For a lot of us, working from home will become the new normal, and over time we will embrace it and start to wonder how we ever put up with the stupidity and time and energy draining, daily commute for so long.
The problem now though, is that for most of us, the change to working from home and the differences it brings to our work and family life, have been rather sudden, and we have had no say in the matter.
We are however, where we are, and with the government and local councils in the UK, looking to use the COVID-19 Pandemic as an opportunity to rethink how our cities function, and break our reliance on the private car, this is a good opportunity for us to all re-assess what we want out of life and possibly achieve the lifestyle we have all been looking for. The one silver lining to this cloud.
But for now, let’s look at how we can improve home working, and get through the next few months of lockdown.
1. Make sure you are in control
Without steady schedules, and the old normal grind of home/commute/work/commute/home, the lines between work and our personal time can get blurred. We can lose track of the time of day and the days themselves. We find the weekdays and the weekends blur into one and all of a sudden, the bank holiday weekend becomes a ‘so what’.
This can be stressful, and we have to accept that until we adjust to our new lifestyles and the new work patterns, we will be stressed.
The best way to cope with this for now is to put in place a ‘fake schedule’. By this we mean that even though you don’t have to rush to get the train at 07:05, put into place a schedule as if you had to catch that train.
Set a time to wake up and keep to it, have your breakfast, and if like me, you used to just have a coffee, start having breakfast, and please get out of your pyjamas, you will feel better for it, honestly.
Also schedule in your fake “commute time” as your new ‘pre work treat time’ and use it to take the dog for a walk,or read a couple of chapters of a book. Just do anything, but pencil in some time and keep it, just as you would if you had to catch that train. It is your bonus to yourself and you deserve it.
At the end of the day, set a finish time, close your laptop, stop checking your emails, and if you are lucky, shut the door on your home office and leave it there.
It will be waiting for you until the following day but don’t dwell on it. Use your ‘evening commute’ time to spend some time with your family, phone friends and have a chat or just get some fresh air to wrap up your workday and put it to bed.
Talking about bed, just as if you had an early commute to the office, set a bedtime and stick to it. You will thank yourself for it in the morning.
The key to successfully working from home is to remember to let the rest of your family or others you live with, know that you have a schedule and will be sticking to it.
This is also key to maintaining your mental wellbeing whilst you are working at home. Working at home gives you more flexibility and you can appear to younger family members to be having a holiday. They may not understand that you are not always available and want to spend more time with you. This will obviously be hard for you to deal with, but letting people know you have a schedule, explaining why, and keeping to it, helps manage expectation all round and having the discussion up front will make it easier to deal with as it becomes your new normal.
2. Create a home working space
When you live and work in the same space and end up perching on the corner of a kitchen table, you lose the boundaries between your work life and your home or family life and at this point you start to feel as if you are losing control and have to be ‘always on’.
This can create anxiety and a negative feedback loop where the more you work, the more you have to work, or just check emails ‘one more time’ even if it is 2am in the morning!
If you can, find a quiet space away from other people and distractions like the TV and try not to work in the kitchen; it’s great for getting a quick coffee, not so great if you end up raiding the fridge for some comfort food and start piling on the weight.
Before you start, make sure you have everything you need such as pens, paper, phone chargers, headset, and then, if possible, shut the door and switch to work mode. Even if you live in a small or shared space, try to set aside an area as your workspace and stick to it.
Don’t succumb to temptation, whilst you may think you can work just as well, slumped on the sofa and with Netflix on in the background, don’t do it, you won’t be as productive, and everything will merge into one. You will lose your focus and discipline.
You may be home, but you are at work and like at work it’s much better to sit at a desk or table, you will be much more productive, and will feel much more focussed and as if you are achieving more.
3. Take plenty of ‘screen breaks’
Ironically, when working from home, we suffer far more from presenteeism than we do when being in the office. I don’t know about you, but when I work from home, I feel uncomfortable being away from my laptop in case anyone wants a quick video call and can’t get in touch.
This leads onto my thinking that if people cannot get in touch with me, then they don’t think I am working. The dumb thing about all of this is when I try to get in touch with people and I don’t get a reply, I just think they are too busy to speak to me and must be working hard.
This being ‘present’ or ‘online 24×7’ doesn’t help anyone’s mental state and the other problem with it is that it can result in ever increasing self-fulfilment of expectation that we are always available at anyone’s beck and call. Start as you mean to go on.
Try to take regular screen breaks and lunch. If necessary, book your time out as ‘away’ or use the ‘busy’ indicators on Skype or Zoom to let people know you are not available just now, but also let them know when you will be back.
Get up, walk around, get some fresh air, break it up. If you were in the office you would spend time at your desk, time at meetings, get lunch, or go out for a coffee; do the same even if you are at home.
Working from home means you will be moving less. You will no longer be commuting or carrying a laptop bag. You won’t be getting your steps in on your Fitbit, and the lethargy soon builds up. Being too close to the fridge won’t help either.
4. Keep in touch
At times we all feel isolated, and with the Coronavirus Pandemic, this isolation has become for a lot of us, government policy. Remember, feeling isolated and alone is normal right now, you are isolated, but it is not going to last and you can beat it.
Remember your colleagues are in the same situation and even though you are not together in the office, they are still your colleagues. If possible, make video or voice calls, use instant messaging tools rather than email o just pick up the phone.
Make sure you interact with people during the day, and make sure this includes topics of conversation other than work. It will help your mental state, and you will be helping theirs as well. Work as a team and make sure you keep in touch with your team every day.
One tip is to have a daily stand up. This comes from a project methodology for team-based ways of working . What you need to do is set up a group chat or video call, which everyone dials into
In your stand up , keep it simple and follow a fixed format of everyone taking it in turns saying what they did yesterday, what they are doing today and what problems they may have in getting things done. That is it.
It helps teams understand what other people in the team are doing, it helps you feel less alone and if you do have a problem, it helps other team members join in and help you. Just set a time for this daily stand up and stick to it every day. Same time, same format, just randomise the order in which people speak.
Some teams also schedule in water cooler moments such as virtual coffee breaks and pub quizzes. This does not suit everybody, but they are an option.
5. Plan for the future
A lot of what we have suggested above, appears very negative, we don’t want to be negative but having worked from home for a number of years, experience has told us that you have to treat working from home pretty much as you would if you were working in the office. You don’t have to go as far as wearing a suit but you need to get dressed, create a routine, create a working space and stick to it as much as you would if you were in your proper office.
Working from home has a lot of benefits such as reducing the financial cost and time of your commute, as well as the impact of this on the environment. It gives you more time to spend with your family and makes it easier to keep in touch with your friends.
For a lot of us, this working from home was thrust upon us and we had no choice in the matter. Long term, more and more of us will be working from home and it may be that for a lot of us, we will only spend a day or two in the office each month.
We may find over time, companies close their offices altogether and resort to booking shared office spaces and meeting rooms, as and when they are needed, rather than carrying the financial burdens of fully maintained private offices.
All this means that we will have to face up to the changes that are happening, accept that we are not going back to the old ways, and look to ways to improve the home working spaces that are available to us.
New collaborative tools and communication channels will help us work collaboratively. We may appear to be separate but we will still be working together, it ill just be a bit different and we will get there.
Why not check out our guide to the 8 must haves for your home working office.