Today we’re going to look at something a little bit different: given current world affairs with the Covid-19 virus, you may well be finding yourself currently working from home for the foreseeable future, self-isolating and avoiding anyone who has ever coughed near you. What bliss - no commute! Working in your PJs from bed! Freedom!
However if you’ve never worked from home before, then you could find the sudden move out of the office environment surprisingly difficult to adjust to. You may well find it hard to concentrate - getting distracted more often - and end up less productive than you would be in a crowded office surrounded by people.
Working from home is a knack, and one I’ve been doing for a long time - I’ve spent a large part of the last decade working from home in some form, and I’ve picked up a lot of helpful tips along the way. So for today I’m taking off my electrical expert hat, and laying down my guide to making the best of working from home!
1. Set some structure
The most important point is to make sure you have a solid routine. Clearly define when you’re going to start working, when your breaks are, and when you’re going to stop. It doesn’t have to be your standard 9-5 working hours - you may want to start working super early and be done mid-way through the afternoon, or lie in for a while and work through into the early evening. You’re not wasting time on the commute, so whenever you pick is good!
The important thing is that a solid routine will help stop the seductive slope of ‘well, I’ll just have one more cup of tea in bed, then I’ll definitely start work!’ - we’ve all been there, and making sure you’re settled in your chosen workspace at a good time will help you get into the mindset for working. Talking about workspaces…
2. Set up a good workspace
Working from bed can be fun, and it’s nice to do that now and again, but it’s also comfortable and warm and you can easily drift back to sleep again. A well set up workspace will help get your head in the right frame of mind to work - clear off a desk or table for your laptop, and only use it for that specific purpose - make that the working corner of your house.
An important addition to this: make sure to remove any distractions from around your workspace. I used to have a couple of guitars around where I work, and that was definitely a mistake - I would pick one up while I thought about a work problem, and suddenly 30 mins had passed while I played! Whoops…
3. Set up good communication tools with your team
Unless you work solo, you’ll probably have work colleagues who are also now working from home. These are the people you saw everyday, helped with problems, and chatted with over lunch. So many small work problems are solved with a simple conversation, so it’s good to keep those conversations going now that you’re not in the same physical area. Team messaging programs like Microsoft Teams or Slack are crucial for this - they allow you to keep in close contact with the rest of your team, and stop you becoming too isolated.
Video is also good for catching up with your colleagues and taking meetings from home - Skype is the standard video conferencing tool, though there are multiple alternatives you can try.
Isolation is bad not just because you might miss the latest gossip - it can also be seriously detrimental for your mental health, especially if there is no-one else around to talk to in your house. Moreover, it can help keep your head in work mode, and will stop your productivity sliding by keeping you focussed on the current projects for the company.
4. Consider using the Pomodoro Technique
Working from home is a different beast to working in an office - primarily because you have to rely on self-motivation rather than having a team and a boss pushing you to work. For many people this can be difficult - it requires no small amount of willpower to stop yourself getting distracted and goofing off.
There are any number of different methodologies to help good time management and self-motivation, and the Pomodoro Technique is one of the classics. Developed in the 80s, it involves breaking your day down into 25 minute chunks: decide what you’re going to work on, set a timer for 25 minutes, then work solidly for 25 minutes before giving yourself a 5 minutes break. Repeat.
The benefit of the Pomodoro Technique is it allows you to concentrate fully for short bursts, but not so much that your concentration starts to waver and your work ethic fades. Effectively you’re running a race in several small bursts rather than one exhausting run - you get to the same place, but you’re far less likely to get fed up and quit. Also having to decide a specific task to tackle allows you to better plan your day, thereby increasing efficiency.
5. Always have a backup internet plan
The internet may be as bad as it is good, but it is indispensable when working from home. Of course, Sod’s Law means that the minute you absolutely require the internet for work… it’s going to stop working. It may be down for minutes or hours, but it’s definitely going to interrupt your work just as you have an important Skype call with your boss.
So a crucial tip for any long-term working from home lifestyle: have a backup plan for when the internet goes down. Tethering to your phone is a perfectly good method - as is knowing a nearby cafe or pub with good wifi. It’ll save a lot of stress further down the line, believe me!
6. Schedule Breaks
Sure, work is important. However when working from home, it’s important to schedule in some time to just stop for a moment. When you don’t have someone breathing down your neck or any co-workers around, it becomes easy to just slip into the zone and sit at your computer for hours without moving.
Once again, this is about your mental health - working like a machine might be productive, but it will also leave you feeling drained, and like you’ve done nothing but just sit in a chair and not move. Moreover, without a commute to create a barrier between work and home, it can seem like a bit like you’re trapped at home.
So - take breaks! Make sure to get up and wander around every 40 minutes or so - go grab a coffee, have a biscuit, pet the cat - just move around. Take an hour over lunch to rest and ignore your computer - and remember to have a proper big lunch! I can’t count the number of times I’ve been absorbed in work and completely missed lunchtime! Whoops. And talking of food...
7. Don't stress the smart clothes
We're living in such a strange time, and you may as well make the best of it - why are you still wearing proper clothes when working from home? Sure, you may need to look nice if you have Zoom calls with clients, but otherwise - embrace the new order of PJs and t-shirts!
8. Keep off social media
It seems obvious, but it’s worth stating - try to limit the amount of time you spend on social media or overly-distracting websites when you’re trying to work. Sites like Facebook, Twitter or Reddit can easily swallow hours of time - especially if you don’t have a boss to dissuade you from checking them.
In extreme cases, you can activate blockers on your browser to stop you from visiting websites during certain times - use them if your willpower needs a little boost.
9. However: Social contact is important
...That said, make sure you don’t become a hermit, and keep in contact with people - arrange video conferences, chat over texts and keep people up to date with your life on social media when you’re not working.
At the risk of repeating myself, much of working from home is about managing both your willpower and mental wellbeing - and social contact of any type is important. I’m definitely guilty of spending weeks without really talking to anyone, just working at my desk - and then wondering why I feel terribly lonely! Going out to meet people may not be the best option in the current health crisis, but there are plenty of other ways of getting your social fix.
10. Good coffee is important
Finally, if you’re only going to take one tip from this list: get some good coffee. Or good tea, if that’s your preference. The act of making a hot drink is meditative and distracts you from everything else - it allows you a break from the screen and improves your mood at the same time.
Plus you deserve good coffee!