I started working from home (WFH) nearly two years ago now and transitioning from long, town to town, train commutes (or bus commutes) to get to the University’s open-plan office, to suddenly working from home was a ‘Stranger Things’ type of experience. (I mean awesome!)
At the moment, when many people are being forced (by the Government and the coronavirus) to work from home, I thought that sharing a bit about my experiences, good and bad, and the lessons I have learnt these past two years whilst working from home, could help you a bit, whether you are a new or experienced WFH employee.
Here we go…
- Closing the door!
A place you can call your own (especially now that kids are around 😊) is so important.
I am blessed enough to have a little office at the top of my house, which is my space and I have learnt to close the door both physically and mentally. What I mean by this is that once I am in my office, in my mind I am not at home. I am not tempted to check the news on the TV or do a bit of DIY here and there (My wife would say here, ‘DIY! Yeah, right!’).
Even if you don’t have a small office with a door you can close, it is important that you choose a room/space in your house that becomes ‘your office’ whilst you are working from home and stick to that space most of the time (I do also work from the kitchen occasionally).
Choosing a space helps you to focus as your brain learns that once there (be it a small office, kitchen or couch in your garden), you are working and not just casually checking your emails while on holiday.
I recently bought a portable standing desk and it has been awesome for when I go to the kitchen. I tend to set this desk up on my kitchen table and work from there for a couple of hours before coming back to my ‘main’ office. (Yes, I’ve discovered you can mix it up a bit).
I have chosen to work from nine to five, but the beauty of working from home is that you can choose your own hours (he says). So, choose your working times and stick to them.
The point I am trying to make is, you can easily get distracted at home, so you need to have a bit of discipline and some rhythm, even if no one is looking over your shoulder!
- Before the start of your working day
When I was a student at the university, a wise lecturer said to us, “Look, 70% of the class will not pass my course”, (bear with me, that is not the inspiring bit of my story 😊), “So, I would recommend that you work hard and, before the exams and when you come to hand your project in, get up early; have a coffee; have a nice shower; wear your Sunday best and put on some cologne, if you have some. Feeling good about yourselves will be half of the battle won.” Of course, doing that was not a guarantee to pass the course, but it taught me a good principle that many, many years later I still apply in all areas of my life.
Every morning, after playing for half an hour with my daughter, I have a shower, I get changed (usually into a T-shirt and jeans) and come down to have breakfast with the wife and kids before seeing them off to work and school respectively (not so much now, with the isolation scheme!). Once done, I feel like I am ready to go to work as well (You see, here I am applying my old teacher’s advice).
I would one hundred percent recommend that you dedicate time to your family (or yourself, if you live on your own), and to have a little routine of preparation and pampering as if you were going out to work. I’ve got a friend who fakes a commute and walks around the block before starting his day!
If you stay in your pyjamas, you won’t feel energised enough to give everything you have got towards your work. Believe me, I have tried to stay in pyjamas, and it does not work!
Don’t feel tempted to check your emails or jump right away into your laptop as soon as you open your eyes. Every morning stop, relax, have a shower and then you will be ready for action.
- Breaks? Food and drink? Why?
Oh yeah, breaks! This is something that I am still working on. If you are like me, when I get in the zone because I am enjoying my task so much (I know, weird right?), you can easily lose track of the time and, if you are not careful, could end up working for hours until you feel some pain in your neck and tummy.
When I started working from home, there were some days that it was not until my wife and kids came back and knocked on the door that I realised the whole day had passed and I had not stopped for a single minute. (Quite rightly, I was told off by my wife!)
When working at the university, there was always someone offering a round of coffees or teas, but you don’t get that working from home.
One of the secondary effects of WFH can be working long hours, or more hours than you would normally do, than if you were working in an office.
Recently I bought an Apple Watch (I would like to say here that this has been the best buy of my life, or that it has changed my life in an amazing way, but I would be lying) and that has helped a bit, as the watch reminds me every hour to stop, stand up and focus on my breathing etc. and also tells me when it is time to have a break for lunch or a drink.
You obviously don’t need an Apple Watch (or a wife/husband) to get these reminders, there are little pieces of software out there that you can install on your computer to keep you active.
I have noticed that my productivity after breaks and drinks often improves. Having stopped, I usually have time to rethink and see things from another angle, which results in me finding solutions a bit quicker instead of getting frustrated by trying the same approach for hours.
No coffee, no Workey!
- Separating work and personal life
This one is so important. When I started working from home (and still now, sometimes), I found myself checking my work phone and emails out of hours; even at the dinner table or during a family movie night! Just because I could and my office was with me. (No need for me to tell you how many times I found myself in trouble for that!)
When I worked at the University, I only took my laptop home if there was an emergency, or a piece of extremely important work that just could not wait till the next day to be completed. But working from home can be dangerous when you don’t have to physically leave at a specific time to catch the bus, or you cannot stay late because they shut the building.
I know it is not always possible to stop working at five on the dot (and in reality, no one does, unless you really hate your job), but most of the time I would recommend that you set a couple of alarms (like a 5 minute warning for the kids!), so you are kept aware of the time and you know when it is approaching the time to “leave” the office. Once I have finished with my day, I usually turn my laptop off, leave my work phone behind and go down for a drink.
When possible, a walk around the block always helps to remind me that I am not ‘in the office’ anymore and that it is time to focus on the family and the rest of things happening in the world.
So, if you have an office at home, shut the door behind you. Put the laptop and phone in a designated cupboard, or under the bed so you cannot see it (I know, I like to exaggerate). By doing so, your work and personal worlds will not mix and make your life miserable!
- Solitary confinement
I love being on my own, so when I started working from home I was over the moon by the fact that I was not going to be constantly interrupted by people, phones and the other distractions that I usually had at the University. It was all good and wonderful. But something I have learnt is that, no matter how much of an introvert you are or how annoying your colleagues at the office are, soon, if you are not having any kind of interaction with other human beings, you can start creating many imaginary friends and your home can easily become a cell in solitary confinement.
I do try to have regular chats with colleagues (yes, even the annoying ones!) every day. I would say that seventy-five percent of my work involves only myself and my computer, so chatting with clients and colleagues by phone, or chat apps, is refreshing and I look forward to it.
I cannot believe I will say this but, YES, you need other humans around you from time to time!
Well, those are my experiences, and I do not believe for a second that I’ve got it all sorted; but when I stick to these routines, it works! (Most days.)
I love working from home, I understand that it is not for everyone, but give it a go (if you haven’t already!) and please let me know what your experiences are!
Happy WFH 😊