COVID-19 is causing disruption. More and more people are being advised to work from home where possible and you may be wondering how you can make it work. Alexandra Wood, who has worked from home over the last 20 years and is Novatia’s Operations Director shares how she gets the most out of working from home.
“Here is what I’ve learned as a home-based worker (and wife, mother and dog-owner) to help keep you productive, professional and sane.
Create your work environment
Although you may quite enjoy the idea of working in your pyjamas from the garden, it isn’t the best recipe to establish that healthy work-life balance we all aim for.
In today’s ever-connected world it is difficult enough to turn off the noise of work when at home. All the advice says ‘don’t bring your work home with you’ – so how do you do that when your workplace is your home?
The most helpful thing I found is to establish a distinct place in your home where you do your work. This can be a room that is not in your main living space, or even a corner of your kitchen where you can separate yourself from the rest of your home life (even if this is just temporary for the day). Do what you can to make this as professional an environment as possible, a mini office with good lighting, a sensible chair, a flat surface and power nearby for your devices.
When you are seated in your place, you work. When you leave your place, you do not work.
Creating this change of environment for myself has been surprisingly helpful in distinguishing between my work and my home life. When I leave my home workplace it acts like a trigger and I can turn work off – it’s like I’ve just walked in the front door from a day at the office. And equally, when my family sees me at my ‘workplace’ they know to treat me like I am at work.
Keep an eye on your health
Once you have your work environment in place, don’t forget to move. Working from home can become an incredibly sedentary arrangement. Without the daily commute, walking to lunch, attending meetings, etc. you can end up sitting in the same spot all day long.
Give yourself tasks that mean you need to get up – if you can, take a call away from your screen, take a stroll in the garden, pace up and down the hallway or get up and do some stretches.
If not already part of your regular routine, add some dedicated exercise to your morning or evening, or walk the dog on your lunch break, the fresh air can give you a different perspective on a task that you are working on.
And keep an eye on the snacking – it’s surprisingly easy to load up on coffee and too many biscuits when you’re just in reach of your kitchen cabinet.
Working from home can get a bit lonely at times; it’s easy to go all day and not speak to anyone. Build into your day regular communication with colleagues, managers and clients.
Scheduled 1:1 calls or video conferences give focus and structure to your day – they force you to get organised and to concentrate on work. Spread out the communications so that you have check in points periodically thought the workday. These can be work conversations or even a virtual coffee break with colleagues over a video conference.
Try and stick to your usual hours of work. You already have that routine, so do your best to mimic the same habits when working from home.
Set yourself at least one major task to accomplish each day, something manageable that you will feel great about as you tick it off your list. At the end of your working day, switch off and tidy away your work; it helps establish the boundaries between work and social life.
Video conference / Conference call etiquette
You may have done everything you can to set up a professional environment and you’ve dialled into your conference call when it all goes a bit wrong.
It starts when the dog barks just as the doorbell rings from a delivery at the door, or your kids come bustling in and start talking to you no matter how emphatic you sign away to them that you’re on a call.
So, try to plan ahead – pop the dog in another room and put a note on the door for deliveries before you dial in. Create a signal for the kids so that they know to give you a wide berth when you are busy on a call. You don’t want to be the next Prof Robert Kelly whose children famously burst into the room during his BBC News interview.
Working from home, although strange at first, can also be incredibly productive and liberating. Try and create a workspace and where possible, stick to your current work schedule. During the day take breaks, get some air and mind your biscuit and coffee intake. Find creative ways to be social with colleagues, you just need to do it with technology.