With around 1.3 million people in England now working remotely, businesses are widely adopting this type of workforce structure. This could be considered good practice in case of employee illnesses or in extreme instances, like the recent outbreak of virus COVID-19, which has caused businesses to introduce remote working as a precautionary measure.
Working from home, however, isn’t for everyone. Whether it’s the distractions of a home environment or the need for communication and input from colleagues, remote working could take some getting used to. Here are some working from home tips for getting the most out of your working day. With the right tools, setup and mindset, empowering good habits will come naturally as you get used to this new method of working.
Your remote working space
Regardless of whether you can dedicate an entire room as your workspace or you have a space tucked into the corner of your home, you can still create a workspace that enables you to be productive and get the job done.
Think of a work cubicle in an office. Not too big, but a large enough space for you to work efficiently and feel comfortable. It is recommended that you avoid working in bed or in a bedroom. Dedicate that room to rest and make it your haven for when the workday is over. Equally, sitting directly in front of the TV may not be the wisest decision if you’re worried about your productivity levels. Fill the silence of an empty room with something beneficial to tune into your work, such as calming or motivational music for some background noise.
The NHS advises that you adjust your chair so that your lower back is supported and your shoulders are relaxed. You can also do this by placing a pillow near your lower back and lean against it. Knees should be slightly lower than your hips and rest your feet on the floor, avoid crossing your legs.
Desk and monitor
Like seating and protecting your lower back, straining your neck is also a major factor in aches and pains both at home and in the office. Take note of the monitor height; it should be elevated to the top of the screen, roughly at eye level. Avoid slouching as this will activate the muscles in your neck and shoulders which can cause you pain.
Partners and children
Flexible working for parents can prove challenging, depending on how old your children are and their types of needs. Usually, a parent’s presence in the home will indicate to a child that they have access to that parent, and it will be difficult to tell the child that you are not available. Similarly, partners could associate your time at home with needing to contribute to the upkeep of the home, potentially causing a strain on the relationship.
It is best to communicate some rules around your working from home with your family and set guidelines in place to manage expectations. Agree to work up to a certain point and dedicate set times to interact with your family. This means you have an activity to look forward to, and you feel motivated to get as much as you feel needs to be done before that time. Additionally, use house chores such as washing the dishes or doing the laundry as a social activity to do with your partner or family. This helps you to stay productive while spending time with one another.
Remote Work Tools
The main indicator people rely on to feel a sense of absolution for a day’s work is their productivity. Working remotely enables you to have more freedom over those parameters, depending on any agreement you may have with your employer. Planning the day can be challenging if you haven’t worked remotely before. Many tools and practices can be implemented into your working life to help you stay on track. Here are some things to consider when you set out to work remotely:
Determine when your productive hours are
Everyone has different requirements for working from home productively. Some may find that standard 9 - 5 working hours is an optimal time for them to be productive, but others may realise they work better come mid-afternoon to evening times. Whatever the parameters, you can decide for yourself when you can confidently get your tasks completed and meet those deadlines.
Working from home time tracking tools
Using timers and time-tracking tools can help you stay productive by focusing on one thing at a time. A visual representation of how productive a working day has been can motivate you to keep working, and help with a sense of accomplishment at the end of your day. These tools also show you how long specific tasks and jobs take, allowing yourself or your employer to plan workloads more efficiently and bill clients correctly. You can opt to use a spreadsheet or even pen and paper, but here are some digital tools that can help you:
2. Rescue Time
Communication is key
Working from home or remotely means that physical communication with your team or clients may be restricted. Although we have instant messaging software and emails at our fingertips, communicating via video or voice chat helps everyone understand one another. Setting a designated time to communicate is vital; it allows everyone a set time to ask questions, discuss what they need to and build relationships with one another. If you find that the time allocated is too long, and attendees are unproductive, reduce the time of the meeting to encourage less wasted time.
While large meetings are necessary, introducing one to one calls with someone is a healthy way to stay connected. Large meetings are more impersonal, and may not work for everyone. Plus, it is always good to interact with your colleagues or manager via ‘richer’ forms of interaction such as Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom or any other video calling service, as opposed to email, so you still feel as though you’re getting quality advice and a sense of social interaction.
Preparing a checklist of the things you need to get done that day will help you visualise your progress, which is especially important when working on a deadline, or with multiple people that have tasks contributing to the completion of a larger project. You don’t need to go overboard with your list; Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither should your tasks. Select 2-3, maybe even 4, major tasks or projects that can realistically be completed within your working day and place them in a spot where you can easily see and reach it. Try to avoid putting your lists in a notebook for fear of forgetting.
Though a dry-erase board or some sticky notes can be a simple and budget-friendly way to visualise these tasks, digital scheduling and note tools such as Asana or Evernote can help teams in a business or individuals structure their workload. Some things to consider are: making your notes colour-coordinated, setting reminders for them and even rescheduling them if they need to be completed the next day. Here are some digital scheduling tools that could be useful to implement in your workweek, but do your own research and determine what features would be more or less beneficial to you.
Establish a healthy work dynamic
Whether you’re a self-made business owner or an employee working remotely, working from home can have its own perks and advantages. Technology has given us the freedom to save money on commutes while still keeping in touch with our colleagues, all with the flexibility needed to do our jobs to the best of our abilities. But with all of the digital tools available, it can be easy to lose track of your work-life balance. Here are some tips to help you distinguish between personal and professional time:
Set a start and end to your day
Unfortunately, when it comes to big projects, there’s always more work to be done. Setting a time to start and end the workday is essential to working from home, because having the tools that you need to do your job from home can make it hard for you to turn off and end the workday. Speak to your employer and arrange a time when you are no longer available to be contacted and can clock off.
We all have days where, sometimes, either the day or the task at hand is proving to be a bit more difficult than usual. Just remember that it’s OK to run into these walls. Use the communication tools available to you to seek help if possible, and as mentioned earlier - it’s healthy to communicate while working from home. Incorporating exercises, breaks and the other tips we've mentioned can all help towards boosting your productivity.
Go for regular, dedicated, breaks to avoid burning out
When you’re in the mindset of smashing out a task, your working hours and productivity shouldn’t be monotonous. It is important to incorporate frequent, but short, dedicated breaks just as you would in a regular office. Breaks will have you relax and avoid burning yourself out and possibly making mistakes which will only contribute to your seeming lack of productivity.
That’s why you should take dedicated breaks where the sole purpose is recuperation so you feel less tired. Equally, the NHS recommends regular breaks to avoid a prolonged sitting position, which can strain muscles and cause bad posture and injury.
Working remotely doesn’t mean that you have to stay home all the time. Swapping your commute for exercise, or introducing exercises such as cycling or running can help to you stay focused and increase your productivity. Exercising is also a known way to improve mental and physical wellbeing, so take the time to exercise, and it will pay off in the long term.
Working from home tips summary
To effectively work from home, you will need to adapt your working life based on the difficulties you run into. It’s common that it will take some getting used to, and you may alter your routine, software and workstation as you go. Consider how you can implement the following into your routine:
- Set a dedicated space outside of the bedroom away from distractions, TVs and busy areas.
- Include appropriate working equipment such as chairs, desk, monitors and computers.
- Establish routines and boundaries with family members before the working day and allocate time for
- Utilise remote working tools to communicate, track tasks and improve your efficiencies.
- Establish a health work dynamic and introduce regular breaks into your routine.