With recent events, many people across the world have been advised by governments and employers to work at home. Here in Spain, the hashtag #yomequedoencasa (#imstayingathome) is trending online, to halt the peak of Corona infections and collectively get things back to normal as quickly as possible.
Although this might be a new experience for many people, for many others working at home is a day-to-day normality, whether you’re a freelancer, consultant, part of a remote team, have a flexible office schedule or currently work at home as a founder.
It’s easy to be motivated for just a day here and there, but if you’ve never done it before it can be hard to draw the line between home and work. Should you do the dishes and put in the laundry while you’re here? How do you put down your work at the end of the day at switch off? Will my housemates distract me?
Here are some top tips for first-time home workers to make the experience more fun, defined, and hopefully your most productive days yet.
- Get started early
With no morning commute or metro to battle, you can actually get started working a lot earlier. While the idea of working as soon as you jump out of bed can sound a bit jarring, getting a project started first thing in morning can be more productive. When you’ve not had to spend energy on anything else yet – like figuring out a traffic diversion or where your keys are – you can start working with a fresh mind and may even be more creative. Pop on a cup of coffee, and let the ideas flow. Starting earlier might mean you can reduce your working day too, if you need extra motivation.
- Set up a zen working space the night before
Although the idea of working on the sofa sounds fun, after a while you’ll start to notice your back and neck will not thank you for the favour. Set up a desk/table and chair. If you only have kitchen chairs, play around with pillows to make sure your back is supported. If you can, move the desk or table to near a window, so you have lots of natural light. Ordering a laptop support will help your posture long-term. No plug nearby? If you’ve got an extension cable, plug it in already so that you don’t have to go on a mission when you’re on a roll.
- Divide the space
Now you’ve got your working area, try to think of this space as your ‘working space’. Keep the sofa or soft furnishings as ‘break areas’ where you can change scenery and get some fresh ideas.
- Play with sound
At home the freedom is yours to decide what you’d like to listen to. Studies show that music with human voice, or instruments with the same tones as voices, can distract you from reading or problem-solving, so save those songs for your break or lunchtime. When you’re working, you want some instrumental music, with a fast or slow tempo depending on your task ahead, or natural sounds like flowing water, bird song or rain. Download an app like Calm to play around with what sounds help you get most in the zone.
- Set up alarms for regular breaks
Working alone can make the day pass faster. You get deep into a task, lose all sense of time and suddenly it’s 4pm. Set an hourly alarm on your phone to make sure you get up for a stretch, even if it’s just to make a cup of tea. Turn off your working music, so all your senses have a new environment. Head to your ‘break’ areas like the sofa, and if you can, find a window to look far out into the distance to exercise your eyes for 20 seconds (the “20-20-20 rule”).
- Tell your loved ones your plan
With children, partners or housemates at home, it can feel like no matter how much you plan, someone is going to distract you. Simply informing them beforehand of what you intend to do can help them, help you. For example, say you will be busy for the next hour, but will be all theirs during your next break. If you have children, depending on their age, you can set them a task that will last the same amount of time before you take a break, so that they are less likely to distract you. You can even set a ‘date’ for lunch or coffee with people in your house, as extra motivation!
- Get dressed (I know)
While working in your pajamas in bed might seem thrilling, by lunchtime you might find it starts affecting your state of mind as a professional. Getting dressed in the morning, even if it’s in casual wear, will make you feel refreshed and on the ball.
- Team video call?
You never know when a team call might be scheduled, and it could be via video. To save flapping in the moment, think about what the background of your room looks like, how you’re dressed and have those headphones ready. Leave a pen and pad of paper on your desk ready to take down any notes.
- Get a collaborative work platform
To avoid following up with colleagues on whatsapp, think about whether it’s worth using a platform like Asana or Trello to show that tasks have been completed or need attention. Setting up this kind of platform can be time consuming, if only for the team approval, so if you’re just working at home temporarily, try Wunderlist, which is a relatively simple online ‘to-do’ list (if you fall in love with it, you might start using it for the weekly grocery shop!).
- Schedule in time for exercise or a hobby
While this is not strictly for your work time, with the time you saved on your commute, you should have an hour or two to spare. Allowing yourself to use this window of time to do something you normally can’t fit in your day will help you de-stress and feel fulfilled. Whether it’s 20 minutes of yoga, HIIT workout, drawing or reading, it’s not unreasonable to schedule in two sessions during the day.
- Get started early
If you’re enjoying working at home, now could be the time to suggest it to your team, even if it’s just one day a week. It can be trickier to get more traditional companies on-side, despite the associated time and money savings. However, recent events could open up a window of discussion, and may serve as an experiment showing that home working can be beneficial both for company and employee well being.