In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of previously office-bound professionals are now from working from home.
While homeworking has increased in the last five years, only 5% of the UK workforce worked mainly from home in 2019. Additionally, 55% of workers surveyed said they’d had no experience of working from home at all.
Being confined to your own home for both work and play can pose a whole new set of challenges, from feeling unmotivated and getting distracted, to feeling lonely without the watercooler chit chat.
To help you adjust to the remote-work lifestyle, we asked tried-and-tested WFH workers, robust remote companies and savvy entrepreneurs for their top work from home tips on staying focused, productive and sane whilst working while away from the office.
Kelly Hoppen, Founder at Kelly Hoppen Interiors
1. Stick to your routine
I think it’s really important to get up in the morning and do what you normally do — get dressed, put makeup on etc — as if you’re going to work. You also need to make a space that’s your ‘workspace’.
That way, when you finish work at the end of the day, you can close it all up and know that’s your workday done. The rest of your house is then your haven and place of relaxation!
2. Don’t forget to socialise
My team and I make sure to video conference (what feels like all day) every day.
When I’m not on work video calls, I use apps like houseparty & zoom to catch up with family and friends. It’s been great fun and something to really look forward to!
Theo Paphitis, Ryman Owner and retail entrepreneur
3. Keep in contact with your team
My day is full of zoom meetings on a whole range of subjects! And it ends in a round up call with the Exec team, to ensure we are all switched on to the challenges for the business for the coming days.
I think that we are all adapting to the ‘new normal’ in these unprecedented times, and the zoom meetings are a lifeline to many in business, but also on a mental health basis, in keeping in contact with those we need to.
4. Create a designated workspace
Carve out a space where you can get into the work zone; whether that’s you creating a new work space in a room in the house, or ensuring that your work-from-home set up is quiet (where possible if kids are around) and most importantly comfortable. No one wants a back ache!
Carrie Rose, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Rise at Seven
5. Set boundaries and minimise distractions
Turn off your TV but have a radio or music running in the background. It can help create an atmosphere but not distract you from doing work
If you are in lockdown with other people, find a separate room away from your partner or family. Add a do not disturb sign and set rules that you are still working.
It’s so easy for family members to come and distract you, but clearly communicating that you are at work will help!
6. Get up and dressed
So many people are taking makeup breaks right now, or lounging around in pyjamas. I find this hugely unmotivating!
If I get up and get ready for the day, this helps the mind prepare for something productive. I also make sure I make the bed, have breakfast and go for a morning walk
Brie Weiler Reynolds, Career Development Manager at FlexJobs
7. Develop a system that will keep you on task
To stay productive, some remote workers use systems like the Pomodoro Technique, where they set a timer to do work. Others use the Getting Things Done method or the Bullet Journal.
Even a simple to-do list with 3-5 must-do activities each day can work wonders. I try to establish a routine that I can stick to every day.
You have to have a lot of self-control and self-management to make sure you’re holding yourself accountable, even if a manager isn’t looking over your shoulder.
8. Separate your work and living space
Definitely have a separate space that you work from, and try to work from the same space every day.
It doesn’t have to be a fancy home office! Even a designated corner of a room will do, and people have done wonders turning closets into tiny offices.
It makes you feel like you’re able to start and end your workday, rather than having it blur together with your personal time.
Mia Hamano, Product Manager at Buffer
9. Set a schedule and stick to it
Create a schedule for yourself, even if that means a calendar reminder to take a daily 30-minute screen break. Turn off notifications and carve out time for deep and undistracted work.
I do most of my synchronous communication and work in the morning since my team is mostly based in the EU or US eastern time zones. Then, I use my afternoons to do deep work and non-time sensitive urgent tasks.
Turning off notifications and letting my team know that I’m going to be doing deep work, so I won’t be available for synchronous communication temporarily. Also, make a point of deliberately ending your workday — otherwise, the lines can be blurred and you can end up working all the time.
10. Move as much as you can
Getting movement in while working remotely is really important.
In an office, you’re more likely to be walking to lunch or meetings. But at home, it can be really easy to just remain solitary for large periods of time.
I exercise regularly during the workday, and it has huge benefits! I make sure to schedule a block of time daily to get some movement, whether that be a walk or some yoga.
Matt Jukes, Managing Editor at TARGETjobs for GTI Media Ltd
11. Consciously differentiate work and play
I’m an old hand at freelancing and have never been in a position where I have a lot of living space to spare when working from home. So for me, it’s all about psychology and playing the association game with objects.
Wear different clothes during working hours and change immediately afterwards. Eat different meals during working days than you do at weekends. Sit in a different position than you would if you’re using the same area for relaxation or play. Log on to your computer with a different account for work than you do for daily life at home.
How you make the differentiation between work and ‘play’ is essentially up to you, the individual, but these are the things that I’ve found to help in the past.
12. Stick to your regular office hours
I keep regular hours between 9.00 am-5.30 pm and divide my working day just as I would in the office with an hour for lunch in the middle.
