With all agents now working from home and many experiencing teething problems in their new “offices”, Madeleine Barber gleans tips for success from those in the know – the homeworkers
While many agents across the country share reservations about working from home during the coronavirus crisis, there’s a large community of agents who choose to sell holidays from behind their front door year round. So, who better than to dish out advice on working from home for the first time than those who are already doing it every day? We catch up with three homeworkers to find out the best ways to manage everything from your at-home workspace to your mental health.
One of the biggest challenges of being based at home is finding a suitable workspace – your only option may be a kitchen table or a spare bedroom – but Travel Counsellor Eve Moir says it doesn’t necessarily matter which room you choose, as long as you can shut the door.
“This is so that you can get up, get dressed and pretend you’re going into your office, even if it is only downstairs,” she says.
Moir’s 10-year-old daughter Katy is autistic, so she’s implemented a rule whereby if the door is closed she’s only to be disturbed in emergencies, and if it’s open it means Katy is welcome to come in at any time – this can also be a handy rule to put in place if you’re currently working from home with a spouse or other family members.
Ally Streeter, a Holidaysplease homeworker, says a comfy chair and raised laptop are also essentials.
Meanwhile, Not Just Travel agent Lee Trowbridge shares a home office space with his homeworker wife, and he puts their success down to organisation.
“I’m a stickler for organisation, so we have filing cabinets for our accounts, boxes for thank you cards and another for envelopes,” he says. “We’ve also installed a large whiteboard on the wall and use it for daily agendas including webinars, brainstorming and recording current quotes.”
If you’re working at home with a family member during this coronavirus crisis, Streeter says it’s worth having a think about how you can share skills.
“My husband is currently working in the dining room but normally works in the insurance industry in the city, so he’s been helping me look through travel insurance policies,” she explains.
All three homeworkers cited taking breaks regularly and using them to go on a walk in the fresh air as vital to maintaining motivation.
“Go out for a walk early every morning to clear any niggles from the day before because it’s important that you start the working day with a fresh and open mind,” says Streeter.
Moir also goes out for a walk every morning with her Labrador, Lola, and again in the evening to catch the last of the daylight.
“Routine is key to staying motivated,” she says, adding: “Every day brings different challenges but you need do your best to be consistent and disciplined – don’t be tempted to stay in your PJs.”
Trowbridge takes his canine companion for regular walks too and suggests you leave your phone at home to make sure you give yourself “proper downtime to regain your thoughts”. He’s also a fan of Joe Wicks’ workouts, which he does in the mornings before work.
He recommends setting monthly sales targets or other goals as a way to ensure your working pace doesn’t dip below normal.
“Listening to music or the radio and having a candle lit also helps me through the day,” adds Streeter.
Switching off from work is another common challenge that becomes even more difficult when your home and office environments combine.
Moir and Streeter both use cooking and eating dinner with their families as a mechanism for switching off from work, although both admit to continuing into the evenings, as is the nature of selling and managing travel around the world.
“If you don’t switch off even for a little while in the evenings you get drained and are not good for anything,” says Streeter.
Trowbridge is also guilty of being open all hours for his clients, but he recommends making rules about what work is done when.
“We decided we wouldn’t do any admin at weekends – this can always wait until Monday – then we do accounts on a Friday and expenses on a Monday morning; it’s important you map out what you’re going to do,” he says.
While screen breaks and fresh air are top of the list for maintaining motivation, they’re also important for mental health, as is keeping in touch with colleagues on a regular basis. The latter was another tip all three agents agreed on, explaining that this is what keeps them happy and healthy.
Catching up via WhatsApp or Facebook groups, phone calls or Skype are the preferred channels, with Moir explaining: “Sharing knowledge and helping each other with problems is important so you don’t feel alone – it keeps morale up.”
Streeter takes this one step further by bringing tour operators into the conversation. “I have a network of support from colleagues, but I’ve been doing this for 35 years now and also have good relationships with tour operators – I’ve currently got a virtual coffee with Julie [Franklin, head of agency sales] at Inghams in the diary!”
Trowbridge finds that audio books on YouTube focusing on generating a positive mindset can also help agents keep calm in stressful times such as these, adding: “I also recommend effectively managing client expectations to save stress down the line.”
But you can combat other people’s negativity as well as your own, explains Streeter, who dislikes seeing negative posts on Travel Gossip. “Recently I’ve seen people seeming low, so I message them to say I’m here to help, even if I don’t know them.”
She adds: “We’re competitors but now we need to pool our resources – we’re all in this together.”
Recommended by Not Just Travel’s Lee Trowbridge: Mindshift Motivational video by PingPong Studio