9 ways to work from home

April 1, 2020

The idea of working from home is a very romantic one. Imagine relaxing on the sofa in your dressing gown, while you casually answer a few emails. But anybody who has ever had to work from home for more than a day, will tell you that this is not the reality.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the population, millions of people all over the world suddenly found themselves having to work from home – many of them for the first time in their lives.

Not everybody has an active contingency plan for a situation like this. So here is a series of tips to help you work from home better. These tips come from the home-working veterans who have already been there, done that, and bought a t-shirt that they’ve worn for three days while working from their kitchen table.

Maybe that last one is just me.

1. Set your ‘business hours’

One of the first mistakes you might make when you start to work from home, is thinking you suddenly have a full 24 hours worth of day to play with. Alright, technically there are still 24 hours in a day. And sure, you have saved some time on your daily commute. But if you try to get too creative with your timekeeping, it is very easy to end up falling behind on your work – or even burning yourself out.

“If you’re not careful, you can easily carry on working into the night” says Safeena Walji, a public relations manager at Rev, with plenty of homeworking experience.

Setting specific ‘business hours’ will help you to separate work from play. But it also helps other people in your household to understand when they can and cannot bother you. And this is something that Safeena says is particularly important.

“If you live with people who aren’t used to you working from home, it can be helpful to set ‘business hours’” she says. “This lets them know you’re unavailable during those times unless an emergency comes up, as is the case when you’re in the office.”

2. Create a schedule

Of course, setting your business hours isn’t an automatic guarantee that you’re going to get your work done. Another challenge Safeena and I agreed on, was that of trying to stay productive when you work from home.

“When your home becomes your office, it can be harder to maintain a healthy work-life balance” says Safeena. “Creating some structure in your day can help you stay on track and be as productive as you are in the office.”

There are lots of ways to create a schedule. Some people like to prioritise tasks based on importance. Some people like to set dedicated time slots for specific activities. What works for me won’t work for you, and so I won’t get into the finer detail of that right now.

But what I will say, is that you should prepare a schedule, whatever works for you, and make sure you stick to it.

3. Give yourself time to wake up

On the very first day you ever work from home, you’ll probably find yourself up at the crack of dawn, adjusting the angle of your laptop and checking the temperature of your coffee. But by the third day, you are probably playing a game of chicken with the clock – it’s 8.59am, and you’re not sure which one of you is going to move first.

You see, the moment your body realises that your morning commute simply involves rolling out of bed, it suddenly starts to ask you why you’re getting up at 6am. But you’ve got to tell your body who is boss!

“It is hard to make yourself wake up early, when you know that all you have to do is roll out of bed and open your computer” says Tom Mumford- co-founder of Undergrads LLC. “But doing this will only hurt your morning productivity, because you are still waking up. Getting up even just 20-30 minutes before having to start work will help you focus once you’re at your desk.”
Tom says you should give yourself enough time to get ready, make some coffee, and spend some time with your pet, your loved ones, or the news reader – whatever you might enjoy in the morning before having to be at your desk. Not only will this increase productivity, but it will improve your mood.

4. Have a dedicated work space

On the subject of getting up on time, you might be thinking “why bother getting up at all, when I can just stay in bed and work?” The temptation is real, but it’s not worth it. Your bed is a place of rest, and if you start to build associations with answering frantic emails or dealing with difficult customers, then you’ll have trouble relaxing in bed when it’s actually time to sleep.

Plus, when you get yourself too comfortable, you run the risk of forgetting that you’re meant to be working. Kerry Wekelo, COO at Actualize Consulting, says that if possible, your workspace at home should be its own dedicated space.

“Having a space reserved for working helps get you in the right mindset each day” she says. “While you do have the freedom to work from your bed or sofa, you may find yourself drifting to sleep. Sitting up straight and having a proper work area does wonders for motivation.”

