So, you’re now working from home. Without the benefit of a boss keeping tabs on you and a slew of co-workers to keep you motivated and entertained, working from home can sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable.
The difference between thriving and sinking when you work from home is made in the structures you implement for yourself. How, when and even where you spend your time throughout the day (not just while working) will have a significant impact on your ability to work well from home.
The internet is currently bursting with helpful hints and tips for successful home-working, all provided by gurus and experts in these things. We don’t profess to be the experts in home-working science, but at Gray Dawes we do have many seasoned home-workers. So, we’d like to pass on a few ‘real life’ tips which you may just find work for you…
1. Have the right equipment
When you’re working from home, you obviously need to have the right software and equipment to get the job done. Don’t rely on outsourcing things like basic printing and copying if you can avoid it, make sure you’ve got a working landline phone and a decent broadband connection and, if at all possible, have a computer that’s just for work stuff. This makes it easier to keep your boundaries in place (more on that below).
2. Invent a commute
During these unprecedented times of self-isolation and social distancing, you may well be glad of not having to tackle the train crowds or sit stationery on the M25. However, there’s very real value in having a commute, especially when it’s time to get started in the morning. You’re able to transition from home mode to work mode, and getting into work mode is a huge factor in being able to work from home effectively. So what’s the solution? Well… that’s up to you. But you’ll probably need one.
You may benefit from having a solid, clock-based morning routine. Get up around the same time each day, make breakfast, get dressed and then when the time turns 9 a.m., it’s time to go ‘into the office’ and start working.
Your commute may be showering, making a cup of coffee and then going upstairs to your office / spare room. It may involve taking a walk around the block as part of your ‘allowed’ outdoor exercise and coming back in, as though you were arriving at work. Or maybe it’s taking the dog for a walk first thing, to tire him out and ensure you won’t be disturbed later on. Try a few things out and see what (and how much) you need to start slipping into work mode easily.
3. Get dressed for work… or don’t
A lot of the common work-from-home advice out there is to dress as though you’re going to the office. To this, we say: yes and no (but mostly no).
Is it possible to work all day in your pajamas? Sure. We’ve all done it. Is it the greatest idea? Probably not, if for no other reason than you stop feeling like a regular human being when you never put on real clothes. At the same time, we don’t see much sense in stuffing yourself into uncomfortable work clothes if you don’t have to.
So our approach is this: dress in a way you can feel good about. If all you need are yoga bottoms, an unstained shirt and a hint of mascara to get your work done and feel like your normal self, go for it. If you’re more productive and alive wearing chinos, an ironed shirt and your favourite brogues, do it.
There’s nothing effective or helpful about feeling like a slob.
4. Take care of yourself
You’ll be surprised how much you end up sitting when you’re working from home. When you’re in an office, you get up pretty frequently to go to the printer, take your turn on the making the tea or popping over to see a colleague. When you’re at home, pretty much everything is within arm’s reach and there’s no one to go visit. It’s just you and your computer, all day long. So take breaks. Work them into your schedule. And no… trips to the fridge don’t count.
Likewise, plan trips that will get you out of the house… but do keep to government guidelines! So, stretching your legs in the garden or getting a breath of fresh air on the balcony is so important. Just do get up regularly and get out.
5. Give yourself a schedule
If you’re working autonomously, it can be really hard to get things done without someone else to set goals and expectations for you. Being disciplined is part of the story, but if you rely on discipline alone, you will only be disappointing yourself. Instead of leaning on willpower, make yourself a schedule and stick with it.
Every person’s schedule looks different, and might even look different from day to day, depending on the role you’re doing. The idea is to have a structure that you can implement to your workday and even to your working week.
Think about how your energy flows through the day. If you are sharp in the morning, reserve that time each day to do your most demanding work instead of messing around with emails. If you have a slump in the afternoons, use that time to take online courses or do some menial desk work like invoicing or filing (or go outside and listen to a podcast for a breather!).
Batching can be an effective way to manage your time, too. Maybe Monday is your email catch-up and social media day; Thursday is the day you’re available for client calls.
And no matter what, try to have a quitting time. Even if it’s midnight.
6. Set boundaries
When you work from home, keeping your work life separate from your home life is nearly impossible unless you make an effort to do so. And, during the coronavirus pandemic, this is going to be even harder because, chances are, the whole family are at home as well.
It’s easier said than done, but if at all possible do have a dedicated workspace (a door to close is tremendously helpful) and even a dedicated work computer. Don’t let home life encroach on your work time. Throw in a load of laundry, sure, but save the mowing and major cleaning projects for later.
That said, it can be a big relief to accommodate little chores and errands. But make sure there’s always the understanding that your work time is actually for working and that it gets priority over hanging out the washing. Same goes for family members in the house with you. Some people will “get it,” but some – mainly children – will think that you can do anything you (or they) want at any time and you don’t have any real responsibilities, because you’re at home. So, set boundaries and clearly communicate them to everyone else in the house.
Protect your home life, too. At the end of each work day, do whatever it takes to actively step away. Make a priority list for the next day, review your calendar and close the door. Don’t keep hopping on the computer all evening, don’t try to work on a project while watching a TV show with your other half and don’t check work email when it’s not working hours.
A big part of setting and enforcing boundaries is finding your distractions and eliminating them. If the temptation to put off working to take care of some non-essential house project is too great, find out why and address that issue. It could mean that you’re directionless and need some more specific goals. Or you don’t have all the information you need to start a project, so there’s a block. There’s also the possibility that you’re burning out, which should be a big sign that something needs to change. Whatever it is, find the reason and fix it so it doesn’t keep getting in the way of your success.
7. Have human contact… but keep your distance
Isolation is no joke. If you’re living alone during this crazy coronavirus time, you’ll succumb to it if you don’t get proactive right away. In your regular job, you’ve got colleagues, customers and sometimes suppliers to keep you company. Not so when you work from home.
The fact is, you need the company kitchen. So make one for yourself! Find peers who you can email, Skype, FaceTime or chat with regularly and groups where you can connect online. Human interaction is the goal and many of us can get by on surprisingly little. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why people like co-working spaces and even working at the library: other people are there. However, during the current outbreak, you’ll just have to make do with Zoom.
8. Get systems to work for you
When you’re employed by someone else and you’re working in the company space, there are a lot of systems you won’t be able to use when you work from home. It could be something as basic as IT support or having a phone call screener (aka receptionist) or a bookkeeper. Develop the systems you’ll need at home that someone or something else would have provided for you at an office.
Set a cleaning day each week when you’ll vacuum and water the plants. Use calendar reminders to ping you every Friday when it’s time to send invoices. Find a project management system that you like to help you keep track of all the moving parts of your workday. In short, take charge and automate what you can.
9. Make the most of it
Let’s face it; chances are you’re not working from home through choice. You’re there because your company is doing the right thing – following government guidelines by closing offices and sending staff home. And you’re at home for the right reasons, too – not going outside and supporting our remarkable NHS.
But, choice or not, you have to make the most of it! Working from home has some huge perks and can make a major difference in your quality-of-life. So enjoy it! Live up the freedom you now have to take an early morning fitness class with Joe Wicks (if you’re schedule allows), or put your children down for their afternoon naps – you’ll never get that time back. Ultimately, you are a lot more in charge of your schedule, which means you can do a lot more with it, if that’s what you want.