The world is a scary place at the moment. At the time of writing, we are in the middle of April and the government are to announce plans to extend a lockdown for at least another three weeks. Working from home has now become a normality and reality for most people (that is, those who still have jobs). Despite the initial thrill and appeal of working from home (woo, PJs all day!) the novelty may have worn off. But, as is the case with being a PA, the job is often unpredictable, even when working from home. Below are 5 top tips to ensure productivity is reached while working from home
Still treat a weekday as a working day
Routine is absolutely key to being productive in a lockdown. As easy as it is to go to the sofa and endlessly watch T.V., treat it as a 9 to 5 or your usual working hours. Set your alarm, ensure you are at your desk at 8:30/9:00 as you usually would be.
Make a list of things to do each day
One of the most valuable skills I have learned since being a PA is making lists (this is coming from a person who used to laugh at people who made lists – how people change!) Each morning, as I browse my emails (and, crucially, before replying to any) I make a list of things that need to be done for that day. Then, this is sometimes the hardest bit, prioritise. What needs to be done within the next 10 minutes? Can it wait? Does this need an urgent reply? This strategy can be used both at work and in your everyday life, particularly household tasks, shopping and exercise. In giving yourself things to do, you will end the day feeling very productive indeed.
Ensure you have a ‘work space’ and a ‘non-work space‘
This is harder for those who lived in cramped urban flats, but try to allocate a time and place for work and a time and place for after work. For example, as tempting as it is to work from the sofa, allocate it as a place for you to relax after work. That way you won’t feel guilty when you’re on the sofa.
Take breaks outdoors
Just as you would take a break for lunch at regular work, ensure you are getting out and doing some sort of exercise that is in line with government guidelines. Not only is this important for our physical health, but also our mental health. In giving yourself a break and some fresh air, you can clear your mind and come back with more motivation and fresh eyes to work.
Speak to colleagues.
This is vital not only in ensuring tasks are met, but also ensuring you communicate with people. A PA’s job is all about communication and the transition of being with people all day to not seeing colleagues can be challenging. Schedule a weekly catch up with you team. Suggest a time where you talk about things unrelated to work, such as 15 minutes late Friday afternoon. A Pub Quiz is an excellent way to maintain team contact and, this is arguably the most important, have fun!
working, working from home, working virtually have all become aspirations that
many individuals aspire to achieve. This
way of working can be rewarding as long as you understand that there are some advantages,
some disadvantages and at times annoyances that will just niggle at you.
that your virtual work is successful, rewarding and most importantly productive,
you need to make some adjustments to your mental outlook, your idea of what
work is and the distinction between work and home.
home starts with excellent communications.
Communication with yourself, your surroundings, your home and those with
whom you share your home. Yes, that even
means the dog or cat.
What do we
mean by communication? What is communication? In its broadest sense, communication is getting
someone to do or act in a way you want them to. This communication can be in writing,
verbally or visual.
However, communication when working from home is the one area of our lives that is so easy to get wrong, with some devastating results. Let’s take a closer look at the communication.
single communique, there are six individual modalities that we must go through
to ensure that, that communique is appropriate to the audience we are
think about a pink elephant.
For me to
communicate this image of a pink elephant; I had to use two of the modalities
in what we call ‘The Communication Wheel’.
Preparation – had to make the decision of what it was I wanted you to think. I selected the topic of a pink elephant.
Transmission – For me to ask you to think of a pink elephant, I had to get you thinking of a Pink Elephant. As we are not a race of telepaths, I had to decide what kind of method communique I was going to use, to get you to think of the Pink Elephant. In this instance, I used the written word to say ‘Let’s think about a pink elephant’. I then used imagery to show you a picture of a Pink Elephant.
So far, I
have used two of the modalities of communication, written and visual. If you were in front of me, I might have used
a verbal instruction to think of the Pink Elephant.
