The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a major shift in working patterns, and many more people are working from home than before. As someone who has been doing this for over five years now, I’d like to offer some tips to those just settling into their new home office.
Relearn How You Work
One of the most important steps to learning to work from home is relearning your own patterns. Some people are so used to the patterns of office work that, when faced with the freedom of setting your own schedule, end up being totally unable to work efficiently. To counter this, you must be aware of your own rhythms. Do you work best in the morning or afternoon? Do you need lots of little breaks, or one long one? Are you best working on one project at a time, or does your brain need to refresh itself with a variety of different tasks?
In terms of scheduling, there are a variety of ways you can approach it. Some people do well with systemic time management like the Pomodoro Technique.
Other people react better to more free-form management. Whatever the case, a few things are close to universal:
Set a regular working schedule, whatever it looks like. The greatest stress for those who work from home is the lack of a clear Work On/Off switch. If you need it, create a pseudo-commute by taking a short walk before and after work. Do not work before, or after, that walk — you need time off of work!
Take real breaks. Whether they are many short ones, or just one or two long ones, step away from your desk and get some fresh time. Your brain will thank you!
Eat and drink! Yes, it sounds basic, but you’ve got to take care of yourself, otherwise, you’ll not be able to do any work.
Define Your Home Office
Just like scheduling, everyone has their own optimum work environment. Some people focus best with zero distractions, so a work computer should be in a clean, bright environment with no sounds and no games, toys, or social media on your computer.
Other people need a little variety in their environment, so some desk decorations, interesting pictures, or a good view from the window might be just what you need. Just be aware of your needs, and adjust as much as you can to fit them.
Whatever best fits your needs, make sure your work environment should be just that: a work environment. Make it a clearly delineated space just for work. Don’t work from bed, or from your usual relaxation space. Also, don’t relax or sleep in your workspace. As more people are working from home, people find that show blurring those lines leads not only to a reduction in work efficiency, they also make it more difficult to relax and rest in those spaces when not working.
This can be difficult for those with limited space, I know. Even something simple, like hanging a bedsheet around your computer during working time can help your brain create a work/no work area.
Advice for Dealing with Family
For those with families at home, working along with them can be a challenge. It was for me, and I sympathize with everyone who has to deal with it. Not only can families distract from work, but family members can also sometimes confuse physical presence for mental presence. They might think that presence in the house means being off work. Small children in particular can be unable to understand this, so you might need to find a way to work around your children’s schedule. Sadly, no one outside your family can offer advice on the best way to do that. You’ll need to communicate with your family, but one thing is fixed: some boundaries need to be set.
Work with your family when creating a schedule as above, and make sure that they are aware of your needs when it comes to boundaries, while making what allowances you can for their needs. Make sure that they are aware of the physical space you need as well. It will probably take time, but with patience and communication, you can hopefully find a pattern that works.