With many companies continuing to instruct staff to work from home in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, lots of people across the world find themselves still in what was supposed to be a “temporary” working situation, some months later. For those of us who were not used to working from home prior to the pandemic, the situation can take some getting used to, and even (especially!) many months later it can be good to revisit some of the basic things we can do to make our working-from-home lives easier.
1 Speak to our employer
Our line managers and HR teams are probably working from home too, and will likely understand or be able to empathise with the challenges we are facing. Maybe our family situation is impacting on our ability to work from home, maybe we have caring responsibilities, maybe our living situation is less than ideal. All of things are things that our employer cannot provide support for if they do not know they are going on.
Even in the most ideal of situations, we are still likely to face challenges which can impact our ability to do our job. Maybe the next-door neighbours have decided that now is a perfect time to build that extension they were always dreaming of, or maybe their kids are definitely not being homeschooled and are running riot in the back garden. Maybe we have a maintenance person scheduled to arrive during our working hours, or an important delivery we need to be available to sign for. While we can and should make the effort to reduce the chances of interruptions to our working day, when they are unavoidable, we can speak to our line manager to make them aware of the situation and discuss how to mitigate the effects.
2 Separate work and home
When our home becomes our workplace, where do we draw the boundaries between home and work? If our kitchen or bedroom is now an office, how do we avoid blurring the lines between the place we relax and the place we do our jobs? Some of us are fortunate enough to have a spare bedroom or study we can use as a designated workspace, but for those of us who are not there are still certain things we can do keep the two separate.
We might be able to sit in a different chair than usual, or rearrange our space slightly to give us a different view than if we were relaxing in the space during our non-working time. This could be as simple as putting a small potted plant next to us while we are working, and moving it once we are off the clock. (Plus, who doesn’t love being surrounded by greenery?)
If we are used to commuting at the start and end the day, we could recreate this by going for a walk, run, cycle or even a short drive at the beginning of the day and when we have finished work. This gives us a change of scenery as well as physically marking the start and end of the work day. If we walk, run or cycle this has the added benefit of allowing us to enjoy some fresh air and exercise.
For many of us, working from home has the benefit of allowing us to relax our normal dress code slightly (smart shirt and pajama bottoms, anyone?), with many of us opting for comfortable jogging bottoms or leggings and a comfy jumper in place of our usual workwear. I’m a firm believer that we are more productive when we are comfortable, but for many of us getting dressed as if we were going to work can help us get in the right frame of mind for a productive day.
Personally, I also surround myself with all the items I would have on my desk at work, from folders and important documents right down to the photo I keep on my desk, and the mug I exclusively use at work. Getting these things out at the start of the day and putting them away at the end creates an important distinction between being “at work” and being “not at work”. I also end each day with a short walk around the block, and on returning change out of the clothes I’ve worn that day (usually into pajamas!), which gives me space to decompress and process the work day as well as providing a clear cut-off point for when it’s time to set work aside.
3 Try to have a functional workspace
If we are squeezed into the corner of our kitchen, living room or bedroom it can be hard to find a set-up that gives us enough space to work comfortably, especially if we live with other people. However, doing our best to make sure our workspace is well-lit (with natural light if possible) and tidy, with a desk and chair if we have one, can help us to maximise our potential to work effectively. Again, speak to your manger if you need support with this.
4 Be forgiving of yourself and recognise you don’t have to give 100%, 100% of the time
When we are in our normal workplace, are we 100% focused all of the time? Do we truly never give into distractions, whether that be our phone, a daydream or chatting to our colleagues?
It’s not realistic to expect that we will completely avoid distractions just because we are working from home, and in fact, working from home often offers more distractions than the office, whether that’s pets, children, our partner, that pile of washing we’ve been postponing, or next-door’s cute cat.
If we are really concerned about our performance or productivity, we can speak to our manager, but in general instead of feeling bad that we are not 100% focused on our work, 100% of the time, we can try to remember that we are only human, and prone to distractions. It’s vital to be forgiving of ourselves and to recognise that we have already adapted amazingly well to a challenging time.
5 Connect with colleagues
Whether it’s a cup of tea together, a quick chat about the weather or our plans for the weekend, or gossiping about Sue from account’s new hairdo, social interaction with our colleagues is vital for a healthy work life. Missing out on this, as well as the chance to shout across the office to ask for or to give advice, or the chance to bounce ideas off colleagues, or commiserate over a particularly difficult piece of work, can have a negative effect on our wellbeing and performance.
Maybe our workplace is doing well at encourage social interaction with colleagues – Zoom has certainly never been so popular – or maybe there is more we can be doing to build in those little moments to connect throughout the day. Team quizzes, virtual coffee breaks and regular meetings are all vital parts of staying connected. We might also want to consider a ‘background’ video or voice chat where we can hang out while working and recreate the sense of working in the same space that we would have while in the office.
7 Embrace the changes
For some of us, working from home is not a positive experience and we might be desperate to get back to the office as soon as possible. Poor internet connections, lack of space or a busy household can all make it difficult to perform effectively at home. However, for some of us, there are positive changes associated with working from home which we can try to embrace.
Not having to commute further than the next room can give us more time at home to spend with our families, on hobbies, doing self-care or simply just doing the things that interest us. For those of us that spend money on our commute (through petrol, bus or train tickets, or even bicycle maintenance) the money saved can be a welcome perk (although unfortunately, in the midst of cold and dark winter weather, we are likely to need to spend more on heating and lighting).
For many of us, working from home gives us the chance to be more in control of our workspace than we would normally be. We might now be in a better positon to control the temperature, lighting and noise levels of our space in a way that we were simply not able to do before.
As mentioned above, having more flexibility to wear what we want can help us to feel happier and more comfortable. Also, having access to our own kitchens and bathrooms can help us feel more relaxed. Personally, I am embracing the access to a hob and oven and eating a wider variety of healthy food for lunch!
So, although working from home brings significant challenges, there are things we can do to mitigate these and look after our wellbeing. Most importantly, if you need advice or support, speak to your line manager or other appropriate source (e.g. HR, occupational health, or assistance programme, if one exists). And remember: we are all human, and we are all facing these challenges together, so let’s support each other.
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