Here are our top tips to be a happy and productive worker from home.
If you’re a stickler for structure, who misses the scrum for the 7.53 to Waterloo, you will probably already have your morning ritual. Routine can help us all feel more in control of our working day and allow room for the important things in life. Think of routine as your anchor: set your alarm for the same time every morning, eat breakfast, exercise, keep one space dedicated to your work, and take a lunch break – even leaving the house – at the same time each day. The comforting certainty of our routine can help us to manage the uncertainty that life can throw at us. We feel ready to cope with the unpredictable when we have a little structure to return to.
Creatures of habit can learn from the free-and-easier types around the office too. Instead of a rigid work/life balance, these types of employee work when they feel most productive. If you write pitches best at two in the morning, go for it – and don’t feel guilty when you go for a walk in the park the next day. Think of your home as one big office – if you can work productively with a laptop in a garden chair, or in the front room while the kids watch TV, you own it: take a seat. Both of these types can probably learn a lot from each other, but whichever way works for you, it’s results that matter. No one gets points just for sitting at their desk at home.
For those of you balancing personal and professional responsibilities (home schooling, childcare, shielding elderly relatives), recognise the value of Prime Time hours – those hours when you can be fully focused and present, the time when colleagues know you are online, available and ready to step into the breach. Plan ahead with your family. For example: ‘I need to be undisturbed between 10 and 12, but then I’ll make lunch for us all.’ Be consistent and share when your Prime Time is. Zero-based calendaring, when every part of your day is accounted for, even the seemingly trivial such as having breakfast or watching TV, can help you identify your core hours.
No one kept healthy by eating just one type of food – or with just one type of social interaction. A healthy social biome is one where you have more choice about when, how and where you interact. For most of us, these choices have been compromised in some way with the move to remote working. Make sure you find a balance of social interaction with others and alone time that works for you. Make sure you enjoy a balanced diet of high-quality ‘head-up’ interactions with people whose opinions you respect, and ‘head-down’ productive deskwork to feel socially nourished.
There’s little point being a productive and efficient remote worker if you harm your health in the process. Set up your home workstation ergonomically: keep your back straight with a pillow or rolled-up towel at the base of your spine and make sure your screen is at the right height and distance from your chair. If you’re not sure, ask someone to take a photo of you at your desk to see if your head and spine are in a straight line. Keep your routine varied – use kitchen work surfaces to work standing up, or take phone calls while pacing in the back garden. And don’t forget microbreaks – even getting up every 30 minutes or so for a stretch or to look out of the window will help shift the pressure building up in your spine from sitting for long periods of time.
Why do we struggle to work from home? A fashion psychologist might just have the answer. Certain types of clothing and the feelings they arouse in us can subliminally influence our behaviour. Our attire can optimise our mood and boost positivity. Daily human contact should be part of your remote working goal, so look the part. If you try to work when you’re still in your pyjamas then odds are you’re going to struggle – especially if clients unexpectedly request a Zoom call. Looking professional helps us act professionally. However, except for important remote meetings, don’t feel you have to don the smart suit or slip into those high heels either: unless that’s how you work best.
Don’t see audio conferences or Zoom meetings as a time to multi-task! Be respectful to your colleagues, stay tuned in, and be an engaged and constructive attendee. If you are questioning the value of the meeting and think you could be more productive in other tasks, find ways to raise your concern and suggest an alternative. Know your way around your video conferencing suite: learn how to mute your microphone, record the meeting (especially useful for initial contacts), display names and use waiting rooms. Remote working is a great opportunity to polish your tech skills.
You’re home, but you don’t need to be alone. Invest time and effort in maintaining a sense of employee community. What employees miss most is the motivational presence of their co-workers. The social interaction and connection that happened spontaneously when in a shared space now takes a tad more effort. Great initiatives we’ve heard of – and even taken part in – include Zoom virtual coffees, book clubs, bingo, ‘Show us your workstation’ and ‘Guess the pet’ games, and the opening of a virtual ‘Isolation Inn’ for after-hour (virtual) drinks. Far better than the water cooler used to be!
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