In light of the Covid-19 situation, many of us who are able to have been working from home. A vast number of us have been literally thrust into the world of home based working without a choice, trying to work out how best to manage it and this may now become the future for a lot of us.
What used to be a charming imaginary scenario for office based workers – “I wish I could work from home!” – thoughts of laying back on the couch watching daytime TV over a laptop screen, reclined in pyjamas, snacking and immune from all the draining factors of office life such as co-workers, morning traffic, being watched by bosses, looking presentable. Now the fantasy is reality, and that reality comes with those positives but also a new set of problems, new irritations and many of us weren’t ready for it with no instruction manual.
I’ve worked from home for over 10 years which makes me a veteran of this game and if you’re new to it, let me give you some of my tips on how to make it work for you and how to adjust to a new working mindset from within your own 4 walls.
Know who you are!
We’re not created equally, and that’s in no way a bad thing. Variety is the spice of life but your employer values productivity and in order to be productive you need to find out what makes you tick and that starts by knowing yourself and your traits. You’re going to be facing physical and mental challenges right from the start.
“I can’t stay motivated, I just get distracted, I can only do short bursts”
For some people it is the general office chat and activity that helps them through the day, tea breaks, meetings etc. In fact if you think about your average day, most of us aren’t staring at the screen producing work continuously, yet we are now trying to do this from home. That’s a novice mistake.
You most likely work in chunks, an hour or two at peak focus then you check your phone, get a tea, ask someone about a show on Netflix, head out for lunch, off to the printer, go to someone with questions.
Focusing for almost 8 hours straight in the house from day one is simply not going to happen and your brain will exhaust itself. You don’t start marathon training off by trying to run 26miles, you have to work yourself up. Think of your brain as the physical body, after being worked hard it gets tired and needs rest before it can perform again. This is Burnout and it’s the number 1 enemy of home working.
My best tip for you is when you feel a concentration dip come on, run with it.
Let your brain recover by walking about, go to the kitchen, watch TV for a spell, play Candy Crush on your phone. Whatever the distraction you are craving, indulge in it for 10-20mins then return to work. Even shutting your eyes for 15minutes can make a huge difference to fighting off burnout and don’t worry about how many of these breaks you took initially. This is part of your training.
I can sustain long periods of work because I’ve adapted to this, but at the start I used to try to fight through dips and in the end I’d burn out for longer than if I had just took a break. Regardless of how busy I was (which seemed like it would make it worse), taking a small break to mentally recover made me much more productive and achieve more over the course of that day than if I tried to fight against it.
“I don’t like working on my own”
It’s been proven that our minds when put into varying environments will shape themselves to the surroundings. The standard office environment is shaped to focus you on your work, your home is created by you to focus on family, relaxing and entertainment. It’s an alien environment for your working mind, bringing the stresses of work directly into your home.
Common working from home advice is to set a different area away from your relaxing areas, so if you are lucky enough to have a separate area like a room that can become an office you go there to work and you therefore separate work from home. However, as I said at the start, people are not equal.
Some of us will encounter a mental block, sitting in an area of the house you’re not used to, away from the home comforts of the couch and feeling like you are being forced to work in this new area alone after working in a busy office. In that case, head to somewhere like the couch as you’re introducing too much change and making it worse.
Get into a familiar room and if that works for you sitting on the couch, with family around to chat to now and again, that’s your unique solution. Vice versa if you need to get away from family and are easily distracted then the office is your solution if you are able to.
If you work alone, but you thrive off of being able to tune into office chat and can’t handle silence you’ve probably tried to turn on the TV or radio for background noise. I find that the TV always draws you in too much having to watch it and the radio often repeats the same songs but there’s another solution. Podcasts.
Podcasts are interviews that often last hours, people just sitting chatting. On YouTube it’s like TV but the difference is it’s the audio that’s key and you don’t need to watch it. It’s like having co workers in the room, chatting away that you can tune into and out of as you work. Co-workers that may well be a lot more interesting than the people you actually work with!
Rays of Sunshine
Sunlight is a vital factor for the body’s mental health and well being. Our homes don’t often have as much windows space as a large office but you can try to open your blinds up more, try to let as much natural light in as you can. If you don’t receive adequate sunlight (for example living in Scotland) you may find a Vitamin D supplement helpful or blue light therapy in the form of a specialised desk lamp.
During Winter up to 10% of people suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and struggle hard with motivation and energy and if you can’t get outside enough then these are good alternatives to top you up and keep you feeling bright.
Let’s Get Physical
Your own comfort is very important, whilst we battle with the mental aspects of home working, the physical must be considered too. Headaches, wrist pain, back pain, shoulder pain and numbness/tightness are going to bring you down.
Everything from your chair, desk, tables, to your computer can pose an issue to you staying comfortable throughout the day especially in a makeshift home office that had to be quickly put together. If you are lucky enough not to be budget restricted you can set yourself up with ergonomic mesh chairs and all the luxuries but if you are like most people, especially now and you can’t or don’t want to invest heavily in home working there’s a few key things I’d recommend.
- A cheap beauticians straddle stool with no back, makes a great seat that forces you to sit up straight, open the hips and puts you in a better postural position than slouching on a chair.
- If you struggle with lower back pain, tight hips, slouched shoulders and you use a laptop, try standing up. People pay hundreds of pounds for computer desks that raise up and down on gas cylinders so they can stand and work, but just take your laptop onto the kitchen worktop and alternate that with sitting.
- Regarding laptops, a mouse is a far superior tool vs a touch pad. All laptops can accept a mouse via USB, just get one, plug it in and go.
- If you use a laptop that can output video (most can), buy a cheap monitor. On eBay people who upgrade offices sell off old flat screen monitors for £30+. Having a much larger screen will make a massive difference to your productivity. If you work on spreadsheets you’ll see much more at once, it reduces eye strain too and prevents slouching over a small laptop screen.
- If you have a laptop or desktop that supports dual monitors or more, double up. This sounds extreme but is probably my most recommended tip if you have the budget. Nothing fancy, just a cheap eBay monitor will do and being able to have a spreadsheet on one, and emails or word docs on the other will be the single biggest productivity boost (20-30%) you can make.
Finally, there is no standardised working from home template
Don’t worry if you don’t have a hi tech office with printers/scanners, phones, mesh chairs. It’s not about the office, it’s entirely about you.
If working from the kitchen works for you because you can flick the kettle on as you need it, the cat sits with you, the kids are in the next room, it’s got a big window and the breakfast bar is a good height and that makes you able to happily do your job and be productive. You’ve nailed it.
If you need to lock yourself away in a room upstairs, laying in bed and have the hifi full volume and you are most productive and content surrounded by crisps, you’ve also nailed it.
You don’t work in an office now, you work from home and it’s now your task to find what makes you happiest and most productive at home and there’s no right or wrong if you can achieve that. Just try to look sensible on your next Zoom call!