Wow – we thought we were good at working from home and being both flexible and remote workers, but then the COVID lockdown was announced we realised that we still had a lot to learn!
We at Ask The Boss already operated flexible working hours and everyone had the ability to work from home when they had to be at home for a delivery or if they had a personal appointment and some staff regularly worked from home 1 or 2 days a week.
But when we all started working from home when the lockdown was announced, none of us were so used to the idea of working from home every day! Working from home in general terms is quite different from working from home during this lockdown – when you have your whole family around or you are completely alone at home.
So now, nearly 3 months later, we wanted to share with you our tips and tricks, based on our own findings and personal experiences, on how to be more productive – hopefully some of them will work for you too not just during lockdown, but in the future too, if you continue to do some home working.
Now, play some subtle background music (at a low volume) and get ready to become the most productive working from home person! And feel free to share your top tips with us – because everyone is different, right?
TIMING YOUR DAY
IF YOU ARE AN EARLY BIRD
If you like an early start and feel most productive working on your projects in the early hours, try booking your client calls and online training sessions in the afternoons, this will help you focus on your computer based work in the morning without distractions.
IF YOU PREFER A LATE START
If you feel more productive in the afternoon, keep your morning routine as usual – morning exercise, coffee and breakfast with the family. Then, once you are at your designated work area, complete all your scheduled calls and activities before noon, the afternoon should be for the focused work with no distractions.
A RELAXED 9 TO 5
A typical workday lasts for 8 hours. When you are in the office and you know the amount of tasks you have to finish for the day, you don’t have that much flexibility before you need to leave the office door. In fact, often by 3pm you feel exhausted. When you work from home you can adjust your time in such a way that you can mix work with some home chores and still complete your daily tasks and work hours. In the morning you can attend to the most important work calls and tasks, then take a break for lunch. In the early afternoon you may wish to get up and do some laundry or cleaning. Meaning you can return to your work later when your head is fresh and spread the work hours for a later time. Your time is on your plate! Follow a routine and have designated time when you have calls and interactions with colleagues and clients and quiet time when you can focus on important work.
FREE YOUR WORKSPACE FROM CLUTTER
It is important to keep your work area tidy and clean so that your mind can keep focused and productive. All those books and magazines laying around, the laundry basket, the computer cables, kids toys – make a habit to clear your work area more often. Your surroundings should be pleasant and free of clutter to open up breathing space for your mind to work productively.
MY WORK – MY SPACE
Try and create a designated area for your work space so that you feel more “at work”. If you have a spare room or a corner in your house, make this your office – with your notebook, your computer, your earphones and charger, your favourite pen and picture frame. Find the most comfortable and supportive chair, use pillows to support your back and arms. When you are in the office you do get up from your desk more often than when you are at home. It’s sometimes hard to work from home and differentiate between family time and work time. Stick to your normal working hours.
If you have a family with young children it might be a good idea to swap rooms depending on what works best for your household routine. For example: you can work from the bedroom in the morning when your kids are having breakfast in the living room, then in the afternoon – when the children are tired from games and toys and need some quiet time or if they have their daily walk in the park with your partner, you can move back to the living room. Tip – if you don’t want to be disturbed, have your earphones on constantly, this way even the kids will know that you are busy working – whether it’s for the work daily calls, listen to nice music or just have some quiet focused time, it does the trick.
Try to use the telephone as much as possible, it helps you stay connected with your colleagues and clients. Also helps you convey the tone of what you are trying to say and express (unlike an e-mail).
SHARE AND TALK
Lots and lots of calls, online calls! Use Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype – whatever tools you prefer. Speaking to colleagues and clients face to face and sharing screen to collaborate and chat is great.
INTERNET ALWAYS CRASHES
Make sure you have the best possible broadband. Losing your internet connection ties your hands behind your back and you’d hate to get distracted by that when you are midway through an important piece of work (or even worse, on a call with a client who is in Australia!). Have a good quality web camera and a good Wi Fi router.