I do often find that the day overruns until later than 5.30 pm, but for me, the important thing is to stop once you’ve decided to stop. Log out of those work accounts, close those work programs and get on with your home life.
13. Exercise to maintain your mental wellbeing
I’ve been using my government-allowed hour outside to cycle around the near-deserted streets.
Inside, I have used HIIT sessions in the past and found them to be useful not only for mobility and working out the stiffness of a sedentary lifestyle but also for maintaining mental wellbeing.
If you’ve not noticed the effect that exercise can have on your mood, start small and build up your tolerance as you go.
Giles Edmonds, Clinical Services Director at Specsavers
14. Look after your eye health
Eyes are not designed to be fixated on a single object for a long period of time so can often become strained when we focus on screens, especially if they are a smaller laptop, tablet or smart device screens.
To avoid eye strain, follow the 20:20:20 rule. Look up from your screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Looking into the distance helps relax the focusing muscles of your eyes, which in turn reduces eye fatigue.
Make the most of your allowed outdoor time. Theories show that taking a screen break and going for a short walk allows eyes to rest and for our minds to regroup.
Reflections on your computer screen can cause glare and lead to eye strain. Try reducing this by attaching an anti-glare screen to your monitor or covering windows to avoid external light shining onto the screen.
Gordon Harrison, Chief Audiologist at Specsavers
15. Turn down the volume
Just as when listening to music, you should make sure you listen to calls at safe levels.
Normal levels of conversation are about 65 decibels, which is almost half the levels you get at places like concerts and events. However, when you take calls while wearing headphones it is easy to let the volume creep up – especially if you are trying to cancel out background noise.
This could eventually result in hearing loss or tinnitus, so don’t let volume creep above 60%.
Ben Norman, Chairman and Founder at Koozai
16. Create a structure and stick to it
Coming into and leaving the office creates normal start and ‘cut off’ points in the day. Some people can find the absence of this a little challenging when working from home for the first time.
My advice is to create a structure to the day and stick to it. Set alarms to remind you of key cut off points throughout the day if necessary. Here’s mine:
- Wake up: Get up and make my bed. It’s important to start the day off right.
- Family time: I start each day by having a coffee with the family. This is an important time to bond, learn and develop myself.
- Organise the day: I will then review the tasks for the day and set prioritises in order of importance. It is important to keep a structure to the day, especially when working from home.
- Exercise: I like to keep active, and that is especially important during the lockdown.
- Focus time: I’ll spend the first few hours of the day working my plan; addressing work priorities and ticking off the really important things.
- Break and lunch: Regular breaks are really important to keep up productivity. I’ll take regular 5-10 minute breaks and then a longer lunch to refuel, reset and spend time with the family.
- Deep work: After lunch, I’ll make a concerted effort to complete any admin work and then touch base with people; whether by email or call. Towards the end of the day, I’ll review all work that’s been completed and set up a to-do list for the next day.
- Evening: At the end of the day I’ll prepare food, rest and spend time with my family. Sleep is really important and I make sure that I get at least 7-9 hours a night.
17. Develop a routine for the kids, too
Build a structure and routine into the day for yourself and your kids so they get used to it. Keep it the same. This can create a sense of expectation for your children that they will be doing different school and leisure activities at certain times throughout the day.
If you live with a partner, you need to agree on a schedule that keeps both you and the kids sane and entertained. Created allotted learning sessions and times for your child to play that you both tag team in on.
Also, set family time where you all get time together. Kids adapt so quickly and it becomes routine. Routine is key!
18. Keep connected with friends, family and colleagues
Don’t just text — jump on a video call, and maybe even book in regular calls with friends and family members if possible to give yourself something to look forward to.
The other thing is that you can still connect with your work team even if you are not all in the same office. Suggest video calls instead of conference calls. Pick up the phone rather than send an email. Your team could even jump on a call throughout the day while you work to create a sense of togetherness.
There’s no denying that social isolation can be tough, but there are plenty of ways to stay connected in our current tech fuelled climate. Also, surprise people with video calls, you can make someone’s day!
Ilma Nausedaite, Chief Operating Office at Mailerlite
19. Write lists and set achievable goals
I always create a to-do list for the week. When you check things off your list, you feel good, as dopamine rewards our motivated behaviour.
Seeing the list also helps you acknowledge what you’ve accomplished. Don’t be too ambitious with your goals, I like to only put must-do items on my list — not the nice-to-have ones.
I also use different places for different tasks. For example, I sit on my armchair when I do research, I write at the table and I go for a walk when I need to come up with new ideas.
20. Prioritise alone time, if you need it
I actually believe loneliness is less of an issue for families right now, as most of us are spending a lot of time together during these crazy times. I find it very important now to plan alone time.
I meditate and every second day, I go for a long walk by myself. We also introduced a new tradition at home. Every evening we spend 30 minutes reading a book in silence. It’s a great time — we are still together but fully immersed in our own worlds!
By following these work from home tips and implementing a disciplined approach, such as working to a set schedule, setting goals, creating a makeshift workspace and utilising video technology, workers can sharpen their focus, boost their productivity and achieve a fantastic work-life balance.