What’s different about this lockdown from the last one?
Well, this time we’re all a little better prepared. Gone is the shock and suddenness of March, when we scrambled to pivot our office life, replaced by a weary but resolute determination to just get on with it.
We’ve all got used to working from home (WfH), but are there ways we can make it all a little bit better?
This week I’m looking at some different aspects; how can we organise ourselves a little better to make work life easier – and cheaper.
Over 200,000 Irish people worked from home or a remote hub at least one or two days a week prior to Covid-19, so there’s lots of experience out there.
The Government’s ‘Future Jobs’ plan supports WfH and there are plenty of upskilling and re-training opportunities through the SkillsNet and Springboard courses, many of which are completely free.
Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are also well poised to help those wishing to consider self employment, given the jobs situation.
If you’re self employed, you’ll have let out a sigh of relief at Revenue’s decision to extend the ‘pay and file’ deadline to 10 December.
Paying tax at this time of year is always difficult, but particularly so at the moment. So, make the most of the delay: can you afford a further pension contribution? It will bring down your tax bill and convert every €60 into €100 for top-rate taxpayers.
Dig out old medical receipts (you can claim back four years of them at 20pc), or did you buy furniture and equipment that might qualify for an allowance? Don’t forget that you can claim for workwear/uniforms/safety equipment as a flat-rate expense.
There is no benefit in kind (BIK) payable where an employer supplies you with necessary furniture and equipment, such as a laptop, printer, even your ergonomic chair from work.
If you have a home office in the garden, your employer can pay for it and you won’t be subject to tax either.
You can claim expenses for heat, light and now, broadband, or if your employer is willing, they can pay you up to €3.20 per working day toward these expenses tax free.
As we approach winter, keeping the bills down will be crucial. The house is no longer empty during the day and electricity, gas and broadband is full on.
It’s also that time of year when all the suppliers jack up their prices so switching is a good first start at maintaining a lid on costs. Using a comparison website like bonkers.ie, switcher.ie or onebigswitch.ie means you can find the best option for you and it takes 3 minutes to complete. Make sure you’re out of contract first or you’ll pay a breakage fee of €50 per service.
Have a bill at hand and the MPRN (electricity) or GPRN (gas) number which is really all you need to move. Dual fuel bundling can often be cheaper, but not always, while you will definitely get a discount for going paperless billing and direct debit payment.
Investigate whether rolling your broadband in to Dual (phone), Triple (phone/TV) or Quad (phone/TV/mobile) plans might save you overall.
Your ordinary house insurance policy will cover you working from home. However, if you have customers/clients calling, or deliveries being made, or have a converted space with a separate entrance to your property such as a garage, than it will not. You need business insurance and it’s important to let your insurer know.
Remember, if you use a part of your home as a business, you may be liable for Capital Gains Tax (CGT) when you eventually sell. The CGT exemption only applies to the Principal Private Dwelling portion.
It is possible to still apply for the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP). 330,000 workers are still getting it every week, and there are now four levels of benefit, depending on what you were earning before the crisis.
It is also possible to take on some freelance work and still qualify for a part payment, so check on the MyWelfare.ie site for information.
There’s a huge online community support network for those finding WfH challenging, particularly if you work for yourself or plan to start.
Grow Remote has a great community forum and over 300 jobs listed on its site (growremote.ie) aimed at those working online.
Indeed, which has all of its own Dublin-based staff working remotely, has a huge listing of jobs people can do from home, from customer support to market research to accounting (ie.indeed.com).
An employer has responsibilities to ensure digital devices have necessary updates, software and antivirus needs for WfH, that strong passwords and encryption are available and that work, rather than personal emails are used. Trusted networks or cloud services must be utilised for sensitive data. The National Cyber Security Centre has published a Working From Home Security Advice document.
Shortcuts – Connecting online
If you’ve been Zooming family quizzes, training on MS Teams or Skyping your boss along with your kids in Australia, you probably need no help but there are lots of ways of appearing more professional if needed.
Samantha Kelly (@Tweetinggoddess) is founder of Women’s Inspire Network for business owners and recommends, along with the above, Whereby.com which has both free and paid options. “Webex and eyeson teams are also excellent”, she says.
Networking is more important than ever since you no longer meet in the workplace.
“Our membership went up 28pc during the first lockdown. Right now people are finding new ways to find that human connection. The trick is to get people from social media to a call face-to-face online. In fact, some of my current clients I haven’t met in real life yet.”
Zoom or Streamyard let you conduct webinars effectively, streaming into Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn (via LinkedIn live). “I recently used Hey Summit also,” she says. “But the platform I love most is Crowdcast as I find people don’t like to show their faces on calls. Not everyone is confident so they like to hide behind their photo.”
She adds: “While great Wifi is essential, get a good mic or headset. Make sure your background is clutter free, as people will be looking, in a well-lit room.
“Wear bright clothes if presenting and avoid background noise.”