Working from home (and enjoying it): a practical guide for the newly initiated.
It’s novel at first. Thrilling even. Just the idea of not being confined in an office setting is appealing. It’s working from home. Suddenly you no longer have a commute, you can play music as loud as you want, heck, you could even microwave a fish sandwich for lunch without seriously offending anyone (except your significant other of course).
However, this will start to wear off, and if you’re not careful, a degree of house-arrest-induced madness might start to creep in. Well we have been working remotely on and off for a while now. Here are our tips, as well as a few things we would have done differently given what we know now.
For goodness sake, put on some pants
Not gonna lie, one of the great pleasures of working from home is working in your PJs. For the first couple of days it’s a real treat.
However, after a while you’ll miss the distinct work/home life divide and then the two begin to blur. Want to feel like it’s time to work every time you put on your PJs? Less exciting now isn’t it?
Have a start and end of work routine
In the spirit of maintaining that work/home life divide, we recommend having a clear routine that signals the start and end of your day. That dreary commute served a useful purpose – it signalled when you had to switch from ‘normal life’ to work mode.
On day one (and probably days two and three) it’ll be great to roll out of bed (into your pants, remember) and skip the mandatory trudge to the office. But you’ll be amazed how quickly you miss it.
Personally, when working from home, I’m a big fan of ‘walking to work’. Pseudo-commutes keep you active and keep you sane. A walk round the park instead of a half hour on public transport is a delight. Perhaps unrealistic if you’re self-isolating, but do factor in something that you enjoy. Maybe your bag is a set of squats and burpees. Maybe it’s five minutes with a cuppa. Signal your brain when it’s time to work and when it’s time to ‘go home’. Protect your work life balance.
People work less at home right? Wrong! Maybe at first. But soon you’ll get bored and work will keep you entertained. Before you know it, you’ve worked past lunch (those fish sandwiches will lose their allure) and hey, you might have even worked through dinner. You and your boss will both be blown away by your new found productivity. Maybe this working from home thing is the future, you’ll think. And it is. Sort of. But if you keep up this pace you’ll find yourself on a fast track to burn out.
If you keep charging on unabated, soon your eyes will be sore, your body stiff and you’ll be so intensely into whatever you’re focusing on that you snap at anyone who interrupts your flow. I’ve worked until I couldn’t blink and focus my eyes anymore. It’s not a good look and the headaches are miserable. Top tip; if the light starts strobing in your peripherals you’ve overdone it.
Stop. Breathe. At least every hour, come up for air. Seriously. Set alarms. Stretch your legs. Drink some water. Take five minutes to start that book you’ve been meaning to read. Walk up and down the apartment block stairs. Take inspiration from your pets.
Working from home, done right, can be exhilarating. Just don’t get stuck on the hamster wheel of work.
Create a workstation
If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room then great, set up an office. If not, it’s up to you to get inventive. A corner of the lounge with some kind of divider is just fine. Got a really big cupboard with good lighting? Clear it out and then set up your desk.
Adopt a good posture
Same things apply at home as at the office. Pick a supportive chair; set your monitor at eye level (stack it on books if you have to); and sit up with your back straight. If you can, get large monitors to save your eyes and boost productivity.
Be wary of resting your arms or wrists on hard surfaces. If the relaxed environment permeates into your posture and habits, repetitive strain injury (RSI) will become your nemesis. You can feel invincible working from home until all of a sudden it hurts making key presses or gripping your coffee cup. If you’re lucky you can get over RSI in a couple of weeks, but avoid getting it in the first place at all costs.
Hide your stuff
Odds are you’re going to be taking video calls. Try and ensure a nice background – whether it’s just a blank wall, some kind of screen, or anything simple you can fashion. Enforced home working notwithstanding, the last thing you want is everyone snooping into your (hopefully tidy) home. If you’re really struggling, some webcam apps will let you blur out the background or put in a virtual one.
At the end of the day, tuck that workstation away. Close the door. Put a throw over the desk. Out of sight, out of mind – you’re home.
Get good headphones
Music is your friend. Noisy neighbours are not. You might be working from home, but the kids playing football in the street don’t care. The dog barking in the garden is just a very good boy who wants to be your friend. Trust us. Headphones.
If you can pick up a set with a nice microphone even better. Can’t stress enough how much easier phone calls and video conferences are with a high quality, hands free microphone. Don’t be the irritating one with the crackly mic that has to keep repeating yourself.
It’s inevitable, home working gets lonely. Even for the recluses among us, it’s hard being alone for long periods, and even more so when it’s imposed upon you. Get on the phone. Get on a video call. Find ways to connect regularly with other humans. They need it just as much as you do. We’re social creatures, it’s science.
Whenever I have an emotional bump, I invariably find myself thinking about other people. If I’m struggling, who else is struggling? Look out for your peers, your friends, your family, yes even your boss. It’s lonely at the top too.
Plan joyful moments
Self care for home workers is essential. Love a hot bath? Get it in the schedule. Go mad for a box set? Put it on the telly. Carefully defend your personal time and give yourself things to look forward to. Without them, you’ll just feel like you’re at work all the time.
We’re all connected all the time. Find yourself answering calls and emails in your personal time before? Without the physical divide, the boundaries get even more blurry. If you can’t bring yourself to switch off devices, or to leave them in other rooms, then schedule silent or ‘priority mode’ so you don’t even have to remember to do it. Turn off notifications. Look into the eyes of your loved ones. No peeking at that screen! Be present for the people in your life.
Make the most of it
There are lots of unexpected things about working from home, and sure, some of them are hard. It’s definitely not all sunshine and lollipops, especially if it wasn’t your choice. However, there are lots of upsides too.
Need a nap? Have one. The unadulterated joy of the mid afternoon nap never gets old.
Need to get on top of some household stuff? Now you can! I like to have a ‘procrastination list’ to defer to in times of need. Add your tempting distractions to it when the going is good. And those times when productivity is waning and you need a change of pace? Check the list – get that closet tidied!
Got a favourite movie you’ve seen 100 times? Chuck it on in the background. You know it well enough that it won’t actually distract you – but when those favourite tear jerking moments arise, or those silly smiles… well, those are the moments worth having in your day.
You got this
A final thought. You got this. You really do. Everything’s going to be OK.
Read next: You’ll be great. You just have to go for it.