This is when communication gets interesting, especially when working at home, because I no longer have any control over what happens next with my message of ‘Let’s think of a Pink Elephant’, I have just given you. This moves us nicely onto the next four modalities of communication which belong to you the reader:
Reception – Did you read or see what I asked to you do? Was I writing and using words that you understood? Did you know the language I used? Could you see the picture I placed within this document?
Understanding – Did you understand that I asked you to think of a Pink Elephant? This naturally presupposes that you know what the colour pink is and what an Elephant is! Was my instruction explicit enough for you to understand my request? I wanted you to think of something; I also wanted you to assign a colour to that object. I will assume, in this example, that you know what the colour pink is and what an elephant looks like. Did you accept my request?
Acceptance – Did you say to yourself; someone is asking me to think of something, that something is pink and in the form of an elephant?
Action – Did the image of a pink elephant pop into your head? If you thought of a Pink Elephant than you took Action. If on the other hand, you didn’t think of the Pink Elephant, then my communique to you was ineffective, and I used the wrong words or image to get you to think of the Pink Elephant.
Then what did you do? Did you accept my request, my communique to
think of a Pink Elephant, did you take action?
communication. The art of getting
thoughts from your head to someone else, to do something. This thought process generally takes milliseconds,
if you know or think you know what you are being asked to do.
When you are
asking someone to do something for you, you have control over two aspects of
that wheel the PREPARATION and TRANSMISSION after that the control of a
communique is out of your hands. A
communique can fail at any one of the above six steps. If my request was to think of a ‘Red Leaping
Camolopen’. What would happen then? A
Camolopen is a word that you have never seen before, and as such, something
that would have no idea how to visualise. Therefore, my communique would have failed.
Being a virtual worker or working from home, communication is one of the most important tools you have. It is the one tool you MUST master. It doesn’t matter if you are working virtually as part of a team, if you are a one-man-band, or work as a distant contractor. Communication with your team, your customers, or contracting team, you need to ensure that your communications are direct, to the point, and there are no areas of misunderstanding.
There are natural barriers to all forms of communication that are not linked to working from home. For example, if the person you are talking to uses a lot of anacronyms, or ‘business/industry jargon’ and you have no idea what they are talking about or what they are asking you do.
Face to face communication also has
issues, especially when you take personalities, confidence and credibility into
Telephone calls can be misunderstood
if the person on the other end of the telephone is only half listening to what
you are saying.
Emails can be very sort and to the
point, but the reader could take offence if you haven’t put in the necessities
like Dear Julie and go directly to ‘Get this job done asap’. This email could be seen as yelling at the
reader and instructing them to do something right now and you as then sender
don’t care about them or their feelings.
Once you have mastered your Communications when working from home, you could then set up a road map or stand of how you communicate to your colleagues, clients and line manager. This list is just a suggestion but find the that best suits you and your working environment.
To conclude, when you are working remotely, or working from home, or virtually bear in mind that your communications to your team, clients’ needs to be clear, you need to pay attention to what words and images you are using and what it is you are trying to communicate to the person receiving your communique.
It is easy
to half-listen; briefly read a request and think you understand what is being
asked of you and then go off at a tangent and get it completely wrong.
is also vitally important to that inner voice you have. That little voice that controls your
thoughts, your actions, and how you feel about yourself. There is not much point in telling the world
you are ‘the best thing going’ if that little voice keeps repeating back to you
“Yeah right, whom are you trying to kid!”. Take time in answering, writing or devising your
communications. Sit back and ask
yourself what it is I am trying to get across to people? Does this letter, article, blog, email, tweet,
text, image say precisely what it is you are trying to say?
body language, your attire portray the image you want to express? Just think of walking into a bank, how
comfortable would you be dealing with your financial matters to someone dressed
in ripped jeans, dyed hair, nose ring, torn t-shirt and a cigarette hanging out
of his or her mouth?
just as important as getting the correct message across to an audience, even if
that audience is an audience of one (A conversation). If I asked you name how many types of listening
there are, how would you do?
