While many jobs remain linked to a specific environment, increases in online working has meant that flexible working is a new reality. Since the introduction of the internet, how, when and where you work has become a constantly shifting subject of interest in the realm of employment; some countries have re-engineered the working week into four days and many workplaces now offer flexible hours that break with the traditional 9-to-5 policy.
Working from home has quickly become one of the more popular implementations of what’s now become known as ‘flexible working’ and, incidentally, it’s also one of the most beneficial strategies. In terms of productivity, staff retention and cost-saving, working from home has become an indispensable offering to both employees and employers to boost staff wellbeing and increase output. Now, with the uncertainty of pandemic COVID-19, it’s become additionally important for all relevant companies across the globe to implement this way of working and in turn, to make it efficient, easy and stress-free for employees.
Luckily, with a little bit of careful thought and consideration, you can easily make working from home, work for you. Read on to learn more.
Staying focused can be difficult whether you’re working from a cubicle or couch but at home, a new set of challenges can make productivity additionally challenging. Many assume that without the touch point of colleagues, a lack of the watchful eye of managers and the loss of face-to-face collaboration translates into a more chaotic, less productive workplace but endless studies have since debunked this idea. However, in order for this to hold true, there are some approaches that are important to adhere to in order to make working from home work for you.
Here are some of the best tips to help keep your productivity (and mental health) up when working from home.
Is your team working from home? Set up an easy-to-access guide to new processes with a template from Canva, such as Yellow SEO Strategy Mind Map or Blue Self-Care Checklist Advocacy Interactive Instagram Story. House them on your intranet or pin them to Slack channels so they’re easily accessible for your staff.
Whether or not you're expected in a Zoom meeting that day, getting yourself dressed for your job is an important psychological step towards preparing for a day of deep, productive work. You don’t have to wear your heels or a suit jacket but having a shower or a shave and dressing in an outfit that would be appropriate enough if a friend dropped by unexpectedly helps to stave off the sluggish feeling that sleepwear often carries. It’s all about maintaining some semblance of your previous office life, while keeping in step with what you’d usually do if you were heading in.
“Develop rituals and have a disciplined way of managing the day,” echoes Tsedal Neeley, the Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration in the Organizational Behaviour Unit at Harvard Business School. “Schedule a start and an end time. Have a rhythm. Take a shower, get dressed, even if it’s not what you’d usually wear to work, then get started on the day’s activities. If you’re used to moving physically, make sure you build that into your day.”
Certainly a benefit of working from home is not having to commute and clock on at an exact time but in the interests of productivity, keeping the same or similar hours will help you structure your day and stay on task. This extends to breaks that you would naturally take during the day in the office; it’s fine to stop working to hang out the washing, for example but try and keep those smaller breaks to under 15 minutes, as you probably would for a coffee or chat break amongst colleagues. Don’t skip that hour-long lunch break, either - this is a key component of diving back into the afternoon and ticking off tasks.
What makes your office feel like an office, apart from your colleagues? The fact that it’s styled for work to happen. You should aim to recreate a mini office of sorts, where there’s a desk, access to natural light and a comfortable, supportive chair at minimum and, where possible, a desktop screen, keyboard and ample space for notepads and other bits and pieces, just as there would be in your own workstation. Other essentials you can decide on later: do you need noise-cancelling headphones? An at-home barista machine? Whatever works hard at mimicking your working environment, you should implement at home.
Just because you and your colleagues aren’t in the same room, doesn’t mean ways of working collaboratively, such as meetings and brainstorming sessions, should screech to a halt. Gone are the days of stilted, awkward and hard-to-set-up conference-calls - virtual meetings through apps such as Zoom, Skype for Business and Google Hangout have made collaborative remote working a breeze. Don’t be tempted to just retain a focus on work during such discussions as you usually would in the office, urges Neeley.
