For many of us, life has changed substantially because of the social distancing rules to protect us from catching Covid-19. Many people are now working from home when they are used to working in busy workplaces with plenty of opportunity for interaction with others. Now we are discouraged from meeting people, with the possible exception of our family members. Even then, caution is recommended.
So, for the inexperienced home-worker, here are my Top 10 tips to making working from home more effective:
Build a Permanent Work Area
As a long-established home-worker, I have a dedicated room that is my workplace. When I enter that place, I have entered my office and I am in the work mindset. Not everyone will be lucky enough to be able to dedicate a whole room to this, especially if there are more than one of you in the house working from home. Even so, do your best to designate a space which is your ‘home office’.
Set Regular Work Hours
Many human beings thrive on routine. I know I do but I also accept that this is not the case for everybody. However, I strongly recommend that you set yourself some regular work hours and stick to them. Make these hours known to those you live with and people you work with outside of the home. Family members can respect those hours and co-workers know when you are going to be at your desk and available to communicate.
Discover your High Productivity Periods
We all have different biorhythms. There are times in the day when you are naturally more productive than others. I work with one person who is noticeably more productive early in the morning. In my case my most productive time is late afternoon, early evening. Our productive times rarely coincide, but we have learnt to work together by respecting our differences. If you can identify your most productive time, and build your workday around it, you will become more productive.
Make To Do Lists and Plan Your Day
I’m a great believer in having a plan and a daily to do list. I must admit I don’t always stick to the plan, but I stand a much better chance of getting the right things done if I plan my day in advance. I find the best time to do this is at the end of the previous day (when I’m most productive) and when things are still fresh in my mind. If you are a business owner, you will be familiar with the problem of getting all the daily ‘stuff’ done whilst ignoring the strategic work that drives your business forward. Make sure you plan in time to work on the future of your business, not just the day to day tasks. After all, self-isolation will not last for ever, and you will need to be ready for when things take off again.
Dress for Work
Although it may be tempting to stay in your PJs when you start work, that’s sending entirely the wrong message to your brain. Dress for work as if you were going into the office as normal. It will make a difference to your mindset.
Exercise and Stretch Regularly
It’s so easy to get stuck at your desk, especially when you get into the ‘zone’. You need to stay fit and healthy so exercise and stretch regularly. I suffer from stiffness in my lower back, so I stop every now and then and do some sitting-down stretches to maintain mobility in my spine. If you need some insiration, take a look at some of the exercises published on Martlesham Leisure's Facebook Page.
Take Short Breaks
On a similar theme, you need to take short breaks to divide up your day. You may even set breaks to act as rewards for completing a piece of work or for just punctuating the day. My office is on the top floor of my house, so taking a break to make a cup of coffee also gives me an opportunity to do some exercise. It’s 31 steps up to my office, so every time I go downstairs to make a coffee, I get a mini workout too!
Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks
If you are used to grabbing a sandwich at your desk, or worse still a burger from your local fast food restaurant for your lunch, take the opportunity to improve your diet and eat something healthy. I’m not convinced that walnuts are on the ‘essentials’ list, but if you buy them when you do your essentials shopping, they make a great addition to a salad. We are also taking the opportunity to eat through our freezer. Every meal is a surprise!
Check-In with Colleagues Regularly
Maintaining good mental health is really important. Human beings are naturally sociable, although I know a couple of exceptions, and so we need to continue to communicate. Make a point of calling work colleagues on a frequent basis. Check in with them and make sure they are well. I’m used to attending regular networking meetings. Quite apart rom the business opportunities networking provides, it’s also an opportunity to mix with people. Some of the groups I attend have gone on-line and continue to meet using conferencing software. It’s a different experience, but better than nothing.
Use Professional Communication Tools
Following on from the previous point, having professional communication tools makes a big difference to the quality of the experience. There are many free tools available like Skype or Zoom which offer good functionality and safe encryption end to end. Spend a few quid on a premium membership and you get more useful tools to make you more professional. I now conduct all my 1-2-1 mentoring appointments on Zoom. The quality is good, and I can share screens and a white board with my clients so we can work effectively together. I can record the calls for future reference, so we don’t need to take copious notes. I will also be using it for my monthly Mentored Peer Group meetings so we can continue the valuable work we are doing together.
I wanted to keep this to ten points, so I will finish here. There are many other tips for making working at home more effective which I will build into future posts. Productive working is important, but don’t neglect the mental health side of the equation. Why not add your favourite tips in the comments below.