Most people will
name two. However, there are three types of listening I want you to pay
Passive Listening – This is half listening to what is being said to you. I am
sure you have practised this before, think of a time when your partner
has asked you to do or say something, and you didn’t do it. Not because you
were mean, but because you just didn’t remember. Listen out for the words ‘You never listen to
me?’ Passive Listening has its place when you are at home, and the kids are in
the garden playing. You are listening
out for any issues that may occur. However,
in the workplace, this isn’t as effective, especially if you have been given a
detailed task to complete.
Reflective Listening – This is a brilliant tool for Virtual working. Reflective
Listening is listening to a list of tasks that you have been asked to
complete and then repeating it back to the person who has given you the task
but in your own words.
For Example: The contract for the window cleaner is on the cabinet, next to my telephone on the right of my desk. Can you please collect it and post it back to the company and get the windows cleaned as soon as possible?
You want me to post the contract back to the window cleaners and get the windows done asap.
Here you are accepting what has been
said and using your own words to repeat back what has been reported to avoid
Active Listening – This is when you are paying complete and utter attention to what is being said. Nothing else matters the world could be falling around you, and you don’t take any notice.
When working virtually, you should engage your active listening
skills. Nothing else should be happening;
you are not putting the kettle on, emptying the dishwasher or eating your
lunch. You are listening to your work
colleague, client or employer.
As an aside, Active listening for 1 hour takes as much energy as a
3-hour A level maths exam. Next time you
attend a meeting with a minute take, bare that in mind!
Consistency has to be the by-word for Virtual
Workers. This is about maintaining your personal
standards of performance or behaviour when working away from the office and the
watchful eye of your line manager or client.
Consistency is bringing in a standard of performance
to your workload and ensuring that you keep to that standard all week/month or
through the entire project. We all know
someone who turns up at work on:
Monday – Determined to fly through their workload
Tuesday – Just as determined but slightly slower than yesterday
Wednesday – Longer coffee breaks creep in, but the workload
Thursday – Workload is done, but no passion/enthusiasm,
speed is slower
Friday – No work completed as the output for the week is
Your aim for being consistent should be that when you
start work on a Monday at 9 am full of enthusiasm and that enthusiasm is still
there at 5 pm on a Friday. A virtual
worker is judged on outcomes, not the number of hours sat in front of a
computer. The boss is not discreetly
watching you. They are making judgements
from your finished pieces of work.
Consistency comes from continuous improvement – looking
for ways in which tasks can be achieved more effectively and efficiently. Challenging the processes and norms the way
the team or organisation operates. This
way improvement across all areas helps strengthen the team working and output,
which in turn protects future development and employment.
Of all the resources we have at our disposal, time is the one which is
often the one that we say we do not have enough of. “I just run out of
time”, “it will take too long to achieve that task” and “there
are not enough hours in the day to do everything I have to do”. The perceived lack of time is not the sole
view of senior managers as it is for junior staff.
One constant in our working day is time. It never changes, although it
appears to slow down or speed up depending on our enjoyment of a task or not.
Another common reaction to the lack of time is it is others who are responsible
for us not having enough or adversely affecting how we manage our own time.
Everyone has responsibility for managing not only their time but the
time others require to get a task done. Setting deadlines that place others in
an impossible position is not good time management – its abdication or simply
put ‘passing the buck’.
Everyone has a responsibility to maintain standards and meet targets or
personal work objectives. Excellent organisational skills, problem-solving and
decision-making skills are fundamentally essential to time management. It is in
these areas the problems often lay, but we often simply blame poor time
management on an individual’s inability to get the job done quickly enough.
Speed is not always an option, but working efficiently as well as
effectively is what it is really about.
If you find you run out of time, you may need to look at the tasks you
Is the current task important in the grand scale of
the jobs at hand?
Can the task be delegated to someone else?
Is the task important right now?
Has your boss, line manager, client forgotten the
other task you have been requested to do for them?
