The coronavirus has seen many people being advised to work from home – but even in today’s connected world this can be a new and startling experience for some. I’ve worked from a home office, on and off, for around 10 years now, and it’s a very different experience from being in an office with others. Here are some strategies to help you make this work.
- Have space, light and quiet. I’m fortunate to have a dedicated office space, and for successful long-term home-working, I’d say that’s essential. Short-term though – pick the most peaceful room you can, where you can shut the door. The dining room may have a table but might be in a busy part of the house. Maybe clear a dressing table in the bedroom. Try to ensure you have some natural light and air and a good desk lamp.
- Be disciplined. Get out of bed on time. Get dressed so you’re in the mindset for work – absolutely no working in your pyjamas. You will be tempted to “just quickly” stop to do a load of washing or put a casserole in the oven. These are the benefits of home working but keep them under control. Use a system like the Pomodoro technique to work in dedicated busts, and then take a break to move around and do the domestic jobs. Track your actual working time using an app such as Toggl – it’s great for keeping you focused on task. And take a proper lunch break.
- Don’t expect to clock 8 hours of work. You’d be amazed at how much of your time at the office isn’t actually spent working. At home, plan your work according to your energy and concentration levels. Focus on a few things to get your teeth into, rather than flit. The more you can focus on one thing at a time, the more you will get done, regardless of the hours you spend.
- The mental toll of lone working. With no-one to bounce ideas off, you could find yourself “in your own headspace” too much – even if you’re quite a self-motivated introvert like me. For extraverts and natural teamworkers, you’ll probably normally rely on others’ energy to buoy you up and get you through the day. In either case, you may find that you need to rely more on social media and chats with friends and colleagues, perhaps at designated times. Virtual coffee break, anyone? On the positive side, you may find that you work through problems on your own in a way you’ve never had to before – so see it as a growth opportunity too.
- Use tech. Organisations are now rapidly setting up tech to enable productive working at home (Microsoft Teams eh… who knew?!) If you’re not already using a productivity and planning app such as Trello, get on it now. Even if you usually work alone or with remote clients, as I do, it’s a great way to keep track of how work is progressing and communicate clearly in real time across a team.
- The power of the written word. You may be emailing colleagues and clients more than usual, especially if you previously had a quick chat across the office. Remember that only 7% of communication is down to the actual words you use, and you no longer have the visual cues to help with understanding. So you’ll need to work harder at communication. Re-read emails carefully before pressing send. If in doubt, don’t write it. Use emojis with colleagues to convey tone if that helps. Strike a balance between keeping emails short, without being curt.
- Be kind. Everyone’s is a bit stressed and uncertain at the moment, and we’re having to step back physically from friends and people we love. Be kind to yourself and others – cut everyone some slack. Do what you can. Stay in touch and reach out proactively to check on people’s wellbeing. Ask colleagues for help with your own wellbeing if need be. Be helpful and encouraging. Let’s be there for each other, even more. If that’s not your company’s normal culture… well, perhaps it should be.
Stay safe and well.