Remote working: tips, tricks and anecdotes from the IFLR team

Author: Lizzie Meager | Published: 24 Mar 2020
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For the vast majority of us, business is far from usual at the moment. So as law firms, banks and companies around the world adjust to this new remote-working normal, the IFLR team - along with a number of editorial advisors and contacts - share their best tips, tricks and anecdotes for working from home effectively.

Lizzie Meager, managing editor, IFLR & Practice Insight

I swear by the Pomodoro technique: set a timer for 25 minutes of deep concentration; you’ll be surprised by how quickly it goes. When it beeps set another timer for five minutes of mindless scrolling or staring out the window. Repeat until all your tasks are finished. It works best for big chunks of work, and the timer being visible is important - try keeping it in a small window in the corner of your computer screen.

James Wilson, commercial projects editor, IFLR

It's difficult to maintain professionality when you're in your house in your home clothes, where you'd normally be totally informal. I find I have to catch myself from being too informal. There are loads of benefits of working from home - personally, productivity is one - but work isn't home, and vice versa. You have to be very conscious of that difference.

It also takes practice to be well set up; something I learnt the hard way a few years ago while working remotely in Cape Town. I was staying with friends and researching Africa for the IFLR1000 at the time. I routed all my calls through Skype, which I had to keep topped up. I also had to keep internet data topped up by going to a supermarket to buy the data. I had a headset for calls. My friends had a pet rabbit that would hop around everywhere, including up onto the sofa where I worked.

One day, in the middle of a research call with a law firm, the line suddenly went dead mid-sentence. I looked around, checked the data, checked Skype, double-checked the internet, then pulled up the loose cord of my headset. The rabbit had eaten clean through it. I had to get up, run out the house, run two blocks to the computer shop, buy a new headset and run back - where I dialled back in to resume the call. And there were droppings all over the sofa.

John Crabb, Americas editor, IFLR & Practice Insight

As someone who works at home fairly regularly - and has spent the majority of this year working from various AirBnBs across South America - this situation hasn’t come as too much of a shock to the system.

Trying to emulate the office scenario you’re used to as closely as possible is important. I have a large desk with a monitor and a mouse and keyboard that plug into a USB extension. Plugging in every morning feels almost exactly the same as it does in the office, which is psychologically important for me. It's tempting to lie on the sofa with the TV on, but your productivity will definitely suffer.

For me the biggest distraction is cleaning. To ensure a productive day of work I make sure my house is spotless in the evening, otherwise I could find myself organising things when I should be working.

Karry Lai, Asia reporter, IFLR

Living in Hong Kong SAR, I’ve been working from home since January. Training the mind to focus has been a big thing for me. I have a daily hiking and yoga practice. I also do an alternate nostril breathing technique (close one nostril, breathe through the other side in 10 counts, close other nostril, breathe out the other side in 10 counts). It helps me concentrate, reduce stress and clear the nasal system.

Sui-Jim Ho, partner, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and member of IFLR’s editorial board

One thing that I have already found very useful is video calls. In times like this, it’s all the more important to stay connected with each other. Seeing someone’s face can help us maintain some human connection when we are trying to observe social distancing.

Liam Sharkey, head of business development, IFLR & IFLR1000

My top tip would be to ignore the doorbell just before calls. I live in a fairly busy area and once opened the door one minute before a call to someone who was lost and her phone had run out of battery. I invited her in to charge her phone, but it was a bit distracting having a complete stranger sat in the corner facing the wall, listening to me discussing private equity lawyers in Florida for 20 minutes before she left without saying a word.

Also, don’t buy bread. I’m getting through five loaves a week at the moment.

Jimmie Franklin, EMEA reporter, IFLR

Having a routine has been helpful for me. Get up at the usual time, go out for a walk or a run, and make sure you take a lunch break and clearly structure your day. I’ve also found it helps to turn off my phone. I know it’s not possible for everyone, but it’s a great help with concentration if you’re not tempted to scroll through Twitter to find the latest headlines about the pandemic.

Bradley Rice, senior associate, Ashurst

While I was on a conference call last week I also did an English writing exercise and grammar and spelling test with my nine-year-old who’s suddenly very interested in what Daddy does for work - and no, unfortunately I don’t have a home office or spare room that doesn’t have junk in it or laundry drying that I can use to lock myself away in. Then my six-year-old wanted to colour in my birthday card he bought for me on Monday, then my two-year-old wanted to listen to Baby Shark and Raa Raa, while I sit and think about operational resilience.

These are strange, unprecedented times, but let’s be open and honest with everyone. If you want to do a conference call with me, great, but you might hear or see the kids. I’d prefer calls weren’t around 5-7pm as I’m taking the opportunity to eat with the family and read with the kids. Life goes on.

Roxanne Speight, head of subscriptions sales, IFLR

Taking the dog for a walk at 6.30am every day before the kids wake up has been a lifesaver. I try to view it as my commute - time to think about what I want to achieve and how I’m going to manage the day - and of course to get some fresh air.

Brie Lam, regulatory compliance consultant and member of Practice Insight’s editorial board

Firstly, invest in a comfortable home office chair. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in it. Next find a quiet space that will allow you to concentrate. It’s particularly challenging during this crisis as you may have spouses also working from home, perhaps with children too. Find the quietest space possible. Barring that, find a quality pair of earplugs - preferably the brightly coloured ones so your family knows you’re not ignoring them.

Use a phone headset for better call quality. I have been amazed at the number of colleagues who aren’t using headsets at home. They’re inexpensive; pick one up. And remember to always put your phone on mute when you’re not the speaker on a conference call. I’ve been on too many conference calls where judicious use of the mute button would have kept fellow conference call participants from hearing the dog barking or the baby crying.

I’ve also learnt how important our appearance still is. We certainly put time and effort into our in-person appearance in a business setting; on-camera appearance is just as important. When it comes to videoconferencing, make sure your lighting, webcam placement and backdrop are professional and polished. YouTube videos like this one can help you look your best on your videocalls.

Alice Tchernookova, reporter, Practice Insight

One thing I think is really important is defining your working space clearly. It helps me get into work mode. This is especially important if you're in isolation with your partner. Make sure you know where each of you plan to work and respect that. While it might feel nice at first to spend more time together, it's also important to have your own space and do your own thing.

Ruari Ewing, head of primary markets, International Capital Market Association

The main thing so far - apart from the need for a decent internet connection, ideally a spare room, and the required hardware - is learning to work as an entire group, both internally and externally, remotely. This has meant more stress on the existing functionality with certain people having to catch up, as well as reliability, and adopting and learning how to use new technology.

Discussion discipline is more important when we’re communicating virtually, so I would recommend extra emphasis on good initial curation and proposing starting ideas and structured agendas, rather than open questions.

Find more content like this in IFLR’s coronavirus hub.