Posted: Thu 13th Aug 2020
Lydia Sanders from Stanbridge Associates knows about working from home and the associated benefits and pitfalls. She shares her experiences with some helpful hints and links.
We can all agree it's been a long four months, with most of us ready to exit lockdown and return to…normality? But what if we crave a different normal, equating perfectly the work-life balance we so desire? Can this be achieved by working from home?
Many have managed it already although tackling work crises in our pyjamas. Spending all day creating the perfect work environment instead of actually working, or juggling a customer's requirements with our child's education is not sustainable long term.
So, with distractions aplenty, how can this opportunity be grasped when home-life constantly imbalances our work? The following may seem obvious but think back – how are you coping really?
Rule one: Create a space
Even with hot-desking, nobody has to actually share a desk at the same time. So take a few moments to think about the space available and what is possible to separate your work from your home.
Set aside a table (or the employer can provide a fold-away desk – tax-deductible for them if they buy it) in a room not essential to daily life, and furnish it with the necessary equipment.
Add a good light, an aesthetically pleasing plant that doesn't require as much attention as the kids, and secure storage for stationery and paperwork.
Make sure you sit correctly, as strains like back pain can be especially debilitating. The Innerbody website has tips on improving posture while sitting at a desk, and how to set up safely for a healthy working life.
Having your own space, no matter how small or portable, away from the hubbub of home provides peace and quiet to work without distraction, but also puts you in a different mindset. Start calling it your office.
Learning to disassociate the living space, for example, with being a place to work, not only will you increase productivity, but you won't come to resent the space as a cog in your daily grind.
Rule two: Get dressed
Putting on clothes instead of staying in pyjamas all day is an instant mood-booster.
Clearly, this doesn't have to be a suit (it could be if that floats your boat) but if you find it difficult to separate work from home, try and put yourself in a work environment. Choose something comfortable such as loungewear but add a touch of formality like jewellery or cologne.
These small perks will promote the mental adjustment to work mode and maintain productivity. When you know you'll see colleagues face to face, make an effort. Coat on the mascara, whip on a tie, brush your hair.
Angle your camera in readiness for any meetings, so you're not just looking at yourself (this can cause stress) and make sure what people see is not up your nose.
Rule three: Establish a routine
Just as in the office, it's essential to set up a routine even if the hours have changed. Once created, sit down in your workspace.
Make a cup of tea at 8.50, turn your computer on at 8.55, and you'll have nothing left to do except work by 9.00.
You could even set aside a time to dress later, to force you to move away from your workstation to take a break. Because you've removed the time taken to commute, you may want to lengthen these breaks.
Now, at lunchtime, it's important to revel in those 30 to 60 minutes as a break from productivity. Don't just think I'll crack on straight through until 4pm, then clock off early.
Studies show human beings can't concentrate at full capacity for long uninterrupted periods and it's important to stay productive or this opportunity may be removed.
During this time, do whatever you would at the office: Go to a different room, eat your pasta salad, take a walk around the block (exercise is vital).
Some people are able to slip into home mode and load the washing machine, but doing chores will take you out of the work mindset.
Be strict: Once the time is over, sit back down refreshed and ready for the afternoon tasks. When five o'clock rolls around, make sure to complete the task you started, don't leave it half done – even if it means you stay an extra 15 minutes.
Close your computer down and shut the door on your home office (or put it away if portable).
Clock off for the night, go for a walk, and return home feeling as though you've commuted and thus left the stress of work at the office. Isolation can create mental health issues.
Rule four: IT
There are several technologies now which are geared up for communication and shared working. Once you have them sussed, they'll increase productivity and force you to stay in touch and to schedule work in an efficient manner that works for everyone.
If you have a team, work together to find out what will work for you internally (for a virtual shared tea-break) or externally with customers.
Rule five: Firm, fair, flexible
We've arrived at the dreaded question: what to do with kids (or pets – walk them)? For some, kids are back in school, so drop off and pick up times allow for a natural break in the day, but for those with hairy hooligans still running wild at home, the biggest tip is to remain firm but fair.
If you're in your home office and your child comes bounding in asking endless questions, explain that you have to work and share with them timings or task deadlines.
Be persistent with setting clear boundaries but keep your promises and give them your full attention at the set time. Take this as an opportunity to share with them the economics of home and that new toys and iPads cost money, and in order to buy these things mummy/daddy/guardian has to work.
Be patient. Mounting tension is not good for productivity or kids. Remember this is a challenge for them, so make sure your child has everything they need for their own school work.
Don't focus on what you don't like about working from home and instead concentrate on the tasks you need to complete. Don't forget your employees, colleagues, contacts or partners are only a Zoom/Teams call away, so don't make excuses.