How do you successfully work from home?

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During this unprecedented period of reduced social contact and self-isolation, many are going to be working from home for the first time. I have worked largely from home for the past 4-years. I never dreamed of doing this before and headed into it with trepidation. However, it can work for you. Here are some tips:

Homelife changes

It is likely that many of us won’t be home alone. Working couples will both be trying to work. Kids may be off schools soon. It is worth talking things through now. Speak to kids and explain you are home, but you are not ‘at home’ if you like. Also, explain that you do need certain periods of quiet when they can be banished to the garden (weather permitting of course). Try to offer times to each other where you will occupy the kids for an hour to give time, space and silence. 

Start your working day early

If you don’t have kids as alarm clocks, then set the same alarm you would have for work. It is likely that your commute was the wake-up period, so you arrived ready to go. You will need the same time at home so wake up at the same time and give yourself time to get ready for work. I’ve always worked on my ‘to do’ list during this period and planned the day ahead, all with a strong coffee as an integral part.

I find that I start work immediately and then take a break to have breakfast with the kids. The to-do list is ready, and the day can be planned.

Be at work at home

Create the right environment (if possible) and allocate space so that you can visualise your office at home. Have the same family photographs, or the same stress ball or folder trays. Have some familiarity.

What did you have behind you at work when you did Skype calls with clients? Try to recreate this so when you see yourself in conference calls it looks like you are in the office. Dress for work. It can be easy to sit around in track-suit bottoms and a t-shirt on from last night. Shower. Dress differently to how you would lounge and relax at home and it can help focus.

Limit (personal) social media use

All channels are designed to grab attention and let you browse quickly. Try to avoid getting dragged in for considerable time watching social media feeds. Of course, in the current situation, we are all referencing social media with regards to the virus and the Government advice, but you can become distracted by other things. You could remove social media short-cuts from your browser homepage.

Time planning

You have flexibility when you work at home. You might be able to start later. Drop the kids off at school before you start. Finish a little earlier than usual. You will know when you work best and how your motivation naturally changes over the course of a usual working day. Consider these when planning your day.

Do the harder daily tasks when you feel at your peak. Use the parts of the day when you are slightly less productive (for some people that is the first thing or first thing after lunch. For others the last half an hour each day) for the easier tasks you can bang-out with less pain.

Equally when completing your calls or Skype calls. Arrange these for when you know you won’t be disturbed! We have all seen this:

It can be hard to feel the ‘pressure’ of a work environment when you are at home. However, there are pressures if you set time limits. Obviously, if you have children at home then you will naturally have to work very effectively in the brief period when the kids are asleep (younger ones) or occupied (older ones). They can be a great motivator.

I’m expecting to have 3 kids’ home with us from next week. Of course, I and my wife will try to run our businesses while arranging self-study, stop arguments and limit X-Box usage!

Day planning

You will need to manage your time. There is no boss watching you, no colleague demanding your time at lunch. Planning is important so that you focus, but equally so you take necessary screen breaks, move about and don’t sit for hours.

Just wrote a plan for 1-2-hour sections and list what you aim to achieve, but don’t forget breaks. Make sure you are as active as possible.

Communications

Naturally, you have many ways to communicate with colleagues online. Working from home can make you feel isolated if the period goes on for some time. Instant messaging and Skype etc. can make it simple to check in with colleagues and have regular updates.

We use Slack for regular conversations and Skype to have face-to-face meetings which are essential for my sanity!

Social interaction

This is going to be limited during this time. Write personal emails you have been meaning to send. Arrange that Skype call to your friend in Bendigo that is long overdue. Sort out your parents with Skype. You are working from home…you haven’t moved to Mars! You will need to interact for the coming weeks for your own mental health. There are loads of friends or work colleagues you could catch up with. Use the time well for your personal life along with work commitments. They will appreciate it.

Distractions

Now everyone is obviously different. I can’t write properly with music in the background. Some people are quite happy to create great work with Van Halen blasting from their speakers. Do what makes it right for you but do avoid TV. Music and radio can soothe and you habituate quickly to it in the background. TV, particularly channels with ads, are built to grab your attention however, it is common knowledge that having the History Channel on at low volume will apparently increase productivity.

Take breaks/screen breaks

You may find that you get glued to your laptop and forget to take breaks. These are essential for your health, your posture and your eyesight. I have judged lunch by BBC World News at 1 pm-1:30 pm. I have taken a break when my coffee is empty/cold. However you do it, take a break and stretch your legs.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Don’t assume that if you are not working you are not producing the same levels you would in an office. If you count the two-way commute where you intended to do some work but didn’t, the ‘catch up first thing’ chat with colleagues in your office, cigarette breaks (if you partake), long lunch breaks etc. You can assume that from a regular office working day (9-5) is probably more like 5-6 hrs.

Don’t feel guilty when you have achieved your to-do list for the day and it is 3:45! Listen to a podcast. Try to make the kids laugh.

Know when to stop

In the office, your colleagues will leave. The cleaners will arrive for the bin emptying etc. There are signals to stop. At home, and in order to create a good work/life balance, have a trigger for the end of your day. Whether it is delivering kids to sports clubs, a particular drive time show on radio or even a regular alarm…. don’t just get caught up and still be working at 10 pm when those around you are in need of you.

Be positive. LV wishes you love and health and we will get through this together.

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