Working from home – or remote working – may sound like the best of both worlds, but it’s easy to find yourself picking up some bad habits if you don’t exercise a bit of discipline. As more and more of us are working outside of conventional offices, we will help you stay productive far away from the cliché water coolers and cubicles.
But before we dive into best practices, allow me to briefly address the elephant in the room: The Coronavirus, designated COVID-19 (and otherwise known by a variety of names varying wildly in offensiveness and accuracy) has disrupted our lives more than any other event in recent memory.
Though the pandemic has caused death, disease and disruption far beyond the seasonal flu or previous viruses (SARS, Ebola, Zika Virus to name a few) there may be an upside to the containment measures introduced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and many other heads of state:
- Decreased pollution levels as less people commute
- Lowered overheads as offices close (think of the fortune saved in cups of tea)
- Less risk of exposure to the virus, saving lives and healthcare resources in the long run
While not everyone can or should work remotely, those who are able to may find themselves working from home for the very first time. You might be wondering how you’ll adapt and stay productive, dreading the lack of face-to-face interaction or maybe even looking forward to the change of scenery.
While there are some major benefits to working from home – taking breaks whenever you want, being able to care for family and avoiding distracting office chats – it’s not always easy. Working from home requires concentration and discipline, so we’ve compiled a list of tips aimed at helping you stay productive:
- Build a Dedicated Workplace
In an ideal scenario, you would have a room of your own or at least a desk to work on, but the important thing is to make a workspace and keep it as yours. Remember the basic requirements of an office – adjustable chair, desk, etc. – and dedicate this space to work and work alone to stay focussed on the task in front of you, as it were.
If you don’t have a separate room, section off part of the dining room table or work in your bedroom and tell your housemates when you are working. It’s also worth considering a “do not disturb” notice so that family members or flatmates don’t disturb you during typical work hours. As long as your setup works for you, do whatever works!
- Keep a ‘to-do’ List
Time management is essential for maintaining productivity, even more so when you’re in charge of your own appointments. While there are many helpful calendar programs available, don’t overlook the tried and tested method of keeping notes in a planner or notepad.
Even if you lack a professional planner, the act of writing in your notepad (or on the back of a receipt, no judgement) is shown to help memorisation and understanding. Furthermore, you can review your notes, feel good about the progress you’ve made and plan what you need to do tomorrow.
- Dress for Success
Sure, you might not be attending a conference or meeting new clients – you might even be the only one home – but don’t neglect your appearance. While wearing your comfiest pair of pyjamas at work might be a novelty for a few days, the adage “feel smart, work smart” still applies.
Keeping to old routines of bathing and dressing for work will help to get in the right mindset for work, even if you no longer worry about your suit and tie. As with your working setup, comfort is essential but make sure you keep up a consistent level of professionalism.
- Take Breaks (within reason)
It may be tempting to work through your lunch break when it’s so easy to prepare a meal, but regular breaks are essential for keeping your energy and focus. Furthermore, by keeping to your normal schedule (breaks included) you can preserve a sense of normalcy if you find working from home to be a big change.
If you’re struggling with a complicated task, a walk around the block may help you think of a solution or help you calm down at the very least. Working from home also gives you more opportunities to exercise – even if you’re not a fitness freak, exercise has a wide range of health benefits, both physical and mental.
- Talk to Co-Workers
Working from home can be quite lonely, and some people struggle with the isolation more than others when they can’t rely on the usual ‘water-cooler talk’. Keep in touch with colleagues – even if it’s only to talk about work-related topics – and check up on them from time-to-time, especially if they’re working from home for the first time or feeling isolated.
There are a variety of communication tools to choose from, but stick to what’s easy, familiar and secure for the least disruption to communication channels and security. From email to a group WhatsApp, shooting the breeze and discussing business tasks are essential for staying productive like you normally would. Remember, communication is key, so keep it up!
- Ignore Your Mobile Phone
I know it seems like a contradiction after the previous point, but it’s important to stay focussed on your work, which means ignoring your mobile phone (within reason). So put your phone away, resist the temptation to check your Twitter notifications and focus on the task at hand.
Unless you need your phone to work, put it on silent and out of the way like you would during normal work hours. Would your manager want you playing a level of Candy Crush or browsing Facebook after you sent that important email? I didn’t think so, so practise some self-control and save the smartphone time until those breaks I mentioned in point 4.
- Ignore Your Chores
Once again – and this bears repeating – only within reason. Sure, it’s only reasonable to wash your plate after lunch but avoid stopping work to clean your toilet or wash your dirty clothes. While you’re working, try not to think about the chores you would be doing if you had free time at home.
Avoid getting distracted by chores, but don’t overlook opportunities to multi-task when you have the chance. For example, you could start a load of washing in the morning and hang it out to dry on your lunch break without disrupting your day.
- Take Care of the Kids
Keeping a healthy work-life balance with children is difficult at the best of times but put the two in lockdown and you might struggle to keep the kids out of your ‘office’. While you might not have to suffer a high-profile embarrassment like Professor Robert Kelly, you should think about setting down some boundaries, especially when you need to act professional.
If you’re able to be flexible with your working hours, try taking some time to entertain your kids and doing some work in the evenings after their bedtime. If you can’t get away from the desk, try to split household duties with your spouse or housemate or hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign outside your workspace as a last resort.
- Watch out for Viruses
No, we don’t mean that one, but you must be wary of computer viruses even more than usual, as you no longer have the same protections as in the office. Many employers have risk assessments for remote workers and use encrypted devices, so make sure you’re following the appropriate safety measures in line with company policy.
This advice goes double if you are processing sensitive data, using a personal machine or working in a public place (whilst practising social distancing, I hope). Stay cautious against phishing and scam emails, especially in uncertain times like these where there is plenty of misinformation and scams going around.
- Clock Out on Time
How often do you stay at work to finish ‘one last thing’ normally? If your shift ends at 5pm, you should stop working at 5pm: shut your laptop off, get out of your workspace and relax to make sure that you’re not working above and beyond your usual hours because this can lead to burnout.
If you’re acclimating to remote working, you may find yourself doing more work than usual, thanks to more creature comforts and fewer distractions. This is a good thing, but you shouldn’t let work take over your home life – you’re working from home, not sleeping at the office after all.
Benefits and Challenges
The benefits of remote working outweigh the disadvantages, but only once you’ve overcome the challenges unique to this way of life. The temptations to lay about in our pyjamas or get distracted by TV and housework are there for all of us but adopt a bit of self-discipline and you’ll soon be wondering why more people aren’t working from home already.
Sure, it’s a completely different environment, but ease yourself into it, remember these tips and you’ll soon be more productive, healthier and happier!
If you’re still struggling to get enough laptops or setup call forwarding and other essential communication channels, why not get in touch with Cleartwo? We’ve helped a wide variety of businesses adapt to changing circumstances and offer flexible tech support options, so our team of experts may just have what you need to keep thriving through this remote working renaissance.