Working from Home… how to make it work for you!
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Over the last ten months, whilst setting up my business, I made the transition from working in a standard nine to five office environment, to working exclusively from home. This instant change was daunting to begin with, and there is the danger that working from your usually relaxing and comfortable home atmosphere can become completely distracting. However, from my experience, I now know that it is very possible to make home working both productive, and dare I say it, even enjoyable, and may even allow you to reclaim some of the many lost hours of your previous standard working day.
I hope some of the advice below, based on my own experiences of what works well for me, will help you to implement a happy and productive home working environment.
1. Make a dedicated space
I realise that for the majority, having an entirely separate room in your home used exclusively as your office is a luxury and just not possible, especially if the transition to home working has been a very sudden one and you need to get up and running quickly. However, there are ways in which you can create a space in your home to become a working area that is solely for you. It may sound obvious, but this is such an important start for productive working. It is crucial to help your mind to distinguish when it is time for work, and when it is the time to switch off and relax.
So, whether you have a whole room, a corner of your kitchen table or a small desk at the back of your lounge, the area needs to be adjusted slightly so that it works for you. If you are able to, clear out a shelf, drawer or cupboard nearby to use as your work storage, or buy a small unit that can become yours alone. Whether you need to store files, need somewhere to keep your laptop or simply a space for pens and supplies, it is important that you can find things easily, have them organised and close to hand, so that you do not spend precious hours rummaging through your house to find simple things, thus disrupting your day. This will also be of huge importance at the end of every working day. Yes, you may wish to tidy up your space a little and leave it ready for the next morning, but you do not want to have to completely clear out all of your work things at the end of every evening in order for dinner to be served. Going into work, you would not be expected to ‘move out’ from your desk every night, so make sure this isn’t a disruption to you at home. It will only cause frustration and highlight the fact that home is not your usual working environment.
2. Utilise natural light
Don’t underestimate the benefit of working with natural light. It may not always be possible, but if you can, drag your desk so that you can be positioned beneath a window, next to it or at least be facing in that direction. Being able to see through a window means your space is instantly opened up and the difference is huge when compared to literally facing a wall.
Such simple things such as being able to look up from your laptop to see a tree outside, a slice of blue sky or simply nosing at your neighbours doing some gardening, allows that sense of isolation and loneliness to dissipate, even if only a little. You are also better able to keep a sense of time in your day, and implement routine, when more aware of daylight hours.
3. Create an inviting space
Whatever space you are using, it can be really useful to add small touches that will help to personalise, to create a welcoming area that you enjoy spending time in. This is essentially what you may have done in your traditional workplace, and doesn’t necessarily mean a photo of the family. It is any object or items that you enjoy looking at, to distinguish the area as your work space or simply to make it tidier and easier to use.
Bringing a piece of nature inside is a good way to implement this, greenery is good for the mind and quite literally brings the space alive. Add a small house plant to you desk, ideally something that is really easy to care for and won’t die on you after two weeks!!
If you want to add a few family photos then go for it, although it is likely these may already be present around your home. Try a small print you love, an inspirational quote can be helpful or maybe just a fun postcard or two.
Small desk drawers are great for keeping spaces tidy, stationary is quickly stored and notes easier to find. This may also extend to a desk calendar, to keep track of your working week, or maybe even a whiteboard or note board to hang on a wall close by, to help you keep track of the ever-growing to do list.
it might be cheesy, but I find a tidy desk literally equals a tidy mind!
4. Work away from distractions – and the TV!
This may not always be easy depending on your home environment, particularly if you are having to navigate working around children for example, but there are some distractions that are completely within your control. First and foremost, do not set up your workspace within sight of a TV! Just the mere sight of the thing is so incredibly tempting, and very quickly puts your mind back into ‘home’ mode, it is simply not worth putting yourself through the torture! You are aiming for a quiet space, in which you can introduce your own controllable background noise, so ideally somewhere that the door can be closed to the rest of the house when needed, in order to fully focus.
If you know you will be working around partners and children at home, it is important to introduce boundaries with the rest of the household, so that they know your preferences for communication throughout the day. Of course, this may not always be achieved, but it is important to at least have this discussion so that others respect what you feel is important, in order to accomplish productive working.
Other homely distractions should also be moved away, such as washing and ironing piles, bills and letters that need filing away, and general chores that need addressing, to get rid of the visual representation of your other long ‘to-do’ list. Save these things for ‘out of office’ hours or the weekend, exactly as you would do if you were leaving the house every day for work.
5. Get up and get dressed!!
You might think that one of the major benefits of working from home is the idea that you can work in your pyjamas, but in reality, I’m afraid to say it simply doesn’t work. For a day or two, it can be fun to completely disrupt your usual way of working and make those calls in the comfort of your pants, but the novelty will soon wear off and the realisation will hit that this just doesn’t maintain the productivity levels you are used to.