Are you planning your time effectively? Are you
working SMART or just working?
Setting priorities is about deciding what must be done, not what should
be done as well as what will have the most significant impact – whether this is
positive or negative. Knowing how long your primary tasks take and how it may
affect others in the chain is essential.
Knowing which task is essential, not just for you bur for your boss,
your client or your business is vital.
There is no point planning a Christmas Dinner for the team in March when
the VAT is due in three days!
Everyone is in a chain of supply of some kind. Whether this is information or physical
activities – and each person in that chain plays a part in the achievement of
outputs. If someone at the start of the process takes too long, the loss of
time is multiplied by the time it gets to the last person.
This is essential but often overlooked because we believe if we dive
straight into a task, we will finish it quicker. In fact, poor planning usually
results in tasks being done again or corrected because they are completed
incorrectly. This is where we lose much of our time by rushing and not
preparing properly. We must challenge the process and be sure it will deliver
what is required. Just working more quickly is not the answer.
Some tasks cannot be planned if they are emergent in their nature. An
example of this could be reception or telephone answering. They do not know what the task is until the
phone rings. What they can do is have good working practices and processes in
place to deal with most types of calls. We all have some ‘downtime’ in which we
can identify what can be done in readiness for the next peak in a workflow.
If you can plan 60% of your day and leave the remain 40% of your time
for unexpected calls or clients, you are doing well.
Not everyone has a tidy approach to working. Often people with messy
desks, for instance, know exactly what they are doing, while those who have
neat and tidy desks are regarded as more organised. However, your working environment should be
conducive to your working methodology, if you are able to work with a messy
desk, that is fine, but if you can’t and get to distracted, organise your office,
yourself and then get on with the day’s work.
Being organised is about how an individual meets deadlines and targets
and how they make decisions about what is important or urgent. One useful thing
is to break down large tasks into ‘chunks’ each with a realistic target.
Sometimes when we do this, we will identify specific areas of a process
that will provide the biggest challenge.
We all work with others, or at least our work is affected by or affects
others. To be a good time, managers is about working with other people and
building relationships that complement each other’s needs. Before we request Action
from another person by a specific deadline, we must ask ourselves whether it is
reasonable, and we have presented our output correctly. It is not their
responsibility to correct our mistakes.
Delegation is not the sole domain of managers passing tasks downwards,
although the most common form of delegation. We can all delegate, whether
sideways to a colleague or upwards to a boss if we need help in getting a lot
of priority work completed on time. When under pressure the question, we must
ask ourselves is ‘who can help?’
Good time managers use others when the occasion arises. It may only be
to check out some information, make a phone call, deliver some work, share a
task or provide advice and guidance. It does not necessarily mean we pass a
complete task to another person, though this is an option. We must remember
that if the task is ours, we can only pass on the authority to do it but retain
the responsibility. Otherwise, this would be abdication.
Interruptions are inevitable but can be managed with assertive
behaviour, even from our close colleagues and friends. Excellent interpersonal
skills will help and most often, people will understand if approached firmly
We must learn to say ‘no’ and/or not take on the responsibility of
someone else’s decision making. The boss that places too many tasks on an
individual must be the one to decide what must be done and in what order. Every
job has a penalty if not completed. You may only have authority for certain
levels of work.
It is interesting to note that there are different types of work that
are done on anyone day. When working
from home, know what kind of work you are doing could help you to prioritise, plan,
become pro-active, organised and help you delegate to others and manage interruptions.
Core Work – Core work involves not only individual but also a shared
responsibility for meeting a business objective and carrying it out to an
agreed standard. These tasks are important to fulfilling an individual’s
primary work objectives.
Reactive Work – Reactive work is those that although related to an individual’s role
often occur with little, or no notice and generated from outside the person’s
immediate control. They are tasks that others request or instigate and have
timescales based on their needs. These tasks also include those of standing in
for colleagues or dealing with enquiries and problems.
