This morning, I received an e-mail from Timo Rein. It happens quite often that I receive messages from people I don’t know, but a message from the CEO is not very common. Timo is the CEO of Pipedrive, the CRM system we use at Viadesk. A convenient tool. He tells us that his employees are working from home this week because of the corona virus and explains how they can continue to provide their customers with optimal service. Timo starts his email with hoping “this note finds you safe and well”. This may sound a bit dramatic, but I like the intention of his message: to inform and support customers in times of crisis. In this context, I would like to make a small contribution and write about working from home and the challenges it brings for employees and companies.
First, a few numbers. The number of employees who (occasionally) work from home has increased from 2.8 million in 2013 to 3.3 million in 2018. According to the current figures of the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics CBS, this is 37 percent of the active working population. The largest group among them are employees who occasionally work from home (2 million). Working from home is particularly popular in the Netherlands in areas where employees have to travel long distances to get to the office. In the Amsterdam, Gooi and Vecht regions and in Utrecht, for example, almost half of the employees are said to use their home as office from time to time. So the concept has already become relatively well established.
The Netherlands is the European leader in remote work from home according to Eurostat figures. This is not only due to the large number of self-employed people (1 million), but also due to the fact that more and more companies are giving their employees the choice of working from home or in the office. Another reason may be that the Internet in the Netherlands is very fast and that almost everyone has a smartphone, laptop or computer.
For a good home-based office, however, you need more than just a device. In addition to a good Internet connection, you also need technology that allows you to work from home. Examples include the use of apps and tools for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and communication. Clever systems that organize processes and, for example, enable (shared) editing of documents in the cloud. You can read more about this in the last part of this blog.
The immediate need to work from home is not new. On 11 October 2017, the Dutch Transport Authority recommended that Rijkswaterstaat switch to remote work from home due to the expected snowfall. In 2011, after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima numerous Japanese stayed at home to avoid exposure to radioactive radiation. In Japan – where remote work was almost unknown – this was the impetus for a cultural change. Although a lot of experience has already been gained in the Netherlands with working from home, the corona virus has accelerated this process, which is causing many people headaches. As working from home, how does that actually work? I know that I cannot answer all questions, but the following tips are certainly helpful.
1. Working from home is not a vacation – Let’s start off on the right foot: Working from home is not a vacation! Even if it might feel that way. After all, you don’t have to get up that early to get caught in the traffic jam in the morning. Instead, you can get up at your leisure, clean your teeth and then drag yourself from your bed to the sofa. And before you know it, you’re sitting around in your pyjamas for eight hours. Believe me, it doesn’t work that way. So don’t forget that it’s a normal working day, even if the circumstances have changed.
2. Choose a suitable place to work – You can sit on the sofa, in the living room or in the garden when the weather is good. However, it is better to have a permanent workplace in the house, which should include a desk, a cupboard, a good chair, good lighting and a coffee machine nearby. Something like that. A place that the roommates also recognize as a workplace. If the door is closed, people work there.
II’m not really a fan of the “office in bed”. But the manufacturers of Bedchill have different views.
3. Beware of distractions – At home there are lots of unwanted distractions. The dishwasher still has to be emptied, the refrigerator is empty, the laundry basket is full, the garden door squeaks. My recommendation: Be strong and resist the distraction! And signal your roommates unmistakably: I am working! So reject all requests to just quickly mow the lawn or repair the leaking gutter, now that you are at home.
4. Divide the work into short sections – Even in the office you are often interrupted, from conferences to conversations at the coffee machine, lunch breaks, and calls from enthusiastic growth hackers. Distraction hurts, but variety is good! If you have kindly asked all your flatmates at home to leave you alone (see point 3), there is a risk that you will work too long without a break. This sounds like fantastic effort – music to the ears of your boss – but it is not good. Rather work in periods of 45 to 60 minutes. After that, you should relax for a while, get a cup of coffee or take the dog for a walk.This variety is good for quality, productivity, and your back.
5. Start the day with good planning – As much as you may resist distraction and try to bring variety to your day, the work does not do itself. At the office, the day usually has a clearer structure and a tighter schedule. Therefore, you should first make a plan for the day in the morning. Ask yourself what you want to do today, who you want to talk to, what documents you need, and so on. Make an overview so that you can make a realistic estimate of the time and effort required. By the way, did you know that you are more active and productive in the morning? If you find planning difficult, why not take the time management course offered by our partner Goodhabitz. Very handy!
And here too, practice makes perfect. Don’t worry, you can do it. Above all, don’t get discouraged by the constantly changing situation. Last week, I was the only one working at home, now my wife and the kids are here, too. That’s why I switched off my social media this morning, which makes for much less distraction. Only now and then I take a break and check my accounts. Caution by the way: Don’t snack too much during the breaks. The whole day with a full refrigerator full of delicious treats nearby is absolutely life threatening!
I also have some tips for employers to give them some orientation in these difficult times. With ways to organize working from home, and the right tools to do so. For today, I wish all of you wisdom, strength, and a good portion of solidarity.