Are you working from home due to COVID-19? Is your kitchen doubling as your office, or does your lounge room feel more like a meeting room? Whether you’ve worked from home before or it’s the first time, it can be challenging to create an environment that’s free from distractions, promotes productivity and looks after your mental and physical wellbeing.
In light of this new working environment, here is some handy advice to help you navigate your days.
Create an effective workspace
If you are working from home it might be tempting to set up your laptop on the couch or bed, but blurring the lines between rest, relaxation and work can be unhealthy. Having a space to work in is crucial for your state of mind as well as your productivity.
If you have a desk, then a good way to get into ‘work mode’ is to try to replicate your office set up as well as some personal touches – whether it’s with a planner and some inspiring stationery, a lamp, plant or photos of your loved ones.
If you don’t already have a dedicated study or desk, then try to create a work space in a spare bedroom or a quiet nook in the house – it’s important to separate yourself from noise and activity, and away from where you like to relax, so you can stay focused and productive. When you find the right space, make sure you have ample lighting – natural light is key to feeling more energised – and a supportive seat.
Get in the zone
What’s your usual morning routine – shower, breakfast, coffee and commute? Working from home should be no different so start your day the same way, even if you are only moving to another room. You probably won’t be expected to wear your work attire, but it will help you mentally to get into something other than your pyjamas. Your commute will be much shorter too but don’t leave it to the last minute to start your day – get into a routine of getting everything done before you clock on so you can start work on time without any distractions and to avoid feeling rushed.
In this new environment you may no longer have access to all of the systems and software you did before, or perhaps the whole family is at home now, so it will naturally take time to adjust to your new work space and way of working. Some experts suggest that working in short bursts can help to maintain productivity and focus when working from home. For example, working in 45–60 minute chunks followed by a short break can be an effective way to break up the day and maintain concentration levels.
Take regular breaks
Working from home is usually a lot less structured than your normal day at the office, with fewer meetings and often long, unbroken periods in front of the computer, so it can be hard to remember to take regular breaks. It is crucial to your productivity and your mental health to step away from your desk like you would on a normal working day, which is full of natural intervals such as water-cooler chats, meetings, lunch and even toilet breaks. so make sure to get up and make yourself a drink or a snack and take frequent 5–10 minute breaks to stretch your legs and reset.
Remote working also makes it hard to disconnect from the things that need doing around the house, like your chores, so while the kettle is boiling, you could put a load of washing on or empty the dishwasher if that helps ease your mind. Stepping away from your work for a short time and doing something completely different will give your brain a break and help you return feeling refreshed and more productive for the rest of the day. If you find it hard to take regular breaks then create a calendar reminder or set an alarm on your phone.
For some, working from home can be lonely and isolating so it’s important to stay connected with people throughout the day. There are many free and easy-to-use tools to help you collaborate and communicate with colleagues and clients. Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts are just a few great apps that you can use for meetings, conference calls and to socialise with your team.
Try to have daily meetings with your colleagues – it’s a great way to check-in with everyone, to know what needs doing, share progress and be informed of general updates. It will also help to facilitate ‘normality’ by seeing the faces and hearing the voices you're used to. Also, just because you’re working remotely, doesn't mean you can’t catch up with people you usually have lunch with – arrange a virtual get together instead. The beauty being there’s no limit to how many people can pull up a chair! Or if coffee is your thing, try a virtual coffee chat to stay connected.
Distinguishing between work and home can be challenging when the two are under the one roof. It is vital that you set some boundaries from the outset so that work, family and relaxation don’t all merge into each other. This is important not just in terms of getting in a work mindset but also so you're able to turn off when the working day is over.
If you lack the space for your own office or separate work area, then drape a tablecloth over your workspace at the end of the day to hide it from view, or put your laptop and paperwork in a cupboard overnight – try these to help you to disconnect and unwind.
Also, make sure to start and finish work on time. You might be tempted to start just that bit earlier because the computer is only metres away, or work a bit later because you’re no longer in a rush to beat the traffic and get home, but avoid it where you can. Instead, try to commit your usual commute time to your physical and mental health – get some fresh air if it is safe to do so and you are not self-isolating. Whether you choose to take a short stroll around the house or power walk around the block, keeping yourself active can really make a difference to your physical and mental wellbeing.