Improvement Work – Improvement work is that which helps to improve the process of work
or develops staff. Such tasks can involve the reviewing of work processes, on
the job training, coaching, and making specific changes to the way things are
done. These tasks can fall outside of the job holder’s primary duties.
Incidental Work – Incidental work is where the job holder’s involvement is regarded as
necessary but in fact, serves no real benefit to them helping others solve
their problems, attending meetings for no apparent reason and spending time
discussing issues that do not concern them. Work can be sub-divided into types
Urgent and Important and both need to be fully considered when organising and
Urgent Work – This is work which must be completed by a specific time frame,
whether a time of day or date. It can also be tasks that need to be auctioned
at a required speed depending on its place in a chain of events or process of
Important Work – This is based on the seriousness of the consequences or implications for
others if it is not done. Maybe a task that enables someone else to achieve
theirs or one that has a financial implication.
Most people like to do a ‘To Do List’ to either guide them through a
busy period or simply to martial their thoughts and get some sense of order before
tackling the day’s business.
Unfortunately, this may only be a linear list in a random order, and
often we select those tasks we want to do first before those we should do next.
A Priority Grid could help to segregate tasks into groups and give a more holistic view of what needs to be done and in what order. This could be advantageous when working from home.
work is just as important as how you work.
If you have an extra room in the house that can easily be turned into an
office that is fantastic. Not many
people have extra space, so find a location that is suitable for the family. Where you won’t be disturbed and an area in
the house that you can close the door and say that ‘Works is done for the day’.
nothing worse than setting up an office on the dining room table and having to
remove the office every time you want to eat as a family. Keep your work area as work and your home
area as home, if at all possible.
office needs just as much space as you have in a regular office so be kind to
yourself, you will, on average spend 8 hours at ‘work’ it needs to be conducive
to produce your best work.
Be kind to
yourself when setting up the office, try not to hide in the corner or take conference
calls sitting on the stairs as there is nowhere else to sit. Don’t have your
computer camera facing your bed. It’s great that you are working, but we don’t need
to see your bedroom or your unmade bed.
People will be looking past you, and at the environment, you are living
and working in!
advantages to working Virtually. There
is the flexibility of deciding when you want to work and who with. It can be considered convenient, especially
if you have a disability or other personal commitments. You are in control of your day, your space. You won’t waste time sitting in a car, on a
bus or tube and can be extremely productive and focused, especially if you are
able to set your schedule.
But there are more disadvantages as well when you are working from home, and these should never be forgotten or deemed to be inconsequential. The problems can sometimes be more of a mental block but just as, if not more important when working on your own.
You are always at work and could find that you never leave your house, that can result in you become lonely and becoming disconnected from work.
You no longer have a place of rest, your home is now the workplace which can be very stressful
Distractions are increased with daily living and family just popping by
There is the Isolation, lack of social connection, a self-imposed ‘solitary confinement.’
No praise for the work you have done. Even when you have done an excellent job, you are now judged by the results you turn in and not the effort you are putting in.
You need to become Self-disciplined and a master of every office facility from the IT department to the cleaner
You can get bored with the task you are doing and do something more interesting, like the ironing.
Lack of collaboration and when you are stuck, you are stuck, there is no one there to help, and you can suffer burnout or
Proper tools for the job
Left out of discussions and feeling ignored
Lack of collaboration when working from home can result in a lack of solution thinking
Inconsistent, chaotic work pattern – starting work at 3 pm and finishing at midnight
Recommendations when Working from Home
Don’t work in your bedroom when you work from home if at all possible. The bedroom is for sleep and resting your brain. It should not be your office.
