More people than ever before are working from home. It offers flexibility and convenience for employees, while businesses can benefit from hiring people who wouldn’t be able to travel to the office every day. It helps parents staying at home with children, people with accessibility needs, and those living too far away. And yes, during periods of public health concerns, working from home sometimes becomes an unexpected necessity.
With modern technology, it’s now the easiest it’s ever been to work remotely away from the office. We all have a multitude of ways to communicate – from phones, email, instant messaging and many apps designed to help teams of people collaborate. Just because you’re not physically sitting next to your colleague is no longer an excuse for not being in contact and productive throughout the working day.
Working from home can be an exciting novelty with a feeling of freedom, but this can quickly change into a feeling of extra pressure or becoming too relaxed with the situation. Not all jobs can be done from home, but for those that can, it’s important to understand how to keep yourself productive and effective, without burning out.
1. Keep to a routine
Working from home means you can wake up just before you need to log in, lie with your laptop on the sofa, wear your pyjamas and watch TV, right? Well... yes and no. But mostly no.
Working from home certainly does give you a lot more freedom, but you still need to get your work done. Working from home is a privilege and a responsibility, which relies on you being trustworthy enough to work without constant supervision.
Our advice is to create a routine for yourself. Wake up early enough that you aren’t still coming around when you need to start working, and have breakfast. Many people use their morning commute to get into the right headspace for work, but when you’re not travelling to the office, you lose that time, so find an alternative for this. Going for a walk before work or doing exercise may help get the blood flowing and the brain engaged.
You should also get dressed. You don’t necessarily need to be as smart as you would be in the office, but it will help get you into a better mindset to work, rather than feeling like you’re lounging around at home. It also avoids embarrassing moments on an unexpected video call!
Keeping to your working hours is essential. Some people may feel that because they’re not in the office or within sight of their manager or colleagues, they don’t need to work as hard and can take longer breaks. Others may feel inclined to work for longer in order to show how much they can achieve on their own. We would advise against both of these attitudes. Despite the different surroundings, you should aim to work the same way as you would in your office – don’t slack off, but don’t push yourself unnecessarily hard either.
2. Set clear boundaries
One of the positives of working around other people in an office is that it creates an atmosphere of work – it’s the place where people come to perform their job. And the nice thing about going home in an evening is that it’s a clear sign to stop working for the day. When you’re working close to (or even in) your kitchen, living room or bedroom it means working in the place you’re naturally used to relaxing, without these clear distinctions.
For this reason, it’s advisable not to work in your bedroom. Although lying on your bed might seem comfortable, it breaks the divide between work and leisure more than anything else.
Set boundaries with yourself and anyone else living in the house, such as establishing a clear and defined working area. Some people may have space they can turn into a dedicated office – especially if they’re working from home long-term – but for those who don’t, stating which area of the house you’re going to be working in and between which hours, lets others know that they shouldn’t disturb you. It also helps you to replicate some of that office atmosphere – you’re in this room specifically to work.
3. Find what works for you
Working remotely doesn’t necessarily have to mean working in your house, it simply means you aren’t in the office. Often, people have a reason to be at home, such as looking after children when they’re off school, having the builders in or waiting for a delivery. However, in some cases, people are able to work remotely but don’t specifically need to be at home – such as if the office itself has closed. In this situation, you may not want to work in your house, instead you may prefer to sit in a coffee shop or a library. For a longer-term solution, there are offices and other shared working areas where you can hire a hot-desking space.
Alternatively, if you do stay home, it’s important to know which room suits you best. For example, knowing which room will have the least distractions or be most comfortable to sit in during the day. Are you better with some background noise, such as music or TV, or do you focus better with silence? Do you want to be near a window or a lamp?
Finding the right setup for your own personal style and level of discipline will be crucial in keeping yourself productive and efficient. Remember, what works for you in your office won’t necessarily translate to what makes you most efficient in a different location. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different setups until you find the one that works best.
4. You need to be trustworthy
Just because you’re not in the office, doesn’t mean the core rules change. Obviously, the most important rule is to get your work done.
Another important rule is to be aware of how the work you’re doing meshes with your surroundings. This is most crucial when dealing with confidential information. In the office, you’re in a secure location with trusted people. Working at home with family or housemates there, or working in a Starbucks around complete strangers, could be problematic. It may even break some confidentiality agreements.
Also, be mindful of how you share documents and data with your colleagues and keep things like your firewall and antivirus software up to date. There are many excellent online collaboration tools, but they’re never going to be as secure as using a printer and a shredder.
If your employers can’t trust you to actually work while you’re at home, or to remain discreet about sensitive information, they could revoke your working from home privileges very quickly.
5. Keep yourself part of the team
When you aren’t regularly in the office, physically around your colleagues, there can be a sense of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ This is particularly true if you’re the only one not based in the office. Don’t let yourself be forgotten.
Whenever appropriate, pick up the phone or have a video call rather than emailing. This keeps your presence felt and gives you more opportunities to build personal relationships with colleagues, rather than being a hidden figure that they never have any real, meaningful interactions with. Saying hello and good evening when you log in and out for the day is a simple way to have regular conversations, even if you don’t have anything specifically work related to discuss. This is particularly useful if you’re working in a different time zone to other people, as it lets them know when you’re there and when you’re not.
Additionally, don’t let yourself be drawn into the fallacy that presence equals productivity. Just because other people are more of a visual presence in an organisation, doesn’t mean they do any more or any better work than you.
6. Look after your health
One of the big advantages and disadvantages of working from your house is that you don’t have to go outside. This can be a relaxing novelty at first but can very quickly become an issue.
For your physical health, you need to make sure you get enough exercise and fresh air. Walking between the kitchen and the table is not going to be enough steps to keep you healthy. Furthermore, being cooped up inside is unlikely to have a positive impact on your mental health. Going to the gym before or after work, or going for a walk during your lunch break, will help you stay fit and healthy.
It’s equally important to make sure you eat well and drink enough. It’s much easier to spend all day snacking while you’re working from your kitchen table, and there’s no one around to judge your calorie intake. Try to keep to healthier foods and set meal times – a good breakfast and lunch will be much better for you than all that chocolate.
7. Protect your work/life balance
Once you’ve started bringing your work into your home – which is supposed to be your safe space against the stresses of the outside world – it’s a slippery slope before it becomes all encompassing. Once these physical separations break down, it’s important to take deliberate and specific action to keep your work and homes lives from affecting each other.
Learn how to get yourself motivated in the morning and how to switch off in the evening. For many, just the act of entering and leaving the office is enough to switch their brain into work-mode, but if you’re not leaving the house, then you should find other ways of getting mentally prepared. It might be getting dressed to work, sitting in a particular area or it could even be having specific music playing.
Equally, know how to signify to yourself it’s time to end the day – getting changed into non-work clothes or going to a different room often helps tell yourself that the work day’s over.
It’s important to have other things you can do to switch off after work. Time with family, friends or enjoying hobbies are always positive, but especially so if you’re spending your day isolated in a solo work space.
We have a range of virtual learning solutions, which are perfect for when your teams are working from home. Learn more about them here.