Getting up and dressed as usual is so important in making the distinction in your mind that you are about to go to work. Aim to keep your routine as similar to before as you can, in terms of setting an alarm, showering, and eating breakfast etc. You may even find you have time to fit in something extra, such as a quick workout, a morning dog walk or time to read a while before works begins. Reclaim those commuting hours and put them to good use for something that will benefit you – even if that just means sitting and eating at a much more civilised pace!
Subtle clues to direct you towards your working mindset will help to get your day off to the best start, and maintain a sense of routine that is so easy to lose when you do not regularly leave the house.
6. Set an appropriate routine
Keeping to a routine is something I have found incredibly important when working from home. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of beginning work whenever you feel like it, taking an extended lunch and then working through until the late hours. This flexibility may work for some, but I have found routine to be far more successful long term.
So, routine includes setting an appropriate start and finish time to stick to throughout the week, and taking a dedicated lunch break - as much as you want to be productive, you need some downtime too. This also extends to classes and activities after work, you should still make the effort to attend, stopping work to make this a priority.
I always find that time seems to somehow go so much faster at home, so I regularly make daily and weekly plans to help to schedule my week efficiently. This is usually to give myself guidance of what I aim to achieve each morning, afternoon and overall from the week. Of course, if your entire task list is not completed then do not consider that a failure, it purely gives you some grounds on which to better schedule the following day or week.
This whole process is a learning curve after all.
7. Don’t power through
It can be very tempting to just keep going and going when working from home, but it is important for you mentally to take some breaks throughout the day and move away from your workspace, especially if your work includes a lot of screen time. Forcefully working is very counterproductive.
You should have already scheduled yourself a lunchtime, and stuck to it, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t take further breaks. Get up and make a coffee, go and find a snack, have a five-minute walk and stretch away from the desk. Getting fresh air at some point in the day is also really beneficial, as you generally won’t be leaving the house as frequently as normal and too many hours cooped up inside is not great for anyone.
I still make sure to start my day with a home workout each morning or a run, just as I used to do a gym session every morning before work. Exercise is something I love to do anyway, but it really sets me up for the day, gives me energy and makes sure I am not missing out on doing those things that benefit me. However, working from home does provide you with the flexibility to make these routines work for you. As discussed before, routine in key, but it could be that you prefer to start work earlier, getting in more hours before lunch, then completing some exercise after your lunchbreak in the afternoon before returning for the final hours of the working day. You need to find what works for you and stick to it.
The key point here is that time away from your desk should not be considered wasted time. Purely time to refocus your mind and ensure the time you do spend at your desk is productive from beginning to end.
8. Background noise
Whilst some of you may find silence the best way to concentrate, and there are times when that works just as well for me too for an hour or so of knuckling down, I usually find some background noise to be helpful.
The radio is generally on in my office for a good mixture of easy to listen to chat and music, and podcasts are another great way to introduce noise. There are some really inspirational channels out there covering anything and everything that can often give me a boost when I’m struggling to get into the zone. I find having some noise replicates a typical working environment, as there is usually background chatter or white noise throughout the day to break what could be lonely silence.
9. Reduce isolation and prioritise socialisation
This is one of the hardest things I found when transitioning to working from home, the sudden drop in human interaction. I was spending all my days alone, albeit working hard, but without realising found I could go for a week without seeing a soul.
To combat this, I would really encourage firstly joining groups and support networks within your field that regularly host group discussions, or simply offer support from those that understand your difficulties. This was particularly helpful for me in regards to setting up a business, but I found that just being able to connect with likeminded people a great help to stop me from feeling alone.
Taking part in Zoom conference calls is a really quick way to instantly have visible human interaction. The app is user friendly and quick to master, and has allowed me to join more meetings in a day than I otherwise would’ve managed if conducting them out and about, face-to-face.
Networking is another fantastic way to develop your work, but also to make new contacts easily and frequently. In the short hour or two of each meeting, you can have spoken to ten, twenty, thirty people, and I always find I come away with confidence and real sense of purpose about my day. Networking does not always need to be conducted through face-to-face events, as many meets now take place online using the Zoom app mentioned above.
Aside from work interactions, it is really important to stay connected with friends and family. In our wonderful world of developed technology, this is easier than ever. I am not suggesting hours spent in the Facebook ‘hole’, but keeping conversation regular with real friends, and making sure to schedule calls or Facetime chats with family throughout the week. It is so important to maintain levels of human interaction every single day, and not to dismiss this as a waste of time, as it is so valuable to our mental health. It is easy to forget just how many faces you would see, and conversations had, in a standard day of regular working, and this is quickly missed when you spend your week at home.
Share your thoughts and worries, keep loved ones updated, and above all stay present and connected every single day.
I’m sure there are many more tips to achieving successful home working, but for me the above are a good start to make the transition that bit easier.
Sharing any additional ideas would be a great help to many, even if just to hear how others are coping, so please feel free to add to these suggestions!
Let’s make working from home our best way forward.
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Take care everyone!