How to Work at home: staying productive, creative and energised
“I’ve got to start working remotely, but how exactly do I go about it?”
These kinds of questions are getting more common. Remote working has been on the rise for years with many organisations — from local authorities to long-established companies and start-ups — encouraging and allowing employees to work from home. We don’t yet know the full impact the coronavirus might have on our working practices, keeping greater numbers of people out of the office, but it’s likely that once a new way of working has been established, it will be hard to go back to the old ways.
I started working from home 20 years ago out of a spare room when few people were doing so. It was a pretty basic set-up with an IKEA desk and a landline that was mostly engaged because I was on dial-up internet so much. In those early days I recall turning up at a meeting in a London hotel and the host asked me where I’d just come in from. “The home office,” I told him. “Ah, I’ve done some work for The Home Office too.” I had to explain that I’d meant I’d come from my humble spare room in Putney, not the government department.
Back then I found working from home hard. And it was lonely too, as I’d taken the plunge to work for myself and had left a company where the culture had been very social.
But over the 20-odd years I’ve been doing it I’ve learned how to stay productive, creative and energised. My first lesson back then was to keep the TV switched off. Then I realised I needed to get out and move — going for a run ticked that box. And with the advent of WiFi I celebrated the fact that I wasn’t tied to a desk but could work in a cafe. That felt revolutionary at the time.
And now although my work takes me all over the place, I typically spend two days a week working from my office at home.
You probably won’t get a helping hand or a guiding light when you first start working from home. There’ll likely be no staff handbook or induction to get you on your way. Just like I did in 2000, you’ll probably have to make it up as you go along. So here are six of my top tips to get you started:
- The number one rule of working from home is… leave the house! You’ve got to get out at some point during the working day. I usually ‘walk to work’ — made easier by having a lively dog — which means I get some fresh air along with a punctuation mark before getting started. Similarly on my most productive home working days, I’ll start off with an hour at a local cafe which gives me a boost before getting my head down for the rest of the day. And I’ll strive for a run twice a week, or in summer a swim at my local beach during the working day.
- Move around the house. Even in a small apartment, if you can, mix up your space — from desk to kitchen table to sofa. Just as I advocate moving around the office building for different tasks, try out different environments at home. Each shift to a new zone gives you a new perspective and can re-energise you if you’re struggling with a task. At home I seldom do most of my work at my desk in the attic, I move around (here I am above working at my dining table — one of my favourite spaces)
- Put some boundaries around work. You need to look after yourself and draw a line under the day so it doesn’t encroach into your homelife. I know a freelancer who had a desk in her bedroom. She found it really hard to switch off. Home and work can blur together particularly when your office is the kitchen table. So have some rules about when you’ll finish; or have a door that you can shut on your work when 6pm or 7pm comes. It can be especially hard when the segue from work to family can be 10 seconds instead of being able to decompress on a 60 minute commute. You might find it useful to go for a walk at the end of the day too, to give you a few minutes’ separation.
- Stay focused and switch off distractions. At home, there’s the fridge, the aforementioned TV, other family members, a pet, chores and so on. To get the work done, you’re going to have put all those things out of mind. You can do house-stuff during your lunch break, right now the to-do list matters most so you’ll need to keep focused.
- Have some social interaction. Working from home can be lonely. So make sure you have some calls with fellow team members where you not only catch up on the projects you’re working on but also can share some tips on how you’re getting on with remote working. Or starting the day in a busy cafe can help — chatting to like-minded souls over a coffee can give you that fix of social interaction.
- Know what YOU need to have a good day. Remember that you are in control of the environment when you work from home. You might do your best work in shorts and t-shirt, or by listening to the new album by Caribou, or after you’ve done an hour of yoga. It’s really important to tune into what you need and then make time for it. Know what ingredients you need in order to have a good day at work and design your working day accordingly.
And remember, if you are doing a Skype call and you have small children in the house, make sure your toddler can’t reach the door handle…!
Ian Sanders is on a mission to energise people’s worklives — in order to have more good days at work. iansanders.com