For Debra Smith, IP Ability committee member and patent attorney at her own company, Mayfin IP Limited, working remotely is no new thing. Living with Multiple Sclerosis, Debra has found remote working key to enabling her to have the set-up she needs to work effectively. Now that working from home has been thrust unexpectedly upon so many IP professionals, Debra shares her personal insights into making a success of it. She also treats us to some useful insights into coping with “self-isolation”.
Getting it right for you
Whilst carrying out some research for this article, I came to realise that I have actually worked remotely in two very different scenarios. I first started working remotely 2–3 days per week whilst employed for a very large, global packaging company back in June 2010. This is important, because my employer had the foresight and finance available to be able to set me up with a VPN connection to their internal IT resources and make sure that I had a duplicate of my work office set up in my home — ie duplicate computer, screen, desk, chair and printer/fax/scanner. The second part of my experience working remotely comes from a very different angle, working for my own tiny company with very little/no back-up support. However, these two different environments are connected in some ways, with the former really helping me to iron out some of the issues that I would face in the latter.
I have also recently spoken with people who have even more experience than me with, and also a totally different approach to, working from home. In some areas we are very different, but we all agree on the importance of still managing to have a good healthy work/life balance. No approach is right or wrong, the important thing is that you do the right thing for you.
Where we all agree:
Everyone needs to organise their day, so that it doesn’t end up revolving purely around work. We all need time to relax, eat and drink regularly, take regular exercise and interact with other people. Time and “watching the clock” becomes less important than achieving particular goals. How we decide to achieve these things can be very different and no one approach is right for everyone. It’s also very important to keep in mind the positives rather than dwelling upon things that we cannot change.
This is the option that I adopt, as it best fits my lifestyle. At the start of each week, I decide the following:
- Manage your time effectively. What appointments do I have with other people and do these have to take place at a fixed time, or can I agree a mutually agreeable time with the other people involved? For me, a key benefit of working remotely is that I can try to make best use of the different time zones in which other people work. Where I am using third-party, online resources, such as online filing of documents, I can arrange to do this at the times when they are least heavily loaded. For example, I often file documents with European authorities in the evening and with US authorities in the morning.
- Tackle the day in a way that suits your body clock. Getting enough sleep, drink and healthy food is vital. However I don’t necessarily keep a set time for waking up, going to bed, eating, drinking or doing exercise. I prefer to manage my day depending upon how I am feeling. Generally, I prefer to do work requiring concentration in the morning or early afternoon and more mundane or repetitive tasks in the afternoon, when I am beginning to get tired. However, many people naturally have a different preference and prefer to do work requiring concentration in the afternoon or evening and spend the mornings catching up with what’s been going on.
- Always try to get dressed and don’t just “live” in your pyjamas! I choose to wear clothing appropriate for the activity that I am going to be doing. So if I am meeting face-to-face then I dress in a suit. However, if I am going to be only seeing people via video conference, I always choose to wear comfortable trousers (leggings or tracksuit bottoms) and shoes (usually trainers) with a “professional”-style jacket and top, shirt or blouse. If I have a day when I am unlikely to be meeting with anyone, I prefer to wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
- Maintain your usual schedule (as you would at work). Some people find that it helps their focus to keep a fixed routine. If this is you, set your alarm and get up at the same time every work day. Stop for a tea/coffee break mid-morning and eat lunch at a fixed time too. Decide a time when you will stop work and change to your personal time, whether that is doing a hobby, looking after family, or simply cooking and eating your dinner. If necessary, you can always do some more work in the evening (particularly thinking of the different time zones of your friends and colleagues, ie, it may be appropriate to do some work in the evening if you are dealing with people in the US). Take a break at the weekends as normal. Finally, go to bed at your normal time each day and try to get plenty of sleep.
- Always be ready to change into “work clothes”. Wear smart trousers or skirt and top or blouse/shirt, and keep a jacket to hand even if you do not wear it all the time. Wear comfortable shoes or slippers, but have more formal work shoes close by to change into when you have to go out.
From remoteness to isolation
When I initially agreed to write this article, it was very much intended to focus upon those of us who “work remotely”. However, as recent events have unfolded the number of people who are now working remotely has increased dramatically and for many this is a challenging and stressful time. I am one of the few people who has been remote working for many years and although the current self-isolation procedures for non-key workers have affected my day-to-day life, my working life is pretty much unchanged. However, my reasons for switching to remote working several years ago were health-related, and therefore I have also often been in a situation of having to be isolated from others. This also puts me in the unique position of having a few tips about how one can “self-isolate” successfully, so please indulge me with this postscript.
Self-isolation – some unsolicited tips and advice
- Keep positive and remind yourself of good times without dwelling on past failures.
- Support your local, small shops and use online shopping (if you can get a slot) for your main food requirements.
- Stay in touch with other people in whatever way you can – via telephone, social media, video-conferencing, Skype or even just by e-mail.
- Read, knit, draw, paint, watch films and/or TV programmes (I find comedy programmes always lighten my mood).
- Learn something new about the work you do and the many different possibilities that you may not have considered before – there are loads of resources online so take a look at all the things that are available from your local institutes, lots of Patent Offices as well as foreign associates. Try out some of the new techniques. (I call this “playing” – it isn’t time-limited, no pressure, sometimes I find some great new resources and it is fun!)
- Teach someone else any skill that you have – it can be very rewarding.
- Learn something completely new that you had never considered or had the time for before.
- Get outside if the weather is good and you are lucky enough to have a garden or some other outdoor space.