This week, workers across the UK – and, of course, in many other countries around the world – were advised to work from home if at all possible, in a bid to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
As someone who’s worked from home – with her husband at the next desk – for well over a decade now, here are just a few of my best tips on how to do that without losing your mind…
First, get dressed.
Yes, every day. Ideally first thing in the morning, before you have a chance to get distracted by something, and then turn around and realise it’s 5pm, and you’re still in your PJs. Think that sounds pretty sweet, actually? That not having to get into uncomfortable work clothes, and just stay in your comfies all day is the closest you’re going to get to living the dream? Yeah, everyone thinks that at first. Then, one day you wake up and realise you’ve become one with your dressing gown, your neighbours have never seen you with clothes on (Er, that came out ALL kinds of wrong, didn’t it? You know what I mean, though…), and you’re now well on your way to becoming That Scary Lady that all of the kids in your street cross the road to avoid.
Don’t be that person.
Comb your hair.
For the love of God, SHOWER.
Not only will these things make you feel a little more human, if you’re anything like me, they’ll also make you more productive. Also, if the postman comes to the door, or your boss decides to patch you in on a video call, at least you’ll be prepared.
(Note: I’m not saying you have to put on a business suit and heels to sit around at home, obviously. Just… CLOTHES. Clothes would be good.)
Designate a space for work
On Instagram, people who work from home generally seem to work from the comfort of their artfully rumpled beds, often with a bunch of flowers and a plate of croissants next to them. This is not Instagram, though. THIS IS NOT A DRILL, people. So, put the flowers in a vase, make the damn bed, and set up your workspace somewhere other than in the place you sleep. (You can eat the croissants, though, obviously: I’m not your mum…)
Setting up a designated workspace is obviously easier said than done in some cases. I’m fortunate to have a home office, complete with desk, ergonomically appropriate chair and everything else I need to get through the working day, but if you’ve been thrown into working from home unexpectedly, and don’t have any of that stuff, I’d still recommend trying to find a spot to work in that’s relatively private, and where you have the least chance of being disturbed. It could be the kitchen table, or it could be the cupboard under the stairs (No, seriously: some people literally create tiny offices under their stairs…), but, as with the advice about getting dressed, I find it really helps with productivity if I have a place to physically “go to work” in – even if it just means walking from one room to another.
(Also, if you have kids at home, it’s going to be absolutely essential to be able to close the door on your workspace, and keep them on the other side of it. Unless, of course, your kids are toddlers, in which case I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but. Maybe start praying or something?)
Set boundaries. Then enforce them.
If you think your biggest problem is going to be motivating yourself to work when there’s so many true crime documentaries on Netflix you haven’t seen yet, then think again, friend: your biggest problem is actually going to be all the people who think you’re free to do their bidding now that you’re, “Just sitting around at home all day.”
In fairness, this might not be quite so much of an issue in the current situation, in which a large percentage of the population are having to get up to speed on the reality of home working, all at the same time, but, under normal circumstances, people who work from home face a near-constant battle to convince their friends and family that they’re actually working, even although they’re at home.
In all honesty, the ONLY thing you can do about this is to be really, really firm, even if it means upsetting Auntie Janet, who just wants to pop round for a 5-hour coffee, and refuses to believe you can’t spare the time for her. So, send calls to voicemail if you have to, and keep on politely reminding people that you have to work: no matter how many times you have to repeat it: and, trust me, if your experience is anything like mine, it’ll be a LOT.
Make lists and set goals
Ilove lists: especially when I get to write them in pretty notebooks, which have the added advantage of looking good on Instagram. Lists are not just for Instagram, though: they’re also a pretty solid way to drag yourself through your day, checking each task off as you go. (Amber’s Top Tip: At the end of the day, add a bunch of stuff you’ve already done to your list, just to have the satisfaction of checking them all off. Because sometimes it’s the little things, you know?
Similarly, I find setting goals really helps motivate me, so a combination of long and short-term goals could be another great way to help you get through the days and weeks ahead.
Take advantage of the internet to stay in touch with the rest of the world
One of the biggest issues for people who work from home – especially those who didn’t chose it, but have had it chosen for them, due to the current situation – can be loneliness: and I’d imagine that will be even more of a problem at the moment, given all of the social distancing and self-isolating measures in place.
Under more usual circumstances, my solution to this would be to point out that working from home doesn’t mean being stuck at home, as many people assume: in fact, one of reasons I love it is because it gives me the freedom to go out whenever I want, rather than having to sit at my desk from 9-5 every day. In this age of coronavirus, however, all of that’s gone out of the window: right now, many of us are literally stuck at home all day, without the prospect of meeting up with friends in the evening, or nipping out to the shops at lunchtime to keep us going. And that’s hard: honestly, it’s hard even for me, as a fully paid-up introvert, who works from home by choice… so I can’t even imagine how tough it’s going to be for those who’ve had it thrust upon them, and who really struggle on their own for long periods of time.
But that’s another post for another day.
For now, my best advice to you is to make the most of the internet, and the various opportunities it gives us to remain connected remotely. Skype/Facetime. Social networks. Whatsapp groups. Even Facebook, much as, can be a good source of local or interest-based groups, which allow you to connect with people across the world. As a blogger, I’m a member of a few blogging groups, and while I’m not a big participant, I do value them for the opportunity they present for me to stay up to date with changes in the industry, or just get to know people a little better.
If you’re working for a traditional employer (As opposed to being self-employed or freelance, I mean…), I’m guessing they’ll probably also be able to suggest ways to stay in touch with colleagues, and continue to feel like part of a team, even although you’re no longer under the same roof. On Twitter this week, I saw someone talking about how their boss had decided to start a Friday night drinks meetup via Skype – the idea that everyone grab a drink, then join in the chat, almost as if they’re all in the pub together or whatever. I thought that sounded like a great idea (Which could also work for friends and family members, as well as work colleagues), and I’m sure there must be other creative ways to use the power of the internet to stay in touch. It’s never going to be the same as actual human contact, obviously, but needs must…
Get into a routine
While one of the benefits of working from home is having the ability to set your own routine (Again, for those of us who are self-employed: if you’re working for someone else, you may well have less flexibility on this one, depending on the nature of your job…), I do recommend having some kind of routine – even if it’s not exactly the same one you’d have at work.
That might simply extend to starting and finishing at set times, or you may want to go a step further and create an elaborate timetable for yourself, just like you did at school/uni when it was getting close to exam time, and meticulously colour-coding your study timetable was far preferable to actually studying. (You know who you are…) However you do it, though, having some kind of structure to your days can be a useful way to increase your productivity and make the time go faster. Plus, you get to break out your coloured pens again, and who doesn’t love that?
For many home-based workers, one of the biggest challenges is knowing when to switch off. It’s really, really easy to find yourself working all hours (Especially when you have clients who think it’s OK to CALL you at all hours, but, again, another story, another day…), but it’s important to have some work/life balance, and you do that by setting time limits on your working day, and building in time for breaks and relaxation.
In our case, we work pretty odd hours, in order to fit it around childcare and Max’s nap/bedtimes, but we do still have set times during the week when we don’t work: so, Friday night is sacrosanct, for instance, as is Sunday evening, and, as well as allowing us to have some much-needed downtime, that arrangement also gives us something to look forward to at the end of a long week.