Some of us have been doing it for years, but for most of us working from home for longer than a couple of days is uncharted territory. For those of you about to enter the domestic workforce, we salute you: and offer warnings and advice for the challenges you’ll face.
Working from home is usually a temporary situation - maybe there’s a day when we have no face-to-face meetings, and we want to buckle down on our own. There might be a week where the office is undergoing repairs, so you set up a desk in your lounge.
At the moment, many of us are looking at working from home for the next four weeks. This changes things. How do you get ‘in the zone’ in your living room?
Thankfully, freelancers and remote workers have been paving the way for years. To every office worker out there now facing a very short commute, here are a few ways to make working from home a little better.
Recreate the office
For the first day or two, working from bed is liberating. It’s soft, warm, and a welcome change from the hard surfaces you’re used to. Unfortunately, it’s not great for productivity: outside of the inevitable muscle atrophy that comes with sitting in bed all day, it’s also not great for your mind.
When you work a nine-to-five in the same location every day, you begin to associate that location with the work you’re doing. When you work from somewhere else, it can take a little longer for your mind to get ‘in the zone’. You can speed that process up by replicating the essentials: a desk, a decent chair, and maybe a fan to mimic that office air conditioning breeze.
One of the most valuable parts of any job is the human interaction. Even if you consider yourself an introvert, speaking to another person at least once a day does wonders for your mental health.
If you’re part of a team, consider using Zoom or Google Hangouts for briefings/debriefings at either end of the day. Instead of sending an email query, pick up the phone. It’s old-fashioned, but after a long day with only a dog to talk to it can be nice to have a two-minute chat with Karen from accounting.
Get the right software
You won’t be passing around USBs or calling over workmates to check out what’s on your screen, so you’re going to need the right tools to share information. Dropbox is a go-to for sharing several files at once, Mindmup is great for brainstorming, Trello lets you schedule and track progress, and Slack is such a godsend for talking to teammates that its founder had to ask people to stop using it so much.
Watch the kids
If you have children, you’ll be seeing a lot more of them. We all love our kids, and it’s sweet they enjoy our company so much. It can also sometimes be frustrating when you’re trying to finish up a project.
Using your usual commute time to set up activities is a great way to start the day. It gives you a chance to bond with the kids and find out what they want to do, and then enable them to do that while you do your thing in the next room. Movies, drawing, a little music-making; you might have to get used to working with some noise in the background, but isn’t that a nice change from the clicking of pens and humming of thirty computers?
Stick to your regularly scheduled programming
The concepts ‘working from home’ and ‘flexible hours’ don’t always go hand-in-hand. While flexibility is fantastic, especially for those of us with children, some kind of steady schedule is necessary. Some of you might be relishing the thought of being King in your domain, sticking to your guns and working whenever the mood strikes. For most of us, the mood won’t strike until it’s told to.
If you usually work nine-to-five, keep that up at home. If you allow yourself to procrastinate, who knows what other old university habits you’ll fall into. Get up, get dressed, and get to it - but don’t forget to take a lunch hour, and throw in a couple of 20-minute exercise breaks for good measure.
Put some clothes on, please
Getting dressed in the morning is important for three reasons: it helps you get in the right mindset, it saves you from embarrassment during a surprise Zoom meeting, and it’s a hygiene issue.
It’s not all of us that need this instruction, but for those that do: sitting for days or weeks on end in a tracksuit that slowly melds itself to your skin via sweat and Dorito dust is not good for your health, nor your work. If you’d like to take sartorial advantage of working from home, you can still go casual. Just try to maintain a little dignity.