How to make working from home work for you
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This week thousands of us will be adjusting to swapping the office for working from home. What are the best ways to be efficient and keep your spirits up when you’re missing your colleagues? We asked some homeworkers for tips.
With the government asking people to work from home to help slow down the spread of coronavirus, this week thousands of us will be adjusting to a new much shorter daily commute to our home office or our kitchen table.
If you’re among those getting used to working remotely, we asked some freelancers to share their advice.
For Pippa Lain-Smith and Hannah Freeman from Norwich-based Plain Speaking PR, it’s business as usual, as the agency has been operating this way for the past four years.
“I took the decision to adopt a ‘home-office’ model in 2016,” explains Pippa, managing director of the PR and communications agency. “At that point we had fairly large premises with wonderful meeting rooms but we simply weren’t using them: clients preferred us to visit them and staff, including myself, found it more convenient to work from home. Our team don’t waste time travelling to and from a central office, we have reduced our overheads and technology allows us to communicate with each other in an effective way.”
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So as seasoned at-home workers, what top tips do Pippa and Hannah have for the many people now faced with this new way of working?
Pippa says: “While we have lots of great technology at our fingertips I would say it’s really important to pick up the phone. Personal contact, especially now, is vital. We need to maintain and nurture those personal business relationships and ask how people are. If you are used to being in a chatty office, the move to a silent spare bedroom or dining table could be a shock; so pick up the phone and talk to your colleagues rather than sending emails every time.”
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Their five top tips for working from home are:
1. Make time for ‘water-cooler’ chats over the phone or on Skype. Keep talking to colleagues about non-work (and non-Coronavirus!) things. Just as you would in the office; maintain those working friendships. Recommend a good book, a great film, a new recipe to try. It’s important to keep talking and sharing things we enjoy. A colleague might not be looking forward to working from home, finding it lonely and isolating; we can all be supportive ‘virtual’ colleagues.
2. Take regular breaks. While the perception might be that home-workers have it easy and spend their time watching daytime TV; trust us, it’s not like that. If you work from home alone, with few distractions, try not to remain glued to your PC, falling into the trap of “I’ll just respond to that now” or “I’ll just spend half an hour longer on that proposal.” It’s important to set times for screen breaks, for at least 10 minutes. Or when you finish a big task, reward yourself with some fresh air. You’ll be more productive if you have regular breaks. And do make time for a proper lunch.
3. Make your office space your own. You’re no longer sharing an office, so grasp the chance to make your workspace work for you. Avoid sitting on the sofa with your laptop on your knee; it really isn’t conducive to a full day’s productivity. If you don’t have a home office or spare bedroom, take the time to make your dining table into a comfortable work-station. Ensure your laptop is at the right height and find a cushion to ensure your back is comfortable. Find the right temperature for you (without any colleague complaints) and keep a good flow of fresh air. Magic Whiteboard paper is great for turning any wall space into a temporary notice board so you can remind yourself of key deadlines. Whether you prefer to listen to music, take in an inspiring podcast or light a scented candle; this is your opportunity to create a space that you enjoy working in.
4. Over-communicate. Always let your manager, colleagues and clients or customers know what times you’ll be at your desk, or available on the phone, and when you won’t. Make people aware of what time you have available for a conference call. For example, if you need to leave the call at 5pm, be polite but clear at the start of the meeting. Just because you’re at home, doesn’t mean your time is limitless. Clarity and communication will prevent any confusion.
5. If it’s possible, shut the office door at the end of the working day. It signals to yourself that the office day is done and it’s time to switch off. As more of us work flexibly to meet client needs and to juggle family life and personal commitments, it’s always tempting to be contactable 24/7. Try to stick to a regular start and finish routine, and outside this, make time for the things you love doing.
Sarah Power, who runs Norwich-based not for profit community enterprise company Curious Spark, has been working from home for a year.
“It was strange to start with and it does take a while to get yourself focussed,” she says. She recommends sticking to your usual work routine – but the time you would have spent travelling to your workplace could be used for activities that will enhance your wellbeing.
“I have a slow start to the day,” she says. “I do yoga or stretches and some chores and then my day is set.”
And she agrees that it is beneficial to have a dedicated workspace.
“I like to sit by a window. I think that daylight is quite important. You need to be able to see what’s going on outside, even if it’s just nature.”
She is also an advocate of taking regular breaks to move about and get some fresh air, staying hydrated and connecting with others who are working from home.
“Even if that’s just a text or WhatsApp message asking how they are – or sending them a meme or GIF that might make them laugh.”