Covid-19 - better known as the coronavirus - has been the biggest talking point so far of 2020. Thousands of people worldwide have contracted the virus, dozens of large-scale events have been cancelled, and sales of the beer brand Corona have, bizarrely, taken a knock.
The mass media may be painting a picture of a world in crisis, but the advice from doctors and organised health bodies is clear: wash your hands with soap and water, keep an eye out for symptoms, and don’t panic. That said, it’s a little concerning so many members of the British public have seemingly fallen out of the habit of washing their hands when they leave the bathroom, but that’s a national conversation we can have after this has all blown over.
In the meantime, if you suspect you’ve contracted or if you have been diagnosed with coronavirus, the advice from the NHS is to self-quarantine for 14 days and work from home. For many people, the idea of working from home will be a foreign one - so, if you’re new to the wonderful world of working from home, here are some tips to help you make the most of your time.
Stick to set working hours
A lot of workers like to have a clear dividing line between work hours and leisure hours: when you get to the office at 8:30am, you’re in work-mode until you pack up and take off at 5pm. With the convenience of working from home, though, it’s all too easy to find yourself losing track of time, looking up from your laptop and seeing the streetlights come on.
The first and most important lesson for first-timers is to stick to well-defined working hours. If you usually work an 8:30am-5pm shift, try and abide by it. If you roll out of bed a little late and start working at 9am, then finish up at 5:30pm - flexibility is one of the best parts of working from home, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of your work/life balance.
Find a quiet room
Focus is key when you’re working from home. After all, the biscuit tin, the remote control, and even the washing up are all within reach, and they can all become very inviting when you’re working from home. If your family or flatmates are in, too, it can be even easier to find yourself getting distracted - especially around 3pm when the kids come home from school.
The best course of action is to find a quiet room to set yourself up in for the day and crack on with your work with minimal distractions. Wherever you decide to go, make sure your housemates know that this isn’t a day off for you - you’ve got work to do and you need time and space to focus and get things done.
If you’re looking to set up a more established home office while you’re working from home, check out our “How to set up a home office (without breaking the bank)” article for more information.
Don’t watch telly
Surrounded by all your worldly possessions, you may be tempted to bang on that boxset you’ve not gotten round to while you work, but this is one of the biggest pitfalls people can fall into when working from home.
Watching television is an active pastime: you need to focus on the dialogue and the storytelling to really get the full effect, but focusing on the TV means losing focus on your work. If you’re not one for working in deathly silence, though, swap the boxsets for albums and listen to some music instead. A lot of people find they work better with music in the background, and it’s a far more passive pastime than watching TV. You can focus on your work, and still enjoy something a little more soothing and interesting than the usual office chatter.
Understanding sick pay
The biggest point of concern for millions of contractors is whether they’ll be eligible for sick pay. ACAS have released advice for employers and employees when it comes to sick pay.
If you’re a PAYE employee and pay National Insurance Contributions, you’ll more than likely be covered by Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). If you’ve not officially been diagnosed but have instead been advised to self-quarantine to err on the side of caution, you will still be covered by SSP, which will also be available from Day 1 of your sick leave, rather than Day 4.
The government also announced that employees who need to be off work to care for those within the same household who have been told to self-isolate will also be eligible for SSP. In these circumstances, the normal ‘fit’ note will not be required by a GP - there will be a temporary alternative available from NHS111.
In the same budget, the government also announced that it would cover the SSP payments of all businesses with under 250 employees for up to 14 days per employee.
It gets a little more complicated for the self-employed and workers who earn below the Lower Earnings Limit, who generally speaking do not receive Statutory Sick Pay. The HR body, Chartered Institution for Personnel and Development, have called on the government to bring in protections and support for the near five million self-employed people in the UK who face going into self-quarantine for two weeks without sick pay.
In the 11th March budget 2020, the Chancellor announced “quicker and easier” access to Universal Credit for the self-employed and those working in the gig economy, as well as to ‘new style’ Employment and Support Allowance. The government will also be temporarily relaxing the requirements of the minimum income floor in Universal Credit for those directly affected or self-isolating according to government advice for the duration of the outbreak.
If you're self-employed, you can always look into getting yourself set up with Income Protection Insurance, which will replace a proportion of your lost earnings should you need to take a period of time off work. You can learn more about Income Protection in our “Everything you need to know about Income Protection Insurance” article. However, like any insurance, any new policy would not usually cover pre-existing conditions.
Want to make it permanent?
Despite the upheaval and stress that isolating yourself in response to the coronavirus can cause, you may find yourself enjoying the working from home lifestyle and now be wondering how to make it a permanent fixture.
If you’ve started to consider the benefits of going self-employed, we have a roster of articles to help you make your decision and get your new business venture up and running, including “13 things to consider before going freelance”, “How to register as self-employed”, and “Freelance on the side: what tax do I pay?”.
If you’re already self-employed, then make sure you’re claiming all the expenses you’re entitled to claim if you work from home.
You can also book a callback with one of our friendly advisors to discuss your options and get you set up as a Crunch client, giving you access to our team of expert client managers and our innovative online accountancy software.