It’s coming up to a year since I started my job (time flies!) and I’ve been working from home almost the whole time since then. I probably never would have considered a work-from-home job, but COVID has made that my reality, like it has for many others too. And although I wouldn’t have chosen this, it has taught me a great deal.
Being thrown in at the deep end working from home during a global pandemic wasn’t easy for any of us. But I’ve adapted and changed the way I work to make this work for me. And one year on, I now realise it has given me more flexibility and a better work-life balance (even if we can’t do as much in our free time as we used to). I’ve now got so used to working from home that I’ve come to enjoy it. Although, I still look forward to the day when we can return to the office and appreciate all the positives that come with that too.
So, if you’re new to working from home, considering a work-from-home job, or you’re just struggling to get to grips with this new way of working, read on for my top tips to make it a success.
Block out your time
It’s easy to feel like you have to respond to emails instantly, answer the phone on the first ring, and hop onto video calls at the drop of a hat. But would you really do that in the office environment? No! No one is going to expect you to respond immediately when you may well be busy working on other things. So, try to work as you normally would.
I find it helps to plan my work priorities for the week, block out the first hour of the day to blitz through my emails, and schedule video calls so they don’t interrupt my work flow. I also block out time in my diary to focus on tasks and avoid interruptions during this time. It really helps with my productivity and helps to focus my attention on key tasks when I feel like I’m being pulled in every direction.
Coffee breaks are normal. In the work environment, you’re not expected to be chained to your desk and working like a whirlwind every minute of the day. And working from home is no different.
You’re allowed to take breaks when you need to, even it it’s just 5 minutes to grab a drink or stretch your legs. You need time away from the screen to relax your eyes, and employer’s should be actively encouraging you to take frequent breaks for your wellbeing. You could even consider scheduling short catch up calls with colleagues to replace your coffee break chats in the office. It will do you both a world of good!
Take a walk
Got half an hour for lunch? Why not take a walk? A spot of fresh air, daylight and a change of scene will leave you feeling refreshed. You can take your lunch with you and eat on the go, or take a shorter walk and enjoy your lunch when you get back home.
You might not have time for a strenuous hike, but you’ll be able to increase your daily step count with a gentle walk. This has made a huge difference for me. It helps fight the after-lunch slump and makes me far more productive in the afternoon.
Finish on time
It’s far to easy to find yourself working all hours when you’re working from home. But working late is a bad pattern to get into. Employers shouldn’t expect it and they often don’t appreciate it. So, finish on time and switch off your laptop at the end of the day.
You’re in charge of managing your time during the working day; so find ways of managing it well so that you don’t need to work late to meet deadlines. It might be unavoidable at times and that’s okay, but don’t let it become the normal.
Stretch it out
We don’t all have an ideal work space at home. Many of us are working on laptops propped up on books on the dining room table. Or sitting on the sofa with the laptop on the armrest. It might be comfortable for a while, but it isn’t great for our posture long-term.
I’ve noticed my back, neck and shoulders aching more than usual, and stretching regularly has really helped. A short yoga session at the end of the day is easy to fit in when you work from home, and there are some great YouTube channels for all levels and abilities.
Separate your work space
If it’s possible, try to keep your workspace separate from your main living spaces. If you have a home office, that’s easy. But many of us don’t have that luxury. I’ve had to make do with a small desk in my bedroom which isn’t ideal. But it means that I’m able to work in peace and quiet without interfering with the rest of my family, and they don’t interfere with my video calls.
Then when I finish work for the day, I can leave my room and head downstairs to relax and switch off from work for the evening. It even helps to be able to leave my work station to go down to the kitchen for my lunch break. The change of environment is a subconscious message that helps you to switch off when you should.
Be comfortable but professional
Working from home comes with the added bonus of not having to dress up for work. My work wardrobe has been somewhat neglected, but that doesn’t mean I’ve become a slob and stay in my PJs all day! I might not be wearing my usual skirts, dresses and blouses like I would in the office, but I still need to be professional and represent my employer well on video calls.
So, get up and stick to your usual morning routine. Have a shower, do your hair and put a smart jumper or top on… no one needs to know you’re wearing leggings underneath, as long as you look professional on a video call.
Keep in touch
Don’t let working from home make you feel alone or isolated. Loneliness is another pandemic that we need to fight during COVID times, and it is a growing concern for many, especially those living alone. But keeping in touch with your colleagues can make a big difference.
Working from home might mean that you have little contact with others on a daily basis. So, think twice about sending that email and give your work mate a call instead. Hearing another voice will lift your mood and chances are you’ll be chatting like you would in the office in no time. And embrace video calls! I hated them at first, but working from home forced me to get used to it fast. But now, I enjoy the opportunity to have some face-to-face contact, even if it is through the screen of my laptop. I don’t feel I’d know my colleagues half as well if it wasn’t for Microsoft Teams!
So, one year on from the onset of the COVID pandemic, I’ve learnt a lot about how I work best. I’ve developed new strategies for making me as productive as possible, and new ways of collaborating and communicating with my team. I’m hoping to get back to some sort of normal fairly soon, but I hope my normal includes working from home in the future too… Maybe not all the time, but I would like a blend of home and office work to get the best of both worlds!