Aussies don’t usually need to be asked twice to spend time away from the office but when COVID-19 hit, it was a whole different ball game. People all over the world had to rapidly adjust to working from home. Many are still coming to terms with new systems, technology, processes, setting up suitable workspaces all at an incredibly stressful time when no one really knows what’s ahead. A few months down the track into the pandemic, we know much more about Corona Virus of course but still, many workers have not yet returned to normal working conditions.
At the time of writing, we in South Australia are in a great situation & we are in the process of opening borders to other States, except for Victoria who has unfortunately had a surge in cases. So, it's a suitable time to take a moment to reflect a little on what works, what doesn’t & also highlight some tax considerations so we can settle into a good, every day, sustainable work from home routine.
Creating a Suitable Workspace
There are so many variables that may affect someone’s capacity to work from home productively - family life, homeschooling, noisy pets, share houses, small homes & unit living or open plan house design, staying with loved ones, even temporarily isolation in hotels, internet & home computer capability, availability of appropriate furniture. Having a dedicated home office is probably the most ideal but it’s just not always possible.
Work Health & Safety
Your workspace also needs to be safe. State legislation requires employers and employees to ensure that those working from home do so in a safe space. Check with your employer about work from home policies & COVID-Safe Plans but note that you also have obligations for your own safety. And if you’re a Company Director running a farm business, for example, you have responsibilities to ensure other people working in & for the business are following safe work practices even if you’re married to them!
As communities open up & travel becomes less restricted, the COVID-19 health risks will increase. We're not health professionals but it goes without saying that practising good hygiene & social distancing is essential even if you're working from home. And if you, or a family member feel unwell, please get tested. For more information on COVID-19 health recommendations & advice, visit https://www.covid-19.sa.gov.au/recovery.
It's your responsibility to know your WHS obligations. If you're unsure, seek appropriate professional advice. For more information on working safely at home visit https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces/industry-information/general-industry-information/working-home.
There is mounting evidence coming through that COVID-19 is having adverse effects on many people's mental health. Though you might be working from home, it's important to know that you're not alone. Remember this is a pandemic! It's scary & it would be very unusual not to be worried or stressed. Tap into your support network of colleagues, family & friends. If you need additional support or a confidential chat with a professional, reach out to the SA COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line 1800 632 753 (8am to 8pm, 7 days).
Additional Tax Considerations
Working from home presents some unique issues when it comes to tax deductions. We’ll likely have more to say & we can’t cover everything in on this topic in a blog so please ask your Rowe Partners accountant for clarification. In general, the ATO requires the following when making an expense claim from your income tax;
1) YOU must have spent the money (not your employer) & you can’t be reimbursed for it by work.
2) Expenses claimed must be directly related to earning your income. See the ATO information on Home Office Expenses https://www.ato.gov.au/individuals/income-and-deductions/deductions-you-can-claim/home-office-expenses for more information, or talk to your Rowe Partners accountant.
3) You must have records to prove expenditure. Keep a timesheet, roster or diary that will show the hours you worked from home.
4) If you’re hoping to claim a proportion of rent or rates, it’s important to note that space must be dedicated office space. Same applies to claiming a proportion of phones, electricity, internet etc. Best to ask your accountant about this one too. There are a couple of methods we can use to calculate.
Do your tax without leaving the house!
Rowe Partners have a range of flexible options this tax season from as little as $110*. Visit https://www.rowepartners.com.au/tax to learn more or to book.
Dealing with Distractions
It’s easy to get distracted while working remotely. This can have significant impacts on efficiency and productivity. Those of us who are fortunate to have employers like Rowe Partners who have good, flexible work policies would have found the transition less bumpy.
We asked Katelyn Leske, Associate, at Rowe Partners to share some of her insights & tips for successfully working from a home base.
I’ve had flexible working arrangements since returning from maternity leave with my first child. I’ve been splitting my work hours between home and the office for the last three years. So, I’ve learnt a few things along the way.
Here are some of my tips to keep you focused and maintain your productivity whilst working from home:
Get dressed and ready for the day like you would for a normal workday. Now I’m not saying you must put on makeup and wear your office attire (unless required) but rolling out of bed in your pyjamas and getting straight to work can blur the lines between work time and personal time.
Maintain set breaks and worktimes. Keeping the same routine that you would have had in the office can help you to focus on the job at hand. It’s important to have breaks whether it be grabbing a coffee or a quick walk around the house to get your legs moving. Eat lunch away from your desk, or outside for a change of scenery. Take the opportunity to have a chat with someone else in the house to recharge your batteries.
Have a dedicated workspace to work from and avoid the spaces that are associated with leisure time such as the lounge or bedroom. You also want a workspace that you can leave set up as it’s a pain to be setting up and packing up your workspace at the start and end of each day. It is also important to set boundaries for this workspace so that others in the house know when they can enter and when to stay away.
The easiest way to avoid loneliness and isolation is to keep connected regardless of where you are located. Stay in contact with clients and work colleagues by using group meeting and video conferencing software. Seeing people’s faces, even if it’s on a screen, means that you can communicate more effectively and reminds you that you are a part of the bigger picture. You can still maintain your traditions such as Friday night drinks to maintain social ties, everyone grabs a drink at home and schedules a video conference call. It can also be helpful to take a break from the silence of your own home by simply putting on the radio or some music while you work.
Log out of social media and turn off notifications so that you aren’t constantly distracted if somebody mentions you in a post. You can check this during your scheduled breaks but try to remain focused during the dedicated work hours.
No housework during work hours! It’s easy to think I will quickly do the washing or unload the dishwasher but its distracting and a form of procrastination. It’s helpful to give the house a quick clean or tidy each night after work hours or in the morning before you start so that you don’t feel the need to do it during the day.
These are just a few general tips to help you adjust to a remote working environment. Everyone’s circumstances will be different whether it be home alone, multiple people trying to work from the same household or trying to home-school children at the same time so it’s important to consider your own needs & requirements carefully.
Despite COVID-19 being around for a few months now, it may take a bit more time for us all to get into the swing of things & accept that this working from home or even an on & off-site hybrid approach may be our new normal for some time.
Some great tips there from Katelyn!
Like you, the team at Rowe Partners have all had to adjust to working from home. We know that it's not always easy to juggle everything in this crazy situation but it's been a good test of resilience & responsiveness.