is the time to invest in a good office chair, an ergonomic mouse and keyboard set and a large desk, if you have the space, so that you can be as comfortable as possible. Your back will thank you.
Getting up and stepping away from the screen every once in a while, even if for only a couple minutes, can help you to stay comfortable all day. If, on the other hand, you choose to work non-stop or barely take any breaks, and sit on a chair that is not every ergonomic, then it’s likely your productivity will suffer, since you’re in pain or discomfort.
When working from home, it can be tempting to catch up on chores, fold clothes or meal prep; however, if you’re not on a break, this should be avoided at all times. Trying to do several things at once will damage your productivity, so prepare everything you need ahead of time or do your laundry on your break. If you usually wouldn’t have the TV on in the background or wouldn’t constantly get up to get food from the fridge, chances are you shouldn’t be doing it now either.
Try to Avoid Checking the News All the Time
This can be a difficult one because there is always something happening. Still, you may want to avoid doing this, as it can be distracting. Checking during your breaks is fine but, when you’re working, try not to do anything that takes away focus from your job.
It’s good to be informed and it’s normal to be concerned about current events and how they’re affecting those close to you – however, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole once you start, mainly if you’re susceptible to distractions, so turn off any notifications and promise yourself to check the news only during lunch or after you’ve clocked out for the day.
Look After Your Mental Health
Many contractors and freelancers may be used to working from home, but no one is used to being quarantined. As you work throughout the day, you are focused on the jobs at hand but, once you finish your daily tasks, it’s easier for the reality of things to sink in.
You’re not able to go out and meet people, head down to the local pub for some live music or visit your family. And, while there’s some leeway in regard to leaving the house, you can’t socialise, spend time in your favourite locations or attend events.
For many people, especially those who aren’t much of a homebody, this can take a toll on their mood and state of mind – and even lead to depression. If you feel ‘stuck at home’ and have noticed that your mood is suffering, taking care of your mental health during these times is vital.
Go out (by yourself) for a daily walk and exercise at home, which is especially important if you’re sitting down at a computer all day. Eating well and drinking water are a must, and so are hobbies. Take this time at home to do something for yourself, from finishing that DIY project you’ve had an eye on to finally learning to speak another language.
Of course, keep connected with your co-workers, friends and family via phone, social media or video chat, so that you don’t feel isolated or lonely, which can harm not only your mental health but also your motivation and productivity.
How Will the World Look Once Everything is Back to Normal?
While the current situation still has no end in sight, it will not last forever. But, once everything has calmed down, how will employment look like for contractors? As limited company accountants (as well as sole trader accountants), we believe there could possibly be a surge in businesses wanting to hire contractors.
Many companies are now making cuts and they won’t be able to replace full-time employees in the future, since this can be costly. After all, if the virus has impacted a company in one way or another, it’s likely the business owner will want to keep costs down while trying to recover from the hit.
Hiring a contractor, then, is a great way to see that project completed or that role fulfilled without having the added expense of hiring an employee if times are still tough.
In addition, many businesses will be looking to prepare themselves for the event that the COVID-19 situation may happen again – or something similar capable of affecting the economy to this extent. A large number of employers were not ready for the measures that are now in place, such as ensuring that all work is done remotely. So, to future-proof their business, they may look to build a more flexible and self-sufficient workforce that can help them survive difficult times.
That can be achieved by hiring contractors and freelancers. Self-employed individuals are ready to go at any given moment; they can be hired for just a few months to complete an important task and require minimal training. This can save businesses time and money when it comes to hiring staff.
Working from home can be challenging in the current climate, but your productivity doesn’t have to suffer for it. Following our tips and making the most of your current situation will help you to get into the right mindset so you can continue delivering high-quality work for your clients.
The government has set up a Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which allows you to claim a taxable grant if you’re self-employed or a member of a partnership and have lost income due to the virus. We can answer any questions you may have about this scheme or any other government rule or regulation, so don’t hesitate to contact us today. We’ve been providing accounting for contractors for many years and will be more than happy to help, especially as we can talk to you over the phone or on a video call, whatever suits you best.