Okay, so we’ve got to be bunkered down into our homes for the next little while – which means that the nature of work is radically changing.
Before I worked in radio, for the best part of a decade I was helping to establish new churches – which means I’ve spent a LOT of time working from home! So here are some of the best-practice tips I learnt, to help you get the most out of the experience.
1 – Flannel Will Start to Feel Like Failure
The first couple of days of working from home, the novelty of working in your pyjamas is really great—but, it’ll quickly wear off. Trying to set a world record for longest time in PJs is not a good idea. Somewhere in the middle of day three, your outfit will start to feel like failure. Trust me, each morning you need to keep up your regular get-ready-for-work routine. Shower, get changed, put on some proper work attire, and gear up for a proper day of working.
2 – Don’t Mix Your Work Space With Your Fun Space
You want to have your work area designated clearly. This should be a zone that doesn’t sit in the middle of a fun zone. If you can avoid it, don’t use your bedroom! It honestly can be the WORST place to work from. If possible, bedrooms should remain dedicated to relaxation and rest, not work and stress.
For parents with kids, or flatmates who have no other quiet spots in the house, do your best to set up a corner with a small desk and chair, and keep it tidy. Otherwise, set up in the spare room, or carve out a spot in a part of the house with no major foot traffic. If you can, position yourself so you’re facing away from any general living areas. You’ll be less distracted, and the rest of the family won’t have to tiptoe around you. Do work when you are in your workspace, then move out into other areas when you need to chill out. And, if you have kids doing homework, craft or playing at the same table, try to make it a ‘quiet play only’ zone.
You can definitely make your workspace feel enjoyable – you’ll be using it awhile – but don’t turn your fun space into a workplace!
3 – Inject Some Comfort and Colour Into Your Work Space
Make your mini work space as pleasant as you can, and add some touches of colour and familiarity. Even if your table or desk is only one metre square, you can still set it up neatly. Try some of the following:
- Add a favourite mug to house your pens and stationery
- Blu Tack a couple of favourite photos to the wall
- Relocate a small lamp or plotpant to add some cheer
- Add a cushion to your chair if it’s a little hard and uncomfortable
- Keep a water bottle handy to keep hydrated
- Have *healthy* snacks ready to go for in-between meals: fruit, nuts, yoghurt, cheese and rice crackers, whatever works for you!
- Pay attention to ergonomics: if you’re starting to get a sore back or arms, it’s time to adjust your posture and position (see infographic at the bottom of this page)
- Get up and stretch every half hour or so
- Tidy your power cords and computer cables – invest in extra powerboards or extension leads to make your space a little nicer, and avoid trip hazards
And when you finish working each day, tidy up so you have an organised space to come back to, instead of a dump. It’s amazing how much a little tidiness can make you feel better about your work.
4 – Have a ‘Stop’ Signal
If you are living with other people it really helps to have some sort of signal or sign that tells people, “please don’t talk to me, I’m working and not available for any interruptions”. This sign needs to be clear and obvious, and everyone who is in the house needs to know what this means. When the sign is up—“Strictly no interruptions, I don’t have to apologise, this is a work zone and I’m locked in”. When the sign is down, “I’m available for a chat and can be interrupted”.
It could be a reversible “Stop-Go” sign with green on one side and red on the other, hanging on the door handle, or taped to the back of your laptop. If you get the kids to help make it, they’ll be even more invested in following its instructions!
5 – Headphones are your Friend…
Can you get your hands on some of those big over-ear headphones? If so, use them! Nothing communicates ‘don’t interrupt me, I’m working’, better than those headphones. If you need to get some proper quiet, invest in a pair of the noise-cancelling ones (shop online!).
In the office, ‘headphones on’ generally means ‘busy’; so start to communicate that in the same way around the house. They’re gold for productivity; trust me, the bigger and more obvious your headphones the better.
6 …But the Kitchen Isn’t…
The kitchen is the worst spot for working from home – it is the nosiest and busiest place in the house; also food is there. Try and limit your kitchen time to only snacks and lunch, tea and coffee. It really doesn’t help when you are trying to be productive to hang out near the fridge. Minimise your time in the kitchen!
7 …And a List is Your *Best* Friend!
I one-hundred-percent love a list. It gives me a clear target for what I need to accomplish each day. I divide my lists into three sections. The first is the things that I ‘Must’ get done; these are the highest importance items. The second section is things that I “Should’ get done; these aren’t as serious and if I get to them today, I’ll have an easier schedule later on. Finally I have the ‘Play’ section; those items that need to happen but aren’t urgent. If I crack the ‘Must’ column, I’ve had a GREAT day! If I hit a ‘Should’ item, then I’m KILLING it!
If I smash both of those and then hit the fun stuff, well, I’ve probably got a pretty chilled-out day tomorrow.
8 – Have Clear Work Hours
You have to over-communicate regularly when you are working from home. When you set your office hours, you need to make it clear that you aren’t available to put on the washing or vacuum the house during that time. If you do actually happen to get things finished early, announce to everyone that you are “Home from Work!”, so people know that you are now available to help out with things.
Early on in the process of working from home, I got frustrated with the chores that were coming in while I was working. This conversation helps to alleviate the tension.
9 – Zoom, Skype or Facetime: Video Call Your Colleagues
It’s a well-known joke with the Breakfast team that I do a ‘lap of honour’ around the Hope 103.2 offices after the show finishes each day. Because of our schedule (starting at 5am each day and going home at lunchtime), I don’t get a bunch of time to talk to people in the office – so after the show I take 15-20 minutes to swing around and say hi to people.
It is important to maintain face-to-face time with people, check-in about projects you’re working on together, and have the occasional water-cooler chat. It’s good for office morale, and helps you work as a team. Now that many of us are working in isolation at home, it shouldn’t stop the conversation – just do it on a screen!
Text messaging and online chat options are great too – keep using those – but add into the mix a regular face-to-face chat.
10 – Go for a Walk or a Run – Regularly
If you are finding that your productivity is dipping a little, then remember you can always take a stroll. Maintaining the appropriate distance from other people, of course, make sure you get out at least for a short time each day. Exercise is one of the permitted outdoor activities, and it’s going to be essential for your mental and physical health in this season of social isolation. Pop in your earbuds, hit ‘go’ on your favourite playlist, and go for a brisk walk or a run. If you have kids, a partner or a pet, take them with you!
Do whatever you need do to take your mind off things for a little bit. Working from home does make life a little more flexible, so why not take advantage of the fact that you can process stuff on a nice walk.
Duncan Robinson is one half of Hope 103.2 Breakfast duo, Sam and Duncan. Catch them from 5:30am to 9am weekdays on Hope 103.2FM.