Working from home is often used as shorthand for doing less than you would in an office. I’ve never really understood why – my own productivity is accelerated by long periods with no interruptions. If you’re writing prose, poetry or software, the ability to exclude the hubbub around you is essential, and if working from home gives you the quiet you need, bingo, productivity explosion.
That’s why asking colleagues to work from home during these extraordinary ‘once in a generation’ moments caused by COVID-19 is an interesting experiment.
So here are my homeworking top 10 tips for making the most of working from home:
1. Make a place where you ‘go to work’ – not everyone has a spare room – so that might be under the stairs, in the shed or in your bedroom – but make it ‘feel’ like work, get a handy notepad, some pens for those brilliant ideas, get your laptop and your phone on charge, stick the headphones on, or in, and think ‘this is my work place’;
2. Get comfy – chances are you have not got ergonomic swivel chairs at home – so try and set yourself us as best as you can. Personally, I wander about with my laptop, desk to settee, settee to shed, sometimes I even take my kit on a walk and sit under a tree!
3. Pace yourself – remember you’re not doing the commute now – that hour on the train or 30 mins in the car, you just won back – but keep to the routine; get up (very important), shower, brush your teeth, shave (or not), wear the kind of clothes you would usually wear and crack on (after breakfast, obvs);
4. Give yourself breaks – when I’m in the office I usually eat at my desk, drink at my desk and generally just keep on grafting – the only breaks I give myself are when colleagues pop in to either have a chat or to have a meeting. When working from home, give yourself small breaks and lunchtime off – just like you should do. Have a walk, watch the news (actually, don’t watch the news – it’s depressing!) and when clocking off comes along – make the big commute to the kitchen. Even though you will have worked the same 8 hours you would have done – you saved ages getting to work, saved all sorts of wasted fuel and you are home nice and early to boot;
5. Make sure you stay connected – there are loads of channels available to keep in touch with your colleagues, social and business – we use Teams, but there’s Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp and loads of others. Just seeing your colleagues’ faces next to the words ‘available’ gives you that office feeling;
6. Ask others to respect your work – this one is easier said than done – because ‘working from home’ is so often seen as a ‘skive’, your relatives, even your kids and maybe your partners – might just think that because you are home then you can just chat. Try to make them understand that just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you’re always available. Now this is made very hard if you have young kids, my eldest – now nearly 30 – first laughed when I bounced her up and down in front of my PC when writing up my PhD – odd really as I’m sure she couldn’t read…😉 so try and balance your work with your partner (if you have one) or a relative/friend who might be able to pop in and entertain the little ones;
7. Structure your day just like an office day – you’re likely to have meetings cancelled now as face to face is barred – well don’t let that happen – just swap the F2F with an online meeting – online is often more structured because they are shorter – so use this as an opportunity to get the right people invited and to have a well-structured agenda – it’s also much easier to chair a meeting well online – as social chit chat is less prevalent – so you might even find more meetings and certainly more productive ones;
8. Split up your tasks – this is easier said than done – but home working can get dull if you keep doing the same task for hours on end – so try and break up your day a little with all the things you often don’t get around to – like doing your expenses or watching that great TED Talk you were told about ages ago…
9. Don’t be afraid to socialise – all work and no play makes us all dull boys and girls, so try to make contact with your co-workers (online obvs!) – a shared joke or an interesting news story can help their day go well too. Just knowing that your colleagues are working helps motivate you to keep going as we are all in this together;
10. Use the extra time you win back from not commuting or having to fly to meetings/conferences to spend more time with your friends and family – now in a lock down situation I appreciate that will be a tough ask, but if you’re living with family try and get some extra time to read to the kids, speak to your partner – get that shelf back up or paint that spare room.
And don’t forget your own health, so remember to keep fit! Move about more, walk the dog, or pretend to walk a dog, get up those stairs, get your 10,000 paces in. You’ll be fitter in no time, and that’s good whatever is happening out there!
And finally try and enjoy it – this is a once in a generation opportunity to change the way you think about work – I’ve been home working all my life and it’s meant I’ve seen more of my family and friends than most of the people I know (and just to prove it, here’s me, almost exactly a half-life time ago, banging on about how the future of conferences is online not face to face). What’s more home working is good for you, body and soul, it’s good for the environment and above all it’s very, very productive.
Let’s show this virus just how adaptive humans are. Oh and keep washing your hands. Lots.