Make working from home work for you

Learning and development
Sarah Kilian
By Sarah Kilian | 23rd March 2020

Having ‘worked from home' for over ten years, I'd like to think that I've mastered it (otherwise I'm sure my boss would have had a word with me by now). Below are my tips and experience with the explicit caveat that everyone is different, please take what you can from this to help you to find your own best way to work effectively from home.

Get dressed

Ok, so I haven't always followed this guideline, but I can count on one hand the times in the last decade where I've rolled straight out of bed and into the office and I didn't like it. In my defence I was either poorly or woken early by an impromptu call. (A tip for some might be to switch off the work phone at night but that wouldn't work for me).

Getting showered and dressed as if I was going to the office is important for me. I don't get suited and booted (but then I didn't for work either). However, if a suit is what you need to get you in the mindset for work then why not do it?

Plan your day

When you're in the office, generally you'll have a regular start time. Whilst you may have more opportunity to vary that when working remotely, I still find it helpful to have a routine. I like to be at my desk at 8:00 am (and as the only traffic I'm likely to encounter is my cat on the stairs, I'm much more likely to achieve my aim than when I used to experience the M62 in rush hour).

I'm very much a list person, for work but also life in general. So, when I'm at my desk it's helpful to see the list that I made at the end of the previous day. However, for anything important that must be done that day I put it in my calendar, yes this does include lunch.  This reminds me not to over-book my time, an easy trap to get into when you don't have long meetings filling your diary.

Get the tough stuff out of the way first

When it comes to adding important tasks to your calendar it can be to tempting to put off  tasks that you're not looking forward to until the end of your day. That system of prioritisation runs the risk of jobs slipping into the following day, week, month .... By tackling tasks that you don't enjoy first, you're more likely to get them done and then you can reward yourself with more motivating work afterwards - or a biscuit maybe (sorry, a warning about biscuits in the next tip).

Eat healthy

I work 2 metres from my fridge, which has potential for disaster written all over it! It's so important to ‘eat healthy’ to stay well and to keep yourself energised.

As well as planning your day, plan what you will have for snacks and lunch, just as you would do if you were in the office. Have fruit/healthy energy bars to hand, or plan to walk to the shops at lunchtime. Sometimes we eat because we're bored or thirsty rather than hungry. Listen to your body and think whether you need food or whether you need to get a drink and call a colleague for a chat instead.

Sometimes it can go the other way, we can get so engrossed in a task that we forget to eat, this isn't healthy either and can lead to seeking quick food fixes that won't sustain you for long. A question I always keep in mind is 'would I really sit and eat this packet of digestives over my keyboard if my colleagues were in the room?'

Get connected

My husband bought me a wireless headset for my birthday, not the most romantic present - especially as his reason was so he didn't have to listen to my conversations on loud-speaker! However, I have forgiven him as it is super helpful. I'm not going to go into the tech side of working from home here, but nobody will want to hear from you if you have a ropey connection so you do need to sort out the basics - because ....

Staying connected

It's so important when working from home to maintain a connection with colleagues.

We take for granted the chat around the vending machine about programmes we're watching or what we've done at the weekend (BBC's Noughts and Crosses and walking in Snowdonia thanks for asking).  I call clients and colleagues to say hello, my colleague Ian and I will often co-ordinate a tea break at the same time just to have a general catch up.

Reaching out to others is not something that comes naturally to everyone and if that's the case perhaps plan it in your calendar like any other important task. Of course, it doesn't always have to be a call, a message is nice to receive. Remember you're a team, a geographically dispersed one perhaps, but still a team.

With scheduled calls it's also helpful to switch on your video (see I told you that it's best to ‘Get dressed', no-one wants to see you in your pyjamas). The thought of being on video makes some people cringe but it is amazing how quickly you forget about the camera and it can help calls to be more focussed and effective. Seeing someone's ‘confused face' helps me to know that I need to explain my point better. There can be many distractions at home, video can help to keep you focussed and present in the moment.

Take time to breathe

It's important to frequently stand up and get away from your desk - if you need a prompt perhaps your fitbit would oblige.

I like to stick the kettle on when I've finished a particularly long task. My sister-in-law has one of those hot taps and she can't understand why I don't want one. The kettle boiling is a great timer for me to have a good stretch and take some deep breaths. There are many advantages to working from home, practicing pilates in the office kitchen would definitely be frowned upon.

This might not be for you, you might not like tea (what's wrong with you?). Find out what your thing is. Strumming a guitar, breaking for the lunchtime news. But like all activities put a timer on it, if you're still in front of the TV by the time the evening news is on your work is still waiting for you and you're going to be putting in a nightshift. It is a lesson that I haven't needed to learn twice!

Get some fresh air

I have colleagues that regularly go out for a walk during lunchtime, this is a great habit to get into. As well as sunlight being our main source of Vitamin D, being outside is known to have many health benefits.

Getting outside does not necessarily have to mean a break from work. I'm fortunate that there are some calls that I can do whilst walking through my local park.

Again, aren't you glad you got changed out of your pyjamas!

Learning from home

‘Working from home' is a common phrase in our vocabulary and for some it is nothing new but ‘learning from home' perhaps is.  Ian Richardson explained this really well in his recent article, he said ‘The danger of being away from the office is that we concentrate solely on work and ignore the fact that we should be, or need to be, spending time enhancing our personal and professional skills and compliance knowledge'.

For example, networking is a skill that can have a positive impact on your career, how often do you get to practice a new skill?  Would you know where to start ....

Networking from home

Networking is a word that can instigate a shudder at it's very mention. It can evoke a vision of walking into a crowded room of strangers and finding someone who will talk to you. In our technologically advanced world, working from home is not a barrier to networking.

You could use LinkedIn to look up old colleagues, make contact, meet up. It's easy to lose touch and time away from the office can give you the time and space to look for these opportunities to let people know what you're working on and expand your virtual network.

Know when to stop

It can sometimes be difficult to separate work and home life when your home is your office. People often talk about distractions when working from home, it can go the other way. At least in an office when people are packing up it is a good cue to do the same.

At home there may not be an obvious finish time, after all there's always one more email to read. This can be particularly difficult if you've been procrastinating all day, it is so important though to recharge the batteries.

So, as well as a start time it might also helpful to aim for a finish time. Ok so you're not going to be reaching for your coat or heading down the pub with your colleagues but there are things you can do to mark the end of the day. I like to make sure my laptop is fully shut down, not on standby blinking away enticing me to carry on. I also like to strike things off my to do list (so satisfying) and have a new list ready to go for the next day.

Well that's how I make home-working work for me, you'll develop your own methods and if you have any helpful hints why not share.

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