Top Tips on Working from Home
Working from home is a very good way to improve your work–life balance and reduce your weekly commuting time, or just to ensure that you can wait in for a parcel from time to time. This applies whether you work from home full-time, part-time or occasionally, and whether you are freelancing or employed. It can also, however, be challenging.
The key is to find a balance between work and your household chores, or the distractions available.
This page sets out five tips from homeworkers, to give you the benefit of their experience, and help you to be productive and effective whenever you work from home.
1. Have a designated place to work: effectively, a ‘work station’
If you are new to home-working, it can be tempting to think that you will just stay in bed, and work on your laptop. The problem with this, however, is that it is unlikely to be good for your back or your work–life balance.
Food for thought
There is a reason why big companies make sure that you have a work station, and explain how to sit properly in front of a computer: because otherwise, you end up in pain and unable to work.
There is nobody to check up on you at home, so you need to look after yourself.
If you are going to be working from home regularly, or even just for a full day from time to time, find yourself a place to work, get a proper chair that supports your back, and ensure that you are the right distance from the computer screen. In other words, get your work station set up properly.
This will not only help ensure that you do not end up hurt, but also allow you to close down your computer at the end of the day and ‘leave work’. This is helpful to ensure that you really do improve your work–life balance.
Experts also recommend making sure that your desk or office space is somewhere with plenty of natural light. You are likely to feel better about working if you can see daylight, especially sunshine. It’s a good idea to be close to a window, and you may also find that a room upstairs is better. Ideally, try to have a view of some trees or other green space. If you can’t, it may be worth investing in a few houseplants for your workspace.
This may sound odd, but all the evidence is that we feel better if we are able to connect even a little bit more with nature.
You may find our page on Ergonomics helpful.
2. Pick your time, and make sure it fits with your energy levels
One of the benefits of working from home is that you can work when you want, rather than from nine to five, regardless of whether that suits you.
We all have times of day when we are more productive, whether that is because we have fewer distractions at certain times (for example, the children are at school or nursery) or because those are naturally higher-energy times of day.
Picking your working time to fit with your more productive times of day means you will get more work done.
It is also a good idea to be clear about what times you do NOT work, whether that is evenings, weekends or times when you have a particular class or activity booked. Make sure that you are clear about that, and hold onto it: after all, you want a good work–life balance, not to allow work to take over your home life completely.
3. Develop a routine for your work—but be prepared to vary it
It can be helpful to get into a routine, where you start work at a particular time, and work through to a designated stopping time.
You can even factor exercise or socialising into your routine: for example, you could give yourself one day a week where you meet someone for lunch, or an hour each morning before you start work to do some exercise or your household chores.
The point of this is not to bind yourself rigidly, but to give yourself a better idea of how much time you have to work, and how much you can achieve. This is particularly important if you are self-employed, and need to know whether you have time to take on an extra project.
To see friends or not to see friends
One of the advantages of working from home is that you have the flexibility to stop working and talk to friends if they drop round. This can, however, be a double-edged sword, if people get to know you are at home and come for coffee too often.
It is a good idea to decide ahead of time whether you are happy for friends to drop in, and politely let people know. If someone does drop in, and you are busy, make sure that you are able to say so, but reschedule for another day instead.
4. Build a support network and back-ups into your work
It is easy when you are employed: backing up is done automatically, the IT helpdesk is on the end of the phone or email, and you are likely to have plenty of people around who can help you if you need advice. When you are working from home, this is less likely to be the case. Even if you are employed, you may be working on your own device, and not have access to the same IT support and backing-up facility.
Make sure that you have systems to back up your work periodically, and that you know where you can get advice if you have computer or other problems.
A quick work on security
Cloud storage systems are NOT completely secure. They are good, but not that good.
If you are saving anything sensitive (your own or others’ personal information, bank details or similar), make sure that you password-protect the file and your account. Look into the security offered by your chosen cloud provider, and understand the details.
If in doubt, pay an IT security expert to check your system for you and provide advice.
When building your ‘support network’, do not neglect yourself: build in time to network and socialise with friends, and with other business people locally or online. Join communities and participate to make contacts, and you can then ask for advice when and if you need it.
5. Put systems in place to minimise distractions
Homeworkers do not have anyone to check up on them, and make sure that they are not spending the day on social media, playing games, making coffee, or otherwise not working. Even if you are employed, your boss cannot see what you are doing when you are working from home, and it is easy to get distracted.
Create and put in place systems to minimise distractions.
These might include:
- Putting your phone on silent and not checking it more than a certain number of times each day;
- Only checking your email when you have finished a task, and not in the middle of the task; and
- Having signs on the door for when you are working and cannot be disturbed by others.
There is more about this in our pages on Minimising Distractions, and Real-Life Lessons about Working from Home.
Shut out noise
Neuroscientists suggest that one of the most distracting elements of working from home can be noises. That might be your family moving about, but it might also be external noise.
Unexpected noise, especially at the wrong pitch, can be very stressful. Sirens and babies crying are particularly unpleasant to the ear.
It may help to use noise-cancelling headphones, or play some music in the background. If the noise continues to distract you, you may want to look into longer-term solutions like secondary or double glazing.
You may also find it helpful to declutter your work space a bit—even, or perhaps especially, if it’s also your living space.
6. Don’t neglect your own health
Working from home, especially if you haven’t done so before, can mean a big change in your routine. You are likely to find that you are spending longer at a desk, because you are no longer walking to meetings, or even walking to the bus stop.
Build time to exercise into your routine. Even if it is only half an hour each day to walk round the block, it is a good idea to get some fresh air. If you can do more, then do.
The point here is that you are saving commuting time—and you don’t have to use that time for work. Instead, you can use it for you.
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