31st March 2020
Following recent government guideline, we are all asked to work from home whenever possible. For many people though, the phenomenon of working away from the office may be new, and working away from colleagues, resources, and office routines may take some getting used to.
Working from home certainly has its benefits, from saving money on the daily commute and lunch expenses to giving you a better chance at achieving a work-life balance. However, it also has its challenges, from deciding boundaries between personal and work life, to making sure you maintain good working relationships with colleagues, remote working can take some trial and error to master.
Here are our top tips on working from home and avoiding distractions unique to the home environment.
Set yourself working hours
When working from home it can be easy to work more hours than you would in the typical office routine. It’s important to set yourself a start and end time to your working day to keep focus and avoid burnout. Of course, working hours may vary depending on your job, but regardless if you’re working a 9-5 day or have the flexibility to determine your hours it will boost productivity to schedule in tasks and calls as you would in the office to maintain structure and purpose. Task management tools such as Asana and Trello may be useful to plan out your day and include scheduled breaks. It might also be a good idea to make your calendar visible and specify your working hours so team members know when you’re working and when you’re not.
Stay in regular contact with colleagues and your line manager
If you are used to working in a central office, where colleagues are mere metres away, it can be difficult to adapt to a new situation where holding a conversation is not as easy as shouting over the desk. The key to making this work when operating remotely is to communicate as often as you can, through a range of different mediums. Although email very much still has its place in disseminating information, try not to over rely on it. Where possible, pick up the phone or use a platform like Skype or FaceTime for a video call. Interacting with your colleagues in this way can help with avoiding loneliness or isolation – and will also often help you to solve an issue much more quickly. If you are a manager, insist that your team catch up as a group at least once per day to align on priorities and engender team spirit.
Do not be afraid to be honest with your employer
Even before the outbreak of the virus, mental health had enjoyed a prominent spot on the business agenda for a number of years, as leaders woke up to the importance of looking after the mental health of staff. Whilst all employers are now themselves having to think about how they adapt their operations in the face of huge restrictions on their workforce, this does not mean that you as an employee cannot raise concerns about your individual situation. Whether your query relates to childcare challenges, feelings of isolation, connectivity or equipment challenges or simply a feeling of being overwhelmed, it is important to raise your concerns with your manager and seek appropriate support, just as you would if you were operating in a physical location. If you yourself are a manager, it’s worth considering the following key elements when it comes to the mental wellbeing of staff:
Create the best work environment you can
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a home office ready to go – and even those who have may not be used to spending many weeks operating in this space. If you are setting up a home office for the first time, you may not have a wealth of options in terms of location, especially if you are sharing the space with family members or housemates who are also unexpectedly working from home. If you can, try to set up somewhere with lots of natural light and ventilation. It can be easy to overlook how a regular dose of vitamin D from sunlight can really help to affect your mood. If others in your household are working, consider whether you would find a co-working-style set up on a kitchen table more motivating or whether separate spaces could help with concentration. It may even be that you mix things up and move to different locations throughout the day – which might be a necessity if you have children around, too. Ultimately, it’s all about creating a space that you can feel comfortable and productive in – even a few small touches like plants or pictures can go a long way in making your working space feel welcoming and ultimately help with productivity.
Create work playlists to listen to (and avoid the TV!)
Everyone works differently and whilst some prefer to work in silence, others may need some background noise such as a podcast, radio, or music. If you’re in the latter group then it may help you to create a playlist of music or select a podcast in advance before you start working. One of the biggest productivity killers is digital distractions such as the TV, so if your background noise is the TV try and make sure you are faced away from the screen.
Get some fresh air
Even if you’re working from home, it’s vital you take a break at some point in the day from your computer screen and to invigorate your posture. If working from home means you can save time on your morning commute that would usually rob you of an hour or so, then one way to get some fresh air is to go for a morning or evening walk. Taking your lunch away from your computer screen should also be encouraged because it’ll make for a more productive afternoon if you’ve taken a proper break. Fresh air and movement are important for boosting creativity and productivity both inside and out of the office.
Communicate your boundaries to family and friends
Communicating your basic working schedule or your availability during the day to family and friends from the outset is something you can do to ensure your personal and work life are kept separate whilst working remotely. It can be especially distracting if your partner, family member, or housemate also works from home or is at home when you’re working to get carried away in non-work related discussions, and to an extent, a quick coffee break and chat isn’t harmful at all – most people would have this in the office anyway. However, if you feel like the balance is off then it’s important to communicate your boundaries to protect your productivity.
Millions of workers have had to adapt to working from home in recent weeks, as a result of social isolation measures implemented by Governments to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. In such situations, it is natural that practical concerns take initial priority in the first few days and weeks - setting up temporary home offices, connecting to work networks and considering what the outbreak means for short, medium- and long-term projects. However, with no official announcements yet forthcoming about how long the measures will be in place, many will be considering how to make homeworking sustainable in the medium and even long term as they adapt to new ways of working and interacting with colleagues.