So I started writing this post months ago, like maybe 6 months ago or more. It began as a list of things that I do daily to make working from home feel more like working in the office (“proper work”), but today I’ve added a bit more detail so I can post it.
I’ll do the list first, then have a chat about how I came to work from home and how I make that successful for me and my company.
- Get dressed! Honestly, this is the biggest deal and for a reason that I’m going to keep repeating. Separating work and home is so important to maintaining a work/life balance. I do a few little things to make my work day as similar as possible at home as it would be in the office. I would never go to the office in my PJs so I don’t work at home in them either.
- Wear shoes! Continuing that point, we don’t do barefoot or wear slippers in the office now do we? So wear shoes at home too. The other benefit of this is taking your shoes off at the end of the work day and putting slippers on, just a moment’s pleasure and reward.
- Have a workspace. This one can be tricky, depending how your home is laid out. We moved house at the same time as I switched to home working so we made sure I had a tiny room dedicated to work. Maybe it’s a desk in a spare room or dining area, just make sure you can come to it and away from it at each end of the work day.
- Commute to your workspace. This sounds kind of silly, but it’s another part of making home working feel like office working. Go for a short walk before and after work, even if it’s just round the block or the garden. Under normal circumstances the school or nursery run is ideal, these days any substitute helps make the mental switch between home and work.
- Shut the door or the laptop. However you’re set up to WFH make sure that you close the door on your workspace at the end of the day, or put your laptop away (don’t just close the lid, put it out of sight). Its really important for you to turn off and be at home. It’s also important that colleagues don’t get used to you being responsive at all hours. You don’t want to set a new normal baseline where you’re on call, in work mode, 7am-11pm. This works in the other direction too though, don’t let yourself get distracted by housework when you’re meant to be working. 5mins to do the laundry is fine, that’s hardly different from all the coffee breaks you aren’t taking. But don’t scrub the bathrooms.
- Keep work kid free. Ha! This kind of depends on the ages of the kids, but under 7 its almost impossible to be properly productive at normal levels. I guess we’ll re-evaluating this in coming weeks and months.
- No TV. No, it’ll be the ultimate distraction, something’s bound to catch your attention especially with the news at the moment.
- But have background noise. I found working from home just too quiet in the early days. Very quickly I started having the radio on all the time. My personal choice is BBC radio 6Music. I work in software so the office was always quite quiet, just a gentle murmur and tap tap tap of keyboards. No noise at all is deafening though. The rule for me is: if the radio is on interruptions are fine, if I’m talking or its silent keep out, I’m in a meeting.
- Keep social contacts with colleagues. We’re so lucky to live in an age of instant messaging and skype calls. Make sure you keep talking, out loud where possible, to the people you usually spend time with at work. Those coffee break and water cooler moments can be the sparks of inspiration as well as keeping us sane and grounded, don’t be socially isolated just because you’re stuck in the house. However, try to keep off social media during the work day, just as though you were in the office.
- Take breaks, don’t multitask. One of the reasons home working productivity can be higher is because we don’t take an hour for lunch or 10 minute coffee breaks. Our brains aren’t designed to focus for 8+ solid hours a day. If you try to do that you will be exhausted and burn out quickly. The other culprit is working on something else while in a meeting – it’s so easy to do because you’re in the same physical position for work and meetings. But this can lead to mistakes as well as lack of concentration so missing things in the meeting. I am terrible at this.
How it works for us
I started working from home about 6 years ago, my husband changed jobs after redundancy and my amazing manager made the switch really easy. I’m sure its not unusual that HR provided some hoops to jump through. Over the years my in-office required time has changed from one day a week, to 2 days a month, to no requirement. I work with remote teams as well as teams in the office where I was previously based so the impact isn’t huge.
My home office is set up like my office was. I have 2 monitors for work and laptop screen for skype, radio, printer, hardwired internet, water, notepads, window and comfortable, supportive chair with extra jumpers.
I love home working, its highly unlikely that I’ll leave my current job for something office based before both the boys are in secondary school because nothing could be more convenient. I can walk to school in 20mins or drive in under 5, what other job could have me so close?
Get dressed and wear shoes, commute. I get dressed with the kids in the morning. When I did school or nursery runs at the start of the day, I left the house and came back again to work. Since small boy started school himself takes them both to breakfast club, but I’ve started running so at least 3 days a week I follow them out of the door. When I get home I shower and get dressed in not too slobby clothes.
Have a work space that you can shut out and shut people out of. We moved house at the same time as I switched to home working so we made sure I had a tiny room dedicated to work. We’ve since moved again and for a while I worked in a big spare room, now I’m in a downstairs office. I close the door to keep the heat in when I’m working (I don’t have the heating on, that would be so expensive, instead I have a small oil radiator). When I’m done for the day, I close the door again.
Have background noise and social contact. I can’t cope with silence, I don’t focus well and I hear strange house noises. When I started working from home I put on BBC Radio 6music and it is worth every penny of the license fee. I’ve discovered so much new and different music, it really enriches my day. It’s on constantly when I’m not in meetings or in a call. I use instant messaging to keep in touch with people, I usually have about 8 chats open with people that I can ping with questions or daily catch ups. There are a few colleagues that I speak to daily, some from teams I work with and others on my functional team (I’m a technical writer). For the last 4 years a real friendship has grown with M, she’s on my team, 30 years my senior and she’s become my “work wife”. We talk almost every day, exchange cards and gifts by mail and keep each other sane. Having each other makes home working so much easier and less lonely. We’re both in our homes all day every day and it would be so easy to become isolated. I try really hard, but mostly fail, to keep off social media during the work day. Inevitably, if a friend messages me I’ll reply and we’ll chat for a bit.
Take breaks, don’t multitask. I’m really really bad at this. Almost every meeting I’m in I’ll be working on something else on the side, emails get replied to, IMs continue, and I’m distracted. It’s terrible practice, but so hard to resist. I’m thinking of using video in meetings more, I figure if people can see me I’ll be less likely to let my focus drift.
Kids and work don’t mix. This is going to be the learning curve for me over the coming weeks and months. I’ve never worked with healthy bouncy kids about for more than a day or two before. Much less tried to get them to focus and learn while I’m trying to work. When they’ve been home they’ve been sick and constant TV has been appropriate. How we’re all going to achieve our goals I don’t know yet. One thing I do know is that I want to start as we mean to go on. We have to set good routines for ourselves and expectations for my colleagues. I can’t let them spend the first couple of weeks chilling, so I and my colleagues get used to normal productivity and they kids get used to not learning, only for us to still be in the same situation in 6 weeks time and realise that they need to do some school work and I (and himself of course) need to spend time supporting them. Then it would be an upheaval for us all, we don’t need that on top of everything else.
Good luck everyone! Please share any other tips, especially for working with kids and husbands underfoot.