“Because you no longer have watercooler conversations and people might be just learning how to work from home, spend the first six to seven minutes of a meeting checking in on people,” she advises. “Don’t go straight to your agenda items. Instead, go around and ask everyone, ‘How are you guys doing?’ Start with whomever is the newest or lowest status person or the one who usually speaks the least. You should share as well, so that you’re modeling the behavior. After that, you introduce the key things you want to talk about, and again model what you want to see, whether it’s connecting, asking questions, or even just using your preferred technology, like Zoom or Skype for Business.”
Yes, productivity is important - but so is your mental health and wellbeing. Don’t deny yourself access to the perks of working from home, lean into them. You’ll be happier, healthier and more productive for embracing them. Turn up the non-distracting but mood-boosting music you like to listen to, take a 15-minute nap during your lunch break and use the time you would’ve spent commuting to meal prep for the evening and week ahead. Making the most of the experience is the best way to get excited about getting up and being at your workstation everyday.
Just as there are likely to be rules - whether spoken or unspoken - about what’s appropriate in the office, so too should there be in your home office equivalent. Create rules for yourself that make work discernibly separate, not to hem you in but rather the opposite; to allow you to draw a firm line between your work and home lives. If you work from the couch in your pajamas, for example, ending your work day and starting your evening won’t be sufficiently separate and you’ll likely continue to feel tied to work as a result. The more you can create a work ‘bubble’ within your home one, the more likely you are to feel the division of time when the work day ends.
Make non-work-related rules for yourself, too. Aim to go outdoors in the sunshine a certain number of times - if only to grab the mail, have a stretch or finish a cup to tea - and make a pact to have at least one conversation with a team member a day, even if it seems unnecessary. These littles top ups will keep you in touch with things outside your little cocoon.
Although online working has already made the separation of work and home life difficult, working from home can make it even more so. The most important thing to remember is that you should respect the finish line, in the same way that you do when you leave your desk and depart your office everyday. Don’t be tempted to let the working day bleed into your evening - make a pact with yourself to close that laptop, silence notifications and stop working at your allotted time, no matter where you are with tasks.
Don’t think that because there’s no immediate reason to leave the house that you shouldn’t. Working from home provides both the perfect opportunity to exercise and engage with the outside world and the reason that you’re likely not to do so. In order to boost your own wellbeing, exercise and taking regular breaks that connect you with the world outside are crucial - and they don’t have to be long. Schedule a 15-minute yoga session on your balcony or in your backyard after your morning meeting, or pop a Headspace session into your diary during the traditional mid-afternoon slump. You’ll feel ions better for it.
Making an effort to formalise processes with your team can make the world of difference to ensure smooth working from different locations.
Whichever tech you choose to adopt, make sure your team knows which to employ for what purpose: try Slack for an alternative to quick ‘desk chat’ (the kind of query you might turn to ask someone in the office), keep emails for formal callouts and information, employ Zoom in place of face-to-face meetings and start investing time (and money, if possible) in team tracking charts such as monday.com or Trello to see where tasks are at without the requisite, verbal check in.
Here are a few more useful apps that could help in streamlining your personal productivity:
If you’re into time blocking tasks, this nifty little app can help you keep schedule these all-important chunks. It syncs with your calendar so if there’s a clash, it will automatically suggest another time slot that’s in keeping with proposed daily schedule.
If you find Spotify and its wormhole tech too distracting during deep work, try Noisli, an app that plays soothing background noises such as campfire and wind to help you relax - and focus.
Prefer to work with physical task trackers? The Post-it app can digitally capture your physical Post-It brainstorm sessions, allowing others to collaborate digitally with your more tactile work.
If you love the collaborative nature of your work and don’t want to lose it, try this app - conversations through the app can be one-on-one or as big as a group, with screen sharing and message bookmarking available for collaborators.
Need help organizing your tasks? Try one of Canva’s templates to help with organization such as Green and White Modern Daily Task Report or Dark Blue Red and White Grid Monitoring Sheet Simple Daily Report.