Oh, and if possible, get yourself a table or a desk to work from. Laptops are fine on your lap for short bursts, but working like that all day can put some real strain on your body. If you don’t believe me, then try this: Put your laptop on your lap. Type something. Now freeze right where you are, and ask somebody to remove your laptop for you. Take note of your position – it’s not natural, is it?

5. Keep moving!

But it’s not just your posture that’s important to take note of when you work from home. Once you’ve established a good working environment that supports good posture, Kerry says you need to remember to get up and move frequently.

“Without the usual office distractions, it can be hard to remember to take breaks” she says. “Movement, even if just for five minutes, is important to schedule into the workday.”

Kerry says that she enjoys ‘walk and talk’ meetings while on the phone to her colleagues, and that she encourages her team members to do the same.

At People HR, we have been doing group yoga sessions, via video link, twice daily. Not only has this been a fun way to bond as a team, but it has helped us all stay active. Two yoga sessions a day might seem a little intense, but we have found that employees feel far more energetic throughout the day as a result.

6. Eat well

There are two traps that are easy to fall into when working from home.

Firstly, you might sometimes find yourself forgetting to prepare regular meals, because you’re outside your normal routine – in which case, try writing an official lunch break into your schedule. But it’s also very easy to start snacking on the crap you have in your cupboards – crap that you might not normally have access to at work.

Try to think about your nutrition carefully. Working from home takes a lot of self-motivation, which takes energy. So remember to eat a good breakfast that provides slow-release energy throughout the day, and try not to dump too many carbs into your body at lunch time, lest you fall victim to the afternoon slump.

At People HR, our in-house chef Phil has been providing us with simple daily recipes to help us find interesting new ways to put the right ingredients into our bodies.

7. Keep the bants up

There’s nothing that can quite replace the naturally-occuring ‘banter’ you get in a thriving office environment. If you’re away for long enough, you’ll even start to miss the people who constantly complain about the air conditioning!

It is so easy to feel isolated, especially if working from home is not your normal practice. So whatever jokes and casual conversation you enjoyed with your colleagues in ‘real life’, you should make extra effort to keep that going remotely.

Tools like Skype or Slack are great for staying in touch with colleagues, especially because they allow you to create group chats, where all of the fun and laughter from the office can be delivered right to your kitchen table.

Make an effort to reach out to people who you might not normally have a long conversation with, too. That person who you only say hi to when you pass them in the corridor, or the one who you sometimes bump into at the coffee machine – small interactions like these can help you to feel more included as part of your company’s culture. Keeping those relationships alive is important.

8. Managers, keep your teams together

According to lawyer Ted Kaplun, keeping communication alive is even more important if you’re responsible for a team of people.

“As a manager, you must still show up” says Ted. “This means being present. While you cannot be physically present, being accessible to employees is important.”

Ted says that you could set up regular video calls with your team members, to check-in and let them share any concerns. But at the same time, be mindful that your employees may have all sorts of different challenges to deal with from home. So you’ve got to take a tailored approach.

“Many employees wear multiple hats, including parent and teacher” says Ted. “Embrace it. Be flexible when it comes to working hours. Be understanding of each employee’s new environment. This will keep operations running smoothly, even if typical working hours change – and your employees will appreciate their jobs and work harder as a result.”

9. Enjoy making the decisions

Of course, one of the best tips I can give you for working from home, is to take time to really appreciate being able to do things according to your own personal style. And I’m not the only one who thinks this is important – the Chartered Institute of Marketing seems to agree.

“Your new workspace might not be purpose built” writes Tobias Gourlay on the CIM website, “but it does have some advantages. Music? No music? The choice is yours. And your lunchtime options now extend far beyond damp supermarket sandwiches.”

So be mindful of your environment, your schedule, your getting-up time, sure. But remember that some of life’s finer details are up to you now. You choose what to wear, what to listen to, and what temperature to set the thermostat to – depending, of course, on who you live with!

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