Create A schedule and stick to it. If you work 9-5 make sure you work 9-5. Then turn off the computer or telephone
Ensure your communication strategy is effective
Every now and then join a co-working space, so that you have the interaction with others and can meet people
Get out of the house, take an hour’s exercise. Do something so that you are not staring at those four walls – always
Schedule group chats with staff or co-workers or even clients
Take breaks from the computer, just as you would at work, step away from the computer and rest your eyes, have a glass of water to refresh your brain. Take a lunch break
Do some exercise, 10-star jumps, push-ups. Anything to get the blood pumping and your mind off your workload
Currently network online, when possible network in person, meet other businesses. Networking isn’t just about promoting your business; it’s about you are meeting other business people.
Working as a virtual worker, working from home as a PA Trainer and Publisher is one of the best jobs I have ever had. I like to control my hours, my schedule, and with whom I work.
It has given me the confidence to push my business
forward, to ensure that I am self-sufficient and that I am the master of my own
destiny. I have created systems that I use
and stick by that have worked for me and continue to work for me.
You can do it, just have faith that you know what you are doing, that you will find your way when you have made the decision to start working from home and that at the end of the day, work is work. Home is home and life does not mean that work is all-encompassing. Be kind to yourself when you work virtually and at home. You are doing your best, and if you can say honestly that you have worked to the best of your ability, that you couldn’t have done anything differently that you have been a successful virtual worker you have cracked this myth that working from home is hard or difficult. Julie Farmer
When we think of a Travel Consultant we think of big shiny offices or shops on the high street. The traditional Travel Consultant is changing and there are more opportunities to work from home. It truly is the age of the computer and internet.
What can a travel consultant do?
In essence, they make clients life easy by organising all their travel arrangements. This can be either for business or personal and both. Booking holidays, booking flights and hotels all takes time. A travel consultant takes this hassle away from the client. It will also mean that you will have to do some research into making the correct judgement and getting the right hotel booking and a good price.
It will also mean that you will have to do some research into making the correct judgement and getting the right hotel booking and a good price. Therefore understanding your client’s budget and personal requirements will be of vital importance. You could possibly have your client’s credit card details, so confidentiality and trustworthiness are essential. Discretion will also need to be undertaken.
It would be an advantage to have a list of local hotels and conference centres available in your area or create an approved suppliers list for your client’s.
There are some insurances that you will need to undertake with this type of job and training. However, there are franchises that you can purchase that will guide you through the process. This is an excellent way to get the backing of a larger organisation while still working for yourself at home.
Suggested Skill Requirements
A good understanding of clients’ needs. Knowing your client’s likes and dislikes would be an advantage, but through careful questions and open and honest discussions, you will be able to find out their exact requirements. You will need to be thorough and precise in what they want and what you can deliver.
Thinking on the spot
Organised. You need to know what is going on in your market. Knowing what offers are on in particular hotels and holiday resorts. Having a preferred list of hotels and taxi that you rely on will also be an advantage. Keeping records and a plan will be a must.
Flexibility. You will have to understand and know that business clients will change their minds and plans at the drop of a hat. You need to stay flexible at all times and work towards their time frames requirements.
Excellent IT skills. Keeping records and understanding how IT systems work will be a must. There are some websites for Travel Agents that may be useful for you to use.
Ability to work under pressure. Travel can be very stressful for some people, and they will rely on you to walk them through the process. If you are booking holidays, then remember that this is their only time off work and they have a dream that they are expecting you to provide.
Ability to work to tight deadlines. Knowing all deadlines will be of vital importance, and you will need to work to those deadlines and ensure that all subcontractors understand the time limits.
Research, digest, analyse and present material clearly. You will need to know your market inside out, make suggestions and help your clients make the right decisions for them. There will be some clients who know exactly what they want, but others will be relying on you to contribute to making those choices.
Excellent interpersonal skills. Understanding customer services is vital and speaking to them in a language that they understand and feel comfortable with is be an advantage.
In addition to the above you will also need to:
Honesty and reliability
Attention to detail
Discretion, understanding and confidentiality
Use of Word to create forms etc.
Further Reading if you want to work from home
In conclusion, you may like to find out what jobs you could do working from home from our book entitled ‘Jobs to do Working from Home‘ by Julie C Farmer.