Working from home through the pandemic

There has been a lot said and written about people having to work from home during this Covid-19 pandemic. Many companies are having to put measures in place to allow this, and having to find new ways of working. But what about the people that work for these companies? And, particularly, what about those who are not accustomed to working remotely / away from the office?

I’ve been fortunate to be able to work from home for many years. I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve found that help me. I hope they’re helpful for you too.

The first point I’d like to make is that, if at all possible, create a separate dedicated workspace, ideally in a room where you can close the door at the end of the working day. This will help keep work and personal life separate, and will help you to switch off at the end of the day. (Most of us don’t realise it, but our everyday commute helps us do this. It’s a time to decompress and switch our attention to other things.)

Not everyone will be able to work in a separate room, so an alternative of setting up somewhere which is out of the normal areas of high use / footfall within the house is perhaps the next best option. For example, it is a good idea not to set up in the kitchen if possible, because other people in the house will regularly come in for food and drink. This will disturb you and could possibly lead other people (i.e. family and friends) being able to see what you are working on, which may be a problem for some organisations and their security requirements.

The second point is really important! Make sure you take regular breaks, whether to go to the bathroom, make tea or perhaps fuss your pets. In the office you probably don’t think about going to grab a coffee, and working at home is no different. The regular break encourages you to get up and move around, to stretch and perhaps speak to others in the house: these are all good for you. and actually help you get back to your workspace feeling more refreshed and alert. Take care not to spend all day chatting, obviously, but it’s very easy to fall into the trap of sitting still for hours at an end. You would rarely sit at a desk in the office for 2 to 3 hours without moving around, so why do it at home?

I know there’s likely to be a concern that your manager expects you to be working all the time, but the reality is it’s unlikely you’re so diligent in the office and working from home should be no different.

I have a smartwatch which prompts me to get up and move every hour, and I find that very helpful. I don’t always manage the 250 steps it tells me I should do, but I do try to at least walk up and down the stairs a couple of times each hour.

Third, try to stick to regular mealtimes, as you would do in the office. Many people go out at lunch to sandwich bars, cafes etc, and it may be that you can’t do that when at home. It’s a good idea to know what your normal lunch break would be and try to repeat it at home, bearing in mind you may have to prepare your food in that time too. If you wouldn’t normally sit at your desk to eat, then make sure you move away from your workspace when at home too.

I have to confess that I occasionally suffer from “the munchies” and end up snacking on whatever I can find through the day, and sometimes you have to go with it! Try to avoid grazing all day though, or the bit about exercise in my second point becomes even more vital!

Fourth, make technology work for you. Have video calls / voice calls as necessary, and use screen sharing / file sharing sites if permitted by your company. Personally, I’m not sure that video calls are necessary for most conversations, other than an initial meeting, perhaps with a new contact, colleague or client. Audio is often just fine in most situations – you know what your colleagues look like after all! It perhaps goes without saying that you should be aware of who / what is in the background if you’re using video calls.

Some people find that switching on video and connecting to several colleagues, then leaving the video running, helps feel like they’re still in the same office. You don’t necessarily have to talk to your colleagues, but some find it helpful just to see and hear other people in the background.

There’s always a question of whether to have the TV, radio or music on in the same room, or as background noise. That’s a personal choice: some people work well with that additional sound, others don’t. I find that I can’t work when there are those distractions, and I’ve been in offices where the radio is on all day and people seem to be able to work fine with it. Strangely, I’ve recently been working in offices where building work was taking place, and I still couldn’t work listening to music in headphones – I found that the background noise of hammering and drilling was better for my concentration. Whatever works best for the individual is the right answer.

Fifth, what should you wear? I know it may seem trivial, particularly if you’re not going to be doing video calls, but I think that keeping some of your normal routine applies to this too. I tend to work in jeans or shorts and a tshirt. I don’t usually shave every day or do my hair, but oddly enough when I’m due to join an important meeting I do spruce myself up. I won’t put a suit on, but I will shave and put on a shirt: this helps me get into a more “serious” mindset. For me, just the process of getting changed out of nightclothes and putting on “outside” clothes ie not wearing pyjamas or dressing gowns, helps me bridge the gap from my personal to professional life.

Lastly, make sure you finish work when you normally would (if you’ve started at the time you normally would) if that’s possible. As mentioned above, the commute to and from work is a really important break between work and personal time which helps you decompress and make the transition from personal to professional life and vice versa. This is another good reason to try to stick to your normal routine in terms of start and finish times.

These are some of my thoughts. I hope they’ve been useful. What works for you?