As the coronavirus pandemic rolls on, more people are being encouraged to work from home – in fact, you may have been already doing so for months.
Many companies that were previously office-based have decided to embrace remote working permanently, having experienced the benefits first-hand.
But if you've only just started remote working, the prospect probably invokes one of two feelings.
Either you’ll be looking forward to a break from commuting and queuing for the kettle, or you’ll be horrified at the thought of enduring your own company all day, every day.
Whatever your approach, after six solid years as a home-based freelancer, here are my top tips for becoming a legend in your own living room.
1. Make a routine and stick to it.
There’s a reason why many retired people still have set rising times, bedtimes and mealtimes, even when they’re no longer ruled by the demands of the workplace. Routine gives your day structure and makes you feel like a fully functioning and contributing member of the human race – this is useful for both keeping your workload on schedule and conversely, preventing burnout.
Treat your day as the working day it is. Get up early, make sure you’re at your desk at a set time in the morning, break for lunch at the same time every day and finish up when it makes sense to do so. One of the great advantages of homeworking is flexibility when you need it but as a general rule, structure will always be your friend.
Worried about slacking off? Schedule in short breaks for snacks, errands, reading, TV, chores etc at regular intervals, so you can give yourself a brain break to recharge every now and then. (You don't work every single minute of every day in the office, so don't beat yourself up for having a little bit of down time.) When you know breaks are coming, you're less likely to find your attention wandering during work time. Use a timer to stay focused if it helps!
Worried about not getting enough done? Set yourself a to-do list every day or week and hold yourself accountable. Tell team members or clients what you plan to accomplish today. Having a routine, tangible targets and frequent pre-scheduled check-ins with your team will help to overcome any feelings that you’re not ‘properly’ working.
2. Keep a distance between your workspace and your living space.
This can be tough if you’re not blessed with a spare room or home office. But even if you’re working from your kitchen table, you can still mark a visual end to the day by putting away your computer, tucking papers and notepads out of sight and returning the workspace to its ‘out of hours’ purpose. If you spend all evening and weekend staring at your laptop or pile of work detritus, you may as well sleep at the office.
3. Tell family and friends when you’re working and when you’re available.
To begin with, hearing “I’m working from home today” can be a magnet for well-intentioned time sponges. Maybe relatives want to call to chat mid-morning, friends invite you out for lunch “because you’re off” or your mother-in-law decides you can help to wallpaper her downstairs loo on a Wednesday afternoon. Set your working hours, communicate them to your loved ones and then don’t answer the phone to them during those hours. If it’s urgent, they’ll leave a message and you can call back. For non-urgent matters, return the calls at lunchtime or after work. Treat your day as if you’re still in the office and people will eventually take their cues from you.
4. Invest in good coffee and find a great radio station.
If you’re free from the compromise of a shared office space for a while, you may as well enjoy the autonomy!
5. Get a dog.
Or borrow one, or just pretend that you have one. Seriously. Having an unavoidable reason to get out of your chair and stretch your legs in the open air at least once every day has immeasurable benefits – for your physical health, mental health, concentration and perspective. It’ll also force you to take a break if you’re working too many hours, which can be a big temptation when you’re not being physically kicked out of an office at the end of the day. Plus, they're great company and the most chilled officemates who won't judge you about that fifth biscuit.
6. Perfect your “ha ha, how funny and now how about the work…” response.
If you find yourself working from home during the summer, you WILL be asked the same question at the start of every phone call: “So, are you working in your garden?”
Do not be tempted to reply with sarcasm. “Absolutely, I’m on my fifth margarita and my tan is really coming along” may feel satisfying in the moment, but is unlikely to land well with senior colleagues…
7. Last but not least, build a network.
Personally, I enjoy the autonomy and freedom of working in my own environment. However, it can get lonely at times. Make sure you check in with your team via phone calls, Zoom or another 'in-person' channel on a regular basis. Seek out people in similar situations on social media. Get out of the house and work from a coffee shop sometimes, when that’s permitted. A bit of human connection, buzz and humour can really lift your mood and productivity – particularly if you get to pick and choose when it happens!