With the UK ramping up its response to the COVID-19 outbreak, more and more people are going to be working from home. I’ve been in the fortunate position (at least, I consider it fortunate) to have been largely working from home for the last nine years. It’s certainly possible to get plenty done, and it doesn’t have to be a miserable experience.
I’m not going to talk about the technology of home working, but instead here are some non-technical tips. Let me be clear, I don’t manage to do all of these all the time, but this is what I consider the ideal based on experience. Your mileage may vary, and none of these are considered a criticism of anyone else’s routine… just what I find helpful and hope you might too.
1. Have “Office Hours”
When your office is also your home, it’s far too easy to think, “Oh, I still need to do that thing… I’ll do it after dinner”. Suddenly you’re working ridiculously long days just because you can. That, my friends, isn’t healthy. Instead, try to have set times you will work between and anything outside of that is personal time.
Of course, there will be occasions where you need to, or really want to work outside those times but at least make an agreement with yourself that you’ll claim that time back. If you work late one evening, for example, try to work a half-day the next if you can.
On top of this, having “office hours” lets the rest of the household gauge your availability instead of having to guess whether you’re busy or not.
2. Find Space
Oh how nice it would be to be able to reach over, get the laptop out, and do a full day’s work from your bed! The problem with that is your bed, which should be a place of rest and relaxation, has now become a workplace. It might not seem important, but subconsciously you’ll have changed the way you think about that space. I don’t have a dining room in my house, but when I did I also found that using that space for work made it less “homely” unless I was strict on clearing away all my stuff afterwards and returning it to a home space after work.
Fortunately, now, I have a separate office that keeps work away from home. If you can, I would strongly recommend doing this. Finding a space means you separate work from home, and also have somewhere to escape to if the children are struggling to leave you to work.
If you don’t have a dedicated space, try to set boundaries to let other occupants of the house know you’re working in a particular area and shouldn’t be disturbed unless necessary, and try to clear up after yourself so you’re not constantly looking at your work after you’re finished for the day.
3. Look After Yourself
There’s a lot to this one, but I’m really thinking about personal hygiene here. Hygiene’s high on everyone priority list just now, but shouldn’t it always be? See, if you’re working from home, it’s easy to roll out of bed in the morning and start work still in your pyjamas. That, however, is a path to unpleasant smells and low self-esteem. Make sure you keep to a “normal” routine… have your morning shower, get dressed, have breakfast, all that stuff. None of that has to change just because you’re working from home and, trust me, you’ll feel better for it. Let me tell you, there are days I do the whole “working in your pyjamas” thing, and I’m never as geared up for a day’s work as when I make a bit more of an effort in the morning.
4. Talk To People
For us introverts, the idea of being left alone to just get on with your work can be very, very appealing. All things must be in balance, however, and there’s a danger that if you spend all your time alone you can start to feel isolated and lose a sense of perspective. When problems come, and they will come, it can feel like you have to deal with them all on your own or like they are much bigger than they really are.
Take some time to speak to people. Whether that’s on video conferencing, on the phone, or with a few friends or family (bear in mind the current guidelines on social distancing, though). Being able to talk things over with other people can help you come up with new ideas or come to the realisation that you are not alone, and that most problems aren’t as big and scary as they first seem.
5. Get Some Fresh Air
I was going to write about this under the heading of looking after yourself, but I thought it was worth a section on its own. You should take the opportunity to get out of your working environment and into fresh air every day if at all possible. Now, I know there are all sorts of considerations at the moment to do with isolation but even a ten-minute walk around the park will do you the power of good. Quite apart from the benefits of a little exercise, getting out and about to clear your head will help with maintaining a good mood and will give you some valuable thinking time away from the computer.
I know on days when I haven’t managed to leave the house at all, I’m usually desperate to get out for even a short walk in the evening. Those of you who have met me in person will know I’m not exactly a fitness freak, so this isn’t just about staying fit… it’s about maintaining mental health too.
So there we go; some non-technical tips for if you find yourself working from home. If you have some tips of your own you’d like to share, please do! Stay tuned, too, for some upcoming tips on technical solutions that can help with home working too. Most important, though, stay safe and healthy in these interesting times.