This is not my usual type of post. However, given current circumstances with people not used to working from home having to do so, I thought I’d share some tips based on my experiences. I know home-working won’t be possible for all but, if you are able to, I hope these will help.
- Try to have some kind of pre-work routine. Just like you would if getting ready to set off out to work. Getting dressed in your normal work-clothes helps psychologically in switching your brain into work-mode. If that includes putting on make-up, do it. Have breakfast, get the kids ready, even prepare your lunch-time sandwiches. Then log on.
- If possible dedicate one room, or an area within a room, for work. It doesn’t have to be very sophisticated. It’s all about maintaining that separation between home and work life.
- Organise your work space as you would if actually in the office. Again it’s a psychological thing. If at all possible, have a dedicated phone for work calls – a work’s mobile or equivalent. I keep my mobile essentially for that. My landline is for everything else. I get get out the laptop and IPad, and ensure I have to hand my mobile, work notes, reference books for the day, notebooks, pens, to-do lists etc.
- Have a working routine, and stick to it as far as possible. So, if your normal office hours are 9-5, try to continue that working pattern. It helps minimise the risk of working hours spilling over into family and leisure time. Also, crucially, make sure others know your home work hours.
- Linked to the above, if your work is not in a dedicated home office room, do pack it away at the end of your working day. I’d say this also applies if you are lucky enough to have a separate study in your home. It allows you to switch off mentally. It’s the equivalent of you logging off and leaving the office. And the last thing you want to see as you’re eating your evening meal, or relaxing in front of the TV, is a reminder of your work tasks for the following day!
- When working from home minimise distractions. This can be really tough, especially if others in the home are, well, treating it as their home. After all it is. It’s a case of letting people know you are working…even if it does end up seeming like you’re reminding them constantly. I have noise-cancelling headphones and listen to my work music play-list if there are others in the house. I don’t answer the landline now – if it’s important the caller will leave a message. If friends or family come knocking at the door, politely let them know you’re working, even if it’s resorting to telling a white lie about an imminent conference call. However, this may be less of a problem given the emphasis on social distancing in the current crisis. For some, though, this will be a particularly major problem, especially if you have younger children at home. It may be that you need adjust your working hours if at all possible e.g. working once they’re asleep, or sharing care with your partner if that’s an option.
- I also tend to operate on the lines of a work/treat pattern. I’ll set a time chunk for work, say one hour. Or it could be task-based, e.g. I’ll get this section of a report written, write a set number of paragraphs, or research a particular record set. Then I’ll make a coffee, or get a snack, maybe play with the dog, even hang out the washing or prepare a one-pot evening meal. The treat might even be a quick social media burst – Twitter and Facebook are my water-cooler moments. The break may only be for a few minutes, but it really does help.
- And talking of social media bursts, working from home can be unimaginably socially isolating. That can be incredibly tough to deal with, especially long-term. You quickly loose out on the office camaraderie, gossip and interaction. Social media really does help. As does fixing up in advance a time for a phone chat, FaceTime or Skype call etc, with work colleagues. It’s all about keeping up contact with them, and with other people – just as you would if in the office. (Edit – the COVID-19 lockdown is proving a technological game-changer, driving forward innovations this area in particular. Video conferencing software is coming into its own as a result. As we enter Week 4 in England I’ve used GoToMeeting and Zoom for genealogical community keep in touch meetings).
- Make sure you have a lunch break. If you can, don’t spend it surrounded by your work. If possible, and it might not be given the social distancing messaging, go for a walk. If not, sit in the garden, even go to another room – anything really to give you that pause between morning and afternoon, or the different parts of your working day. Again it’s all about building a normal work routine and making sure you’re mentally in that work headspace.
- Finally, when you do pack up for the day, have a few moments to wind down rather than dashing straight into something else. Look at it as your travel home time. And if you normally get changed back into casuals at the end of your working day, do that too.
One final point. Working from home can be really liberating. I love my scented candles, soothing music and not having the constant chattering noise and constant ringing of phones open-plan office working brings. It’s also great because you can avoid some of the interminable meetings which achieve nothing – so commonly a feature of some workplaces. And I always found that in my civil service job (I split my working week between home and office), I achieved a much higher productivity rate at home than when in the office. I also saved at least one working-day’s worth of hours each week by not travelling too and from work. So home working – if you’re lucky enough to be offered that option – is not all bad.
And there’s one huge advantage for me. A great work colleague!