Just like that, our homes also became our offices. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation is conducting a public consultation on remote working right now and the deadline for submissions from employers and employees is August 7.
So is remote working is here to stay? Two leading Munster business professionals who have been fielding questions on working from home (WFH) over the past few months believe the answer is yes.
Human resources specialist Caroline McEnery says it will also see householders designate key areas in their homes for work requirements.
Caroline, managing director of The HR Suite, usually divides her working week between Dublin and her native Kerry and her company has been assisting employers nationwide throughout the pandemic.
The biggest challenge she has found personally in this new WFH climate has been trying to separate work and home life. “I’m working from the dining room table, which isn’t easy!” she said.
It tallies with the key questions she and her team have received during and post-lockdown in relation to home office set-ups.
“There are two main queries. Firstly, managing the employees’ hours is proving challenging as they are so connected to their laptop and devices and the lack of separation means they are putting in much longer hours,” said Caroline.
“Secondly, how can we ensure the employees stay connected to the company culture; team ethos while working remotely.”
Longer-term, how will this affect interiors and homes? “Remote working is here to stay; it’s been the best thing to come out of this pandemic and will remain part of employees’ work patterns going forward — there will be most likely be a mix of both remote working and going to the office,” said Caroline.
“To meet employees’ ergonomic needs an area of the home will be designated as the office area with an appropriate desk and chair and lighting.”
As with most businesses, video conferencing has increased in recent times for The HR Suite.
“We use lots of different platforms for different purposes,” said Caroline. “We have webinars for huge groups up to 500 and we use Zoom and WebEx and Microsoft Teams for smaller group training; meetings and collaborative work.”
The burning question, how to make a dining room, kitchen, living room or bedroom look professional? “Remove anything that you wouldn’t want people from a work perspective to see,” said Caroline.
“For me, the most important aspect is ensuring I have the tech ready and a professional backdrop and comfortable ergonomically friendly desk and chair; we are all spending lots of time on video conferencing so it’s worth spending the time to get it right.
“You are showcasing your space; consider what you want to be visual that represents you and your personal brand as you would when you are going to any meeting.”
Sometimes life interrupts and Caroline agrees there can be funny moments on camera. “People, however, know that everyone’s trying to juggle life and remote working so there’s huge patience for this,” she added.
Munster-based marketing professional Evan Mangan has discovered many of his clients have responded positively to working and embarking on training courses from home. Evan, based in Killorglin, Co Kerry, was previously head of Direct Marketing at BT and Head of European Marketing for Yahoo! Mobile.
He is founder of The Marketing Crowd, which provides digital marketing training on behalf of many organisations including seven Local Enterprise Offices. “The feedback I constantly hear from people who are attending the courses that I deliver on behalf of Local Enterprise Offices is that they much prefer attending courses online via Zoom,” he told the Irish Examiner.
“There is less hassle, less time wasted travelling, it’s more convenient to just log in from home or the office or workplace and they can actually see things better than if they were in a large room.
“I expect that this is going to transform our industry in that people will be reluctant to go back to spending time travelling to a training venue — they will want to continue with the convenience of the live Zoom courses. “I can also foresee online training becoming more prevalent in the education sector.”
Even before the current climate, Evan was well accustomed to delivering advice via video meetings. “If you are going to be actively participating as opposed to just listening, ensure that your background looks professional, you have good lighting and a microphone. Test that you are happy with all three things by starting your own Zoom meeting (to see how things look and sound) before joining the main meeting,” he said.
Must-haves Evan recommends in the Zoom era are a good microphone, light, camera and background. “Find a corner of a room and set it up so that at a moment’s notice it looks good and this is your go-to place for anything Zoom-related,” said Evan.
How do you make a cluttered space look good? “Find a corner of a room and declutter it! Choose an area in your home or workplace and rearrange it specifically for taking or delivering video conference calls,” said Evan.
“Be mindful of your background-— try and avoid having a door or a window behind you. A plain wall works best as you can hang prints to provide a relevant or eye-catching background. A bookcase in the background can work well too.
“Once you have created your space it’s very important to adjust your camera focus so that only the designated, de-cluttered area is in focus on the webcam.”
If you want to look and sound professional you need a microphone, added Evan. “The inbuilt microphones on webcams aren’t great and people won’t want to listen to you for too long. I recommend Rode microphones and you can get excellent ones for around €50,” he said.
“You need to be well lit and ideally have the light shining slightly downwards. You can get an excellent 18-inch Ring light by Neewer for around €80,” he said.
“The background should look professional and interesting. I had some large canvases printed with various images that represent my business or the topic I am providing the training on and I use them as the background on Zoom calls. I change them around depending on what topic I am covering.
“If you use the in-built camera on the laptop then the angle isn’t great as you tend to be looking down and it can also be too close to you.
“Try moving the laptop around four feet away and put it on top of a box so it is slightly above eye level (or buy an external webcam — Logitech are good — which would have a much sharper resolution than the in-built camera) and place it four feet away slightly above eye level) as it is a better angle for you to be viewed at.”
Evan’s business “has moved 100%” to video conferencing, he added. “I use Zoom because I find it very user-friendly and hassle-free for people to join meetings,” said Evan.
“It has great functionality and makes it easy to toggle between demonstrating videos, web pages and smartphone apps whilst delivering presentation-style PowerPoint slides. It also allows me to ask participants questions through interactive polls and I can share the results with the group instantly.”