For some, the idea of home working may seem fantastic at first. You might have visions of rolling out of bed in your pyjamas, bleary-eyed and fuzzy-haired, just five glorious minutes before you start. Of only having to shift a mere few meters to a comfy couch, a well-stocked fridge, and maybe being able to work with half an eye on your favourite TV show playing in the background. They’ll be no more stuffy commute wedged under the armpit of a person with questionable hygiene. They’ll be no more squabbles over workplace music choices, no more boss breathing down your neck, no more fear that Gary from accounts might ‘accidentally’ steal your sandwich from the fridge, just like he does every single Tuesday.
However, three days later and you might find that the appeal has worn off somewhat. You begin to crave the stability of a routine; you can’t remember what it’s like to wear regular clothes or what you look like when you’ve brushed your hair. You miss human interaction, draw a face on a beachball and call it Gary. You feel lethargic, apathetic and spend more time looking longingly out of the window like a dog waiting for its owner to return from the corner shop then you do achieving anything useful. Then, finally, comes the terrible day that Gary’s head falls off and rolls silently out of the room in an act of such intense judgement you wonder if you’ll ever recover.
Whether you work from home regularly, or an unexpected turn of events means you suddenly find yourself doing so, it is vital to understand the skills, best practices, and habits that will help you to continue working effectively. With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide to aid all of us in learning how to not only ‘get through’ the days spent working from home, but come out on the other side more robust, productive and adaptable as a business too.
So if you find that you are required to work from home more often of late, here’s how you can set yourself up to ensure that you continue to make good progress.
Create a daily schedule
When working from home, it’s so easy to let hours bleed into one another, and without setting yourself a clearly defined working schedule, you could end up overworking or, at the other end of the spectrum, not doing as much as you ought.
To combat this, set out your working hours, as well as your expectations for the day, and share these with your team. By sharing your work goals with others and sticking to a routine, you will be more accountable, which can help if you start to feel demotivated or distracted.
Break your day into manageable chunks
Breaking your working day into different sessions will provide more clarity, make goal setting more manageable and allow you to ensure you have plenty of time for breaks too. Use a flexible template of a morning session, an afternoon session, and leave an hour for ad-hoc tasks such as emailing, project management, and checking accounts.
It can be challenging and time-consuming to track every single second of your day, but doing the above will give your colleagues, bosses, and yourself peace of mind that you are working as productively as possible, and getting things done.
Take regular breaks
Taking regular breaks, particularly going for walks outside, will re-energise and refresh and remind you that there is still a world turning outside your front door.
It can be tempting to try to cram all your working hours together to have a shorter day. However, this could lead to burnout. Instead, every few hours allow yourself time away from your computer. During your lunch break, try to stretch your legs and change your scenery so you can return feeling focused and ready to continue with your tasks.
Create a proper workspace and keep distractions to a minimum
One of the hardest things about home working is being able to separate your work and home life. It can be easy for the lines to become blurred, and setting clear boundaries from the outset is crucial.
If you have a dedicated office space, that’s great; if not, you need to work out where in your home is most conducive to working productively. Being comfortable is one thing, but lying down on your sofa with your laptop balanced precariously under your chin is probably not the best place to work.
It would help if you also were wary of things around the house that might cause distractions. No matter how tempting it is to tackle that growing pile of laundry or water the garden, you need to maintain a professional attitude and commit to working your regular working hours regardless.
Have a businesslike attitude
Homeworking can bring lots of benefits for both employer and employee.
For employers, there are reduced costs, organisational flexibility, and the potential for increased productively and employee satisfaction.
For employees, there are opportunities to be more flexible with working hours, to make appointments with ease, to enjoy a relaxed dress code, and a better work-life balance.
However, all of this depends on a commitment from both parties treating the new agreement with respect. Begin each working day with a businesslike and professional attitude, determined to deliver high-quality work, and to continue to nurture a productive and mutually beneficial relationship. If you do this, you can’t go far wrong!
Keep lines of communication open
Working from home can sometimes feel quite isolating, so it’s important to make sure that you keep lines of communication open and interact with your colleagues as much as you can. Ask for feedback from colleagues on the work that you are doing, as this will help to ensure quality is upheld.
If you are uncertain about what’s expected of you, then don’t be afraid to ask. A good employer will understand the challenges that home working can present and will be happy to provide additional clarity or take time to phone or video call you to help with any questions you have.
Remember, when working remotely, you’ll find yourself using written communication more often. This can have numerous benefits. However, one downside of written communication is that it can leave room for interpretation.
Ambiguity signifies there are gaps of information, and people sometimes fill those gaps with incorrect assumptions or negative feelings, that’s just the way we work. It’s called the Horn Effect, fuelled by our Negativity Bias and examines our tendency to focus on negative emotions, either due to our insecurities or past events, which allow our judgement to be emotionally-driven.
To counter this, we should try and find empathy through Hanlon’s Razor: do not assume malice when it can be attributed to innocent reasons.
HERE ARE A FEW GUIDELINES FOR COUNTERING THE HORN EFFECT –
- Provide thoughtful, well-structured feedback when communicating.
- Allow time for listening to others, giving them the chance to express themselves.
- Enhance written communication on emails with emojis; they might seem a bit cheesy to some, but they can make a big difference to sentiment and intent.
- Use empathy at all times to understand from another’s point of view.
- If you have a grievance with something someone has said, don’t harbour resentment, it’s always better to address it with that person and seek a resolution.
Check-in with your mental and physical health
Working from home can be challenging for many people, especially those who are used to being in a thriving, bustling office where they can bounce ideas off one another, ask questions and get answers quickly, and be social. Speak up if you are feeling lonely or concerned. Be as open and transparent and honest as you can. Be sensitive to the fact that some people may be struggling or find home working more difficult than others. Always try to be as flexible as possible and encourage and support one another.
It is also every individual’s responsibility to check in with themselves as often as necessary. While it can be tempting to slob about and eat junk food when working from home, this will do us no favours in the long run! Try to remain healthy, take exercise, and be aware of any negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, or depression that may be creeping up on you. The sooner you recognise and tackle any mental health issues, the less likely they are to become overwhelming.
Switch off when you switch off!
Finally, it’s important to learn to have a real end to the working day, and when you switch off your computer, you need to let go and focus on other things you like to do or commitments you have. Having downtime is so important, and even though it can be tempting to send another email or complete a bit more work on a project, you won’t do yourself or your relationships any favours by doing so. =
A good employer will understand that to get the best from their employees, a proper work-life balance is critical. So if you start feeling pressure to work into the evenings, try to take this up with your boss, HR, or a trusted colleague to restore the balance as soon as possible.
By taking the time to learn how to work productively at home, both employers and employees can gain a lot. So use the tips above to help develop a healthy, structured, productive, and positive workday, and in doing so, even in the toughest of circumstances, both businesses and working relationships should go from strength to strength.