I have been successfully working from home for the past 7 years after decades of being office based. I have to admit… I love it! I am far more productive because I don’t have the same constant interruptions and distractions I used to get in the workplace. I no longer waste hours travelling and can work later into the evening without having to worry about being too tired to drive home. Best of all, after a good 40 minute walk each morning, my dogs are happy to lie at my feet as I happily work throughout the day.
But it took some getting used to. If you are having to work from home at present and finding it all a bit much, especially if you have children at home, here are some tips and tricks I’ve built over the years. You may find something useful!
Timekeeping, management and routine
- Get into a routine – one that works for you, your family and your employer.
- Make sure you communicate and work with your manager to find a routine that works for all.
- Create a list first thing Monday morning of all the actions you need to complete by the end of the week and plan your actions day-by-day. Allow some time for urgent tasks/calls that may crop up without warning.
- Multi-tasking is a myth! Focus on one activity at a time until it is complete, or you’ve taken it as far as you can without input from others. Don’t let working from home derail your focus.
- Avoid looking at emails as they come in, instead get into the habit of checking emails at set times of the day.
- If it feels like your workload has trebled (it has for many people working through the pandemic) and you are struggling to keep on top, work with your team leader to agree the top priorities and provide regular progress updates.
Own your workspace
- If possible, allocate part of the house to be your dedicated workspace. If this can be a separate room, then all the better!
- Ensure you have a clean and tidy desk space to work from, even if it’s the kitchen table.
- Take the time to stand up and move around at least once an hour if you can.
- Have a way of signalling to the rest of the family when you can/cannot be interrupted. Such as a sign on the door.
- Where possible, put your work away where you cannot see it at the end of the day. Shut the office/kitchen/dining room door, close your laptop, tidy away your papers. It’s important you switch off at the end of each working day.
Keep alert on audio calls
- Firstly, if you mean to join online meetings as audio only, check your camera hasn’t inadvertently turned on…it happens!
- It’s very tempting to try to multi-task while on audio calls but my advice is don’t! Concentrate fully on audio calls as much as if you were in the room and make sure you don’t miss anything by being distracted.
- Take notes while on audio calls, as you would if you were in the room.
- Make sure you go on mute if you aren’t talking to ensure better line quality for everyone, but also to avoid that embarrassing heavy breathing that can sometimes happen.
- If you want to record a call, ask for everyone’s permission before hitting the record button.
Be prepared for video calls
- Find a backdrop to hang on the wall behind you if you don’t want to share the inside of your home with work colleagues.
- Microsoft Teams gives you the option to blur your background or even customise with pre-set images: Microsoft Teams Custom Backgrounds
- Ladies, keep a lipstick and comb by your laptop – just in case that conference audio call switches to a video call.
- Desk lights are great to luminate your face during video calls, especially if you’re feeling a bit haggard due to burning the midnight oil – working of course!
- Invest in smart shirts and tops even if you are wearing jogging pants below the camera line. Ladies, pashminas are great to keep on the back of your chair and to throw on for those unexpected video calls.
Look after your general and mental health
- If you feel yourself getting stressed or overwhelmed, try talking to your team leader and explain the challenges you are facing and work together to agree priorities.
- Book time off for rest and recuperation, it’s important you look after your health.
- If need be and if feasible, request to reduce your hours for a short time in order to juggle home and work commitments and avoid having a melt-down.
- Schedule times in your calendar to take care of yourself or your family, whether that is for dinner, bath-time, putting the little ones to bed or even a short yoga session.
- Take the time to plan, purchase/make and eat healthy meals.
- Schedule weekly 30 min calls with groups of your favourite colleagues for general, non-work related, social chit-chat catch-ups. You will miss your work community and they will be missing you!
- Organise your office/workspace so you have a pleasant area to work in. Order yourself a desk, if you can. Sit facing a window with a view. Surround yourself with motivational images, either family photos, work awards and certificates or inspirational mottos. Whatever makes you feel good and motivates you.
- Make sure you remember to leave your desk and work behind at the end of the working day! This is one of my biggest challenges. I now schedule a second dog walk at the end of the working day to ensure I finish at a sensible time, but also to get some fresh air, exercise and to clear my mind of work pressures before it’s time to sleep.
For those with children
- Take a flexible approach to your working time and make use of the times when the little ones are asleep or cared for by another adult in the house.
- Kids love a white board or flip chart, let them get creative while you focus on work.
- Invest in books and find educational programs they can sit and watch.
- Let the young children sit quietly in your lap and cuddle on those audio and even video calls.
- Allocate them fun work tasks to do. My sons both loved being able to come into the workplace with me and having little jobs to do, shredding paper, filling staplers, drawing office art!
- If old enough, give them small jobs to do around the house and even keep you in cups of tea and coffee as you work.
If working from home is a recent move, through choice or necessity, it won’t be long until it starts to feel natural and you get into your rhythm. This is especially the case if you work with a global team and are used to spending time on calls.