So it’s finally happened. After weeks of speculating, you’ve finally heard from above that your entire team is going to be working from home for the foreseeable future to avoid the spread of COVID-19. At first, you might be excited! No more tortorous commute, no more too hot or too cold meeting rooms, no more office wear, and no more terrible coffee from the break room. Sounds perfect! You can relax at home, feet up on the sofa, stick your comfiest clothes on and enjoy your freedom for the next few weeks.
But after a day, or maybe a week, the appeal starts to wear off. You find yourself pacing around your living room, trying to find something to entertain you before you return your desk. You get tired of looking at the inside of your home, and get claustrophobic from sitting in the same spot for days on end. The little nuances of your office suddenly seem comforting and appealing, and you become nostalgic for your annoying co-workers and uncomfortable desk chairs. You miss the smell of the tiny kitchen during lunch, listening to your favorite podcast on your drive in and even your home brewed coffee starts to taste stale.
Working from home is not an easy lifestyle to adopt. It requires a lot of self motivation, patience and support, and without the right working environment — yes, you will go insane. As someone who's worked from home on and off for the past 4 years, I’m going to be addressing some of the most popular questions people ask me about working from home on a weekly basis and share my advice for surviving the home office.
How do you stop yourself from getting distracted?
For most of us, distraction is our biggest challenge when working from home. Our eyes start drifting away from our screen to that pile of laundry that needs putting away, to the speck of dust on your desk and to our adorable pets begging for our attention. Without the watchful gaze of a boss, the lure of Netflix and social media can feel impossible to ignore. But it is possible to work through this. Often, when you work from home, you will find that your daily tasks don’t actually take as long as they do at the office. As your day is no longer being broken up with meetings, conversations with colleagues, long commutes and mandatory breaks, you can probably finish off your work a lot faster than expected. So to stay focused, it’s all about timetabling. Allow yourself time for distraction and grant yourself a scrolling break as a reward every hour or so. Make a list of all of the jobs you need to do — both work-related and external — and factor in enough time for each of them. Another option is to take notes of when you feel the most productive and schedule your most complicated tasks for those times. For me, I work best first thing in the morning and that’s also when I feel the least tempted to distract myself. I’ll try to complete my more creative and heavy going jobs in the early hours, and then allow myself to work at a more gentle pace when I slow down in the afternoon.
How do I stop myself feeling guilty if I don’t work for the full day?
As mentioned in the previous answer, sometimes when we work from home we get our tasks completed a whole lot faster. Where the average day in the office can last around 8 hours, working from home could reduce your hourly working hours to around 5 or 6 if managed right. Whilst this is great for our work life balance, it can also leave us feeling guilty about the hours wasted. So how do you avoid the guilt? One of the first things to do once you’ve finished all of your daily tasks is to write them down in a list. Make notes of everything you’ve done from replying to an email to completing a section of your project, and then make a list of all of the jobs you need to do tomorrow or the next working day. This will then mark the final end of your day — you’ve noted all of the work you’ve done should a manager or colleague enquire about it and you know what to do tomorrow. You’re organised and you’re on top of your work — plus you now have a couple of hours free if anything urgent comes up as well. In terms of feeling guilty, it’s so important to be kind to yourself when you work from home. Allow yourself these hours to do something positive, that is good for your mind and for you. Whether it’s switching off and playing video games, working out, cooking, spending time with your family, etc… the biggest advantage of wfh is that you have access to time and there’s no shame in making good use of it.
Where should I work if I don’t have a study or a desk in my house?
There are a couple of different options here if you don’t have a designated workspace in your house. For most people, they can adopt a kitchen or dining table as a good working spot, but if you’re going to be at home for a prolonged period, it’s important to prioritise your comfort and productivity too. If you can, it would be worth investing in a home desk (I highly encourage a standing desk) and chair where possible. There are some great, affordable options online for a fully integrated workspace so if there’s room in your budget, I really do recommend it. If this isn’t an option for you, however, then any hard surface where you feel relaxed could work. Spending hours on your sofa each day isn’t going to be too kind to your posture and overall productivity, but if you can incorporate a tray or board for you to sit a laptop on, you’ll find that your motivation is likely to be higher. Where you can, move around throughout the day — even if it means switching between a laptop or desktop, or a tablet, phone or notebook to avoid restlessness and poor circulation.
How to explain to my family/spouse/roommates/friends that I actually need to work at home?
A common occurance when working from home is that your friends and family can often forget that you actually have work to do when you’re in your house. This can lead to interruptions, phone calls, requests, constant messaging or distractions from the other people in your life. So it’s important to (firmly but politely) explain that you do need this time to get things done or else your work performance might suffer. If you can provide dedicated hours in which you will be working solidly — i.e. from 10am — 2pm, within which they cannot disturb you this might help everyone to stay on the same page when it comes to personal communication. Outside of those hours, while you are still working, you have more freedom to respond to them. It’s also important to stay empathetic — these people in your life won’t see your huge to-do list or demanding emails from your boss. They don’t feel the pressure you put on yourself to stay motivated all day long and they don’t have the exact same working circumstances as you, so it’s natural they might interpret you working from home differently. All it takes is a few conversations about working hours and letting them know when the best time to contact you is to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings
How often should I leave the house when working from home?
This one is a slightly trickier issue when it comes to the coronavirus. If you’re working from home full time by choice, I would recommend getting out of the house at least a couple of times a week — to socialize, go for meetings or just to change up your working routine by grabbing coffee or joining a co-working space. However, the current situation requires people to essentially ‘self-isolate’ when working from home, to prevent the spread of the virus to vulnerable individuals. Whilst I can’t find any legally binding regulations about wfh during the pandemic, there a few conditions that have been recommended. You will still need to go out occasionally, so for shopping, social distantly visit family and even popping into the office if required. Where possible, avoid public transport and take your own vehicles to work to avoid mixing with large crowds. If you know that the coffee shop or cafe you plan to work in will be busy at certain times, try to pick a quieter hour to visit. It might even be worth limiting your outings to around once per week, and then whenever you need to on the weekends. Heading out for walks in a nearby park or going for a run is also a good way to get outside without interacting with too many people, helping to prevent the spread. Unfortunately, this period of working from home is not one that lends itself to luxurious days spend working in glamorous hotel lobbies or your favourite local Starbucks. This is a form of crisis, and you do have to stay responsible and smart about how often you leave your house.