I started working from home after 17 years of working in a busy London Head Office and worked for a Digital Marketing agency where the whole team worked remotely. Aside from our monthly face-to-face team meeting and the odd visit to clients, I was based at home for over eight years. The learning curve was steep and it took me a while to get into a system that worked for me. During this time, I think I established some good working from home practices. They may not work for everyone but here are some of my top tips.
Finding the right place to work at home
It sounds easy, doesn’t it? You’ll just take your laptop home and start working. In reality, where you work at home can have an impact on how much you get done. For a variety of reasons, it may cause other complications too. I was lucky enough then to have a home-office but these days, my dining room table is where I work.
Having a home office is ideal. You can set it up with all your work and almost mirror your office environment with a desk, chair, monitor and other office essentials. If this isn’t possible, then you’ll need to find somewhere you can work comfortably for long periods of time. Stylish as they may be, most dining room tables and chairs weren’t made to be sat at for the duration of a working day. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly start to notice a few unusual aches and pains. To mitigate this try to make where you sit as comfortable as possible. Use a cushion, if it will help or invest in a back support.
Think about seating position. It could be well worth getting a footrest to be more comfortable. If you’re going to be working at home regularly there are a few other items you may want to invest in. These include a separate keyboard, a monitor screen and a headset for taking calls. All of these will help to make working at home more comfortable and avoid aches and pains.
Work at home your way
Working at home if you’re used to a busy office can feel very lonely. The sudden lack of background noise can feel strange and you might miss having people to share ideas with. For some people, the quiet can actually work and suddenly you feel like you can focus and really get things done. Try to work out what suits you best. For me, having the radio on quietly in the background gives a feeling of not being totally alone. For others, it’s about using a relaxing or uplifting playlist. If you’re used to being in a busy office and are in a position where you need to chat to others to get your work done, set up an account with one of the online video communications sites, such as Zoom. That way you can still see and chat with your colleagues when you need to.
If keeping in touch is important in your role, investigate other ways to keep up to date with your colleagues too. This might be via tools like Trello, Google Hangouts or Slack. You might simply just pick up the phone. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re job involves lots of phone calls, you may want to invest in a headset. It’s a really good way to avoid a crick-neck, caused by wedging your phone between your neck and shoulder while you type.
What to wear
The jury really is out on this one and many freelancers I know are divided. It’s important that you feel comfortable and for some people, this means working in their pyjamas. Others will only feel ready for work if they’re in office dress. For many, it’s somewhere in between. This is where I ended up. Tempting as PJ’s are, I opted for casual, comfy dress and something that I’d feel comfortable wearing on a video conference. However, it really is up to you and needs to fit with how you’ll be working. If you need to get up early, maybe before the rest of the family gets up, you could start in your PJ’s and change later. If you live alone, won’t see anyone all day and are most happy in your pyjamas or gym wear, then go for it.
Plan your work
It’s easy for your day to drift when you’re working from home. You start off with some good intentions but get distracted by something on social media or a news story on the internet. It’s worth setting out, at the start of your day, what you want to achieve. Before I make a start each day, I list the things that I must or really want to do that day. I sometimes pop them on a post-it note on my laptop, as a reminder too.
Make sure you set some realistic targets. It’s easy to think you’ll get lots done at home but in reality, you may still get ad hoc requests and have to take unplanned phone calls. Having a clear idea of what you’re setting out to do, will give you some momentum and help you focus. At the end of a day working at home, it’s also good to see what you’ve achieved.
Working at home and surviving distractions
Separating work and home life can be tricky. You get up in the morning and put the TV on while you’re drinking your morning coffee with a plan to start work at your usual time. This can often go wrong. My advice is to not even switch the TV on. If you do put it on, set a rigid time at which you’ll turn it off. Unless you can work with the TV on in the background, it can be very easy to get sucked in and waste valuable working time.
Social media can also be a distraction and it’s easy to get caught up checking your feeds, on and off during the day. Try to limit how many times you access social sites during the day. You could try to keep it for times when you’re taking a break.
Working around children
For those people with children, working at home can become even more challenging, particularly if they are going to be at home with you. This is almost a whole topic in itself. Some of the solutions I adopted during my time working at home included flexing my hours. Sometimes I would start early, take a break to spend time with my little ones and carry on at nap and bedtimes. With older children, the challenge can be keeping them occupied to prevent boredom and dare I say it, arguing. One way around this is to set them a task or activity which will occupy them for a while. Make sure you build in regular breaks so you can check in with them.
Phone calls and video conferences can be incredibly difficult with children around. I once locked myself in the bathroom and sat in the shower cubicle (for extra sound-proofing) while on the phone to a client. It was a nightmare and I learnt very quickly that honesty is the best policy. After that, I would explain in advance, if possible, that my children would be around during the call. Most of the time, clients were understanding. Either recognising the dilemma and being OK with it or suggesting an alternative time to speak. This won’t always be the case but in my experience, it’s better to be upfront than being stressed out that World War Three is breaking out in the room next door.
Having children around while you work is never easy, even as they get older. I would often dread the long school holidays but in reality, we always seemed to muddle through. There are no ‘solve-all’ solutions here but my best advice is to try and figure out what works for you and your family.
Take a break
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re working at home. Without the distractions of the office, it’s tempting to just plough on and get stuff done. It’s really important not to spend the whole day at your desk and particularly at a dining room table. Aside from the comfort implications, mentally you need a break too. Get away from your desk for a short break every now and then. You’ll find this helps you to feel refreshed and ready to start again. I would often go for a short walk around lunchtime, to help clear my head. It’s amazing the effect fresh air can have on your productivity.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s away from your computer. You could use the time to read the paper, put some washing on or do a few stretches. With this in mind, try not to eat at your desk. It’s really important to take time away from work and stretch out.
Believe me, when you’re working from home, the fridge and kitchen cupboards are tempting. It’s far easier at home to snack your way through the day compared to being in the office. This really comes down to mindset but one way you can help yourself is to plan your food in the same way, you plan your day. Work out what you’re going to have before you start and get it ready in advance. If you take a packed lunch to work, then make one for your day at home too.
Keeping work and home separate
One of the challenges I faced when working from home was knowing when to stop. Having your work in easy reach can mean you keep checking emails. You might also be caught up in a cycle of just finishing one more thing. Make sure you set a clear finish time for work. If you’ve got a home office, switch everything off and shut the door. If you’re working in a living area, then my advice is to get a box or bag and put everything away when you’re done. This way, work won’t merge into your home life.
See it as a positive thing
Working at home can be really productive. Mindset is key. These days, I often use working at home, as a chance to focus and deep dive. It’s also a time to do research, join webinars and spend time planning. For me returning to an office-based role was great. Having a team around to support me and talk through ideas really helps. On the downside, the phone rings a lot and the office is busy with people popping in with queries. It’s easy to get distracted. Working at home can be really rewarding and productive in comparison. The important thing is not to lose contact with the outside world. Find ways to keep in touch with your colleagues and prioritise your comfort and wellbeing.
If you found this article useful, you may also like this one about Turning Stress into a Positive Force
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