Tips from 20 years of working from home

In these unprecedented, turbulent times, millions of people are suddenly having to work remotely from home full time. So I thought it was useful to share some tips from the twenty or so years I’ve been ‘teleworking’, having built the brandgym from the start as a ‘virtual’ business. We’ve never had any fixed offices, with all brandgym partners (now 9 of us) working from home offices.

1. Create a daily and weekly work routine

People often ask me how I manage to work from home and get anything done. “Don’t you spend the day making endless cups of coffee and watching sport on TV!” they enquire.

I find that having a clear structure to your day and your week really helps you be productive and avoid the hours and days just merging into one. For me, I’ve always got up and had breakfast with my daughters before they head off to school at 7.45am, and then started work at around 8.15am, with a break for lunch at around 1pm with Mrs Taylor (another home worker) and a finish at around 6.30pm.

And each week, I plan in regular routines (e.g. a weekly planning call with brandgym group partner David Nichols; yoga class) that give shape to my schedule (see below). This means that whether I have meetings or not booked in, I start the week with some sort of plan.

2. Create a proper, separate office space

It’s hard to be productive if you have a cramped space with constant interruptions and family ‘mess’ around you. You’re going to need a separate working space, I suggest.

In the short term, this can be a spare room, which is the approach I used until a couple of years ago. If you think home-working might be a longer term option, you might want to consider investing in a separate office space, as most brandgym partners have done, such as a garden office.

3. Shared team values, principles and tools

brandgym partners work from bases in London, Amsterdam, Bangalore, Mexico City and Buenos Aries, yet we manage to feel act like a single global team. Key to this is having a shared set of values and working principles and tools. In our case, we have a shared toolkit for brand strategy projects, captured in the brandgym series of books and brought to life as well in these blogposts. This makes it much easier to collaborate on projects together.

We have also become used to sharing ideas and getting feedback from one another, even though we have never sat together in an office. We do this via email, WhatsApp and video calls.

4. Create regular team check-ins

When you’re working virtually, you need to ensure team members stay connected and feel a sense of unity and shared direction. In our case, we have partner calls every couple of months to share best practice and discuss plans for the coming months. Depending on the type of work and nature of your team, you may need to organise these on a more regular basis, such as weekly or bi-weekly.

5. Invest in a a good video meeting platform 

We’ve tried several video calling platforms and found Zoom to be the easiest to use. And once you get the hang of it, it’s amazing what you can do using this technology. For example, we’ve done and won pitches for massive projects in South Africa using Zoom against much bigger, Joburg-based agencies who were presenting in person. And we’ve been designing and facilitating ‘virtual brand workshops’ for many years.

6. Celebrate the upsides of virtual working

Having everyone working from home won’t be easy for many companies, and there are some downsides, such as the lack of informal, social interaction at work. However, there are also plenty of upsides.

I save roughly 10 hours a week of commuting time per week, equivalent to about an extra day. So, since starting the brandgym that’s almost three full years of time saved!

And make the most of precious opportunities to spend time with your family, especially your kids if you have them. One of the single biggest benefits of leaving corporate life to start the brandgym has been having breakfast with my three girls, taking them to school when they were little and being able to attend school events such as sports days.

7. Dress for work!

This final tip sounds trivial. And maybe it’s a personal thing. But I do find it helps to be more productive if you dress for work, rather than trying to work in your pyjamas!