THOSE EMBARRASSING VIDEO CALLS
We’ve seen them all, embarrassing moments on a video call have been shared across the world in a matter of minutes! If you don’t want to be one of those famous people whose video ended up on the evening news channel, you’d better preplan a few things before your next video call. Beware of your background – make a test video and see what is being captured in your video frame. If there is an ironing board with a pile of clothes, move that aside – no one wants to see that. As nice as it is to see people’s natural home environment, their books and pictures and living room wallpaper – things like piles of dishes on the kitchen counter or hanging laundry are a no no!
If you are on a video call and you fancy moving around and stretching, by all means do it but make sure you are not the one talking while you are up and about – you’ll make other people sea sick! It would be better if you switched off your video and even your microphone and only turned them back on when it’s your turn to speak, but make sure you stop walking around when you do so. The person speaking on the other side wouldn’t want to be disturbed by all the noises you make while looking for a spoon in the cupboard to stir your tea.
TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
When you get carried away with work, sometimes you forget to take breaks and this will affect your productivity. Try and take a break every half an hour, even if it’s just to top up your glass of water in the kitchen, stretch your legs and don’t be tempted to keep a large bottle of water next to your working area.
It is easy to start piling on the pounds when you work from home unless you have a daily exercise regime. It is a good idea to eat less during the day, do not stick to the breakfast, lunch, dinner schedule – instead, have a light breakfast and then a healthy snack or two during the day (a fruit or veg would do). Complete the day with a nice homemade dinner. Don’t overeat! Including healthy fats to your daily diet will keep you full for longer, keep your energy higher and your body healthier - also reduce those constant snack cravings.
Keeping active doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run 10km per day. If you are used to walking to work (or to the bus stop) you will really miss walking when working from home. If you have stairs at home, perfect! Use them as often as you can. Also think about creating a daily walking routine, e.g. every day before or after work just leave the house and walk. Tip – the Nike Run Club app is not just for runners; you can switch it on as soon as you leave the house and monitor what distance you’ve walked. Set your goal and stick to it or improve it but try not to do less! Exercise before or after work, get your family or friends on board too (even virtually) – now that the days are longer after work activity can be the perfect time for some socialising.
PYJAMAS ARE FOR SLEEPING
It’s easy to be tempted to work in your most comfortable wear, i.e. your pyjamas. But this does not help your productivity, in fact – it tends to make you feel lazier. Try and dress up for work, do your hair, do your make up – it sets the tone for your day ahead and your work mindset!
BREAK DOWN YOUR WORK
Breaking down your work into smaller tasks really helps your productivity and focus. If you list your tasks and keep an eye on them and keep ticking them off will make it much easier for you to start on a work piece or a project. Start before you are ready! Tick off most difficult tasks first thing in the morning. And don’t forget to take breaks - don’t feel guilty to take breaks! When you are in the office you would take a break to make a tea, have a chat with a colleague by the water tap or collect the post.
STAY AWAY FROM YOUR MOBILE DURING YOUR SHORT BREAKS
Leaving your phone at your desk while you are having a short break is a way for you to give your brain and your eyes some rest. Having your phone in your pocket all the time is too tempting to check your social media and do some quick online shopping.
GET YOUR FAMILY ON BOARD
Communicate with your family what your work needs are, what time you expect online calls so that they don’t interrupt (shooting each other with a Nerf gun for example!). Having your family around you while you are working from home can be great when it comes to someone always offering you a coffee and reminding you to have a lunch break.
KEEP THE KIDS BUSY
It’s not easy to focus on your work when you have your kids running around and when you need to plan the family meal times around your work. Try and have an early start when the kids are still asleep, plan ahead for a quick prep lunch so you don’t need to spend too long making lunch for everyone later on. Try and keep your kids busy and entertained during the day. There are some great apps your children can use to play with their siblings or friends online. Some of them are How well do you know me?, Truth or Dare etc. Set them with a challenge to create a photoshoot and take great photos of flowers, outfits, objects. When you finish work, ask your kids to help you prepare your picnic basket and cycle together to the local park, enjoy your dinner there together.