The outbreak of the coronavirus has more people working from home than ever. If you're new to working remotely, these tips from a home-office pro can help you stay productive and maintain balance.
Updated for 2021!
Create a Dedicated Home Office Space
Initially a lot of us did not have any home office space to work in and instead found ourselves sat at the dining table or hunched over on the sofa. While this may be OK for the short term, as the pandemic wears on its defiantly time to create a dedicated home office space area in which you can work. This should be in a room that is not only comfy, but free from distractions of other people or pets, a place where you can enter in the morning and leave after you finish work. It is important that you can physically leave the area once you are done. This psychologically makes your brain switch off from work. If you work in the living room on a table, and when you finish work you just slide over to the sofa, its far more difficult to switch off at night.
Dining room chairs, bar stools, bean bags, deck chairs... we've all seen remote workers sit on all of these for their day-to-day work. However in the long term, they're a disaster for your back and long term health. So if you don't already have a decent office chair, investing in one is vital.
Invest in Better Tech
We've all seen from interviews on the TV what a difference a decent webcam and microphone makes. The microphone built into your laptop probably isn't the best so you're giving a bad impression to your colleagues and clients. Consider upgrading to a headset with built in microphone (I personally recommend the Corsair HS70 Wireless Headset as that's what I use) as it will give a much higher quality and clearer audio for those listening.
Also, take some time to look at your internet connection and see if that needs upgrading. Slow connections not only make you less productive, they also can lead to frustrations having to wait for resources to download. As a developer I know that TFS can be a pain on slow connections and often causes Visual Studio to hang. After upgrading my connection I did not experience any problems with TFS. If you use Zoom calls or Teams calls a faster connection leads to better quality and audio both for incoming and outgoing calls so everyone benefits.
Start the day right
If you're working from home, then enjoy the lay-in. There's every chance your total commute will give you a few precious moments in bed. Make the most of them. You deserve it. Once you're up and about, have a good breakfast. Remember, you don't have to rush to catch a train, bus or hop in a car. Fuel yourself until lunchtime so you're not tempted to snack during the day.
Plan Your Day and Workflow
Create a plan for the day. Decide on what you want to accomplish, a list of tasks for the day. Set yourself targets. This aids productivity and provides motivation each time you cross something off. Even if you only want to accomplish one item, that feeling of crossing it off the list can provide a mental trigger that the day is done and allow your brain to switch off at the end of the day. Keep the tasks realistic and don't be too ambitious.
Have the radio or some music on in the background as you might do at work. If you don't, try something playing in the background so you don't feel like you are alone. Of course, if you have a busy household you might be looking forward to some peace and quiet so make sure everyone around you knows when they can and can't disturb you.
If you don't want to listen to music, but also don't want to be in silence, there are plenty of background sounds on YouTube and Spotify. Ambient sounds of a library, office, call centre, sea side, rain or waterfalls are all available and can provide stimulation and help alleviate any feelings of isolation or loneliness.
It's very important to remember to stay hydrated! Keeping good water intake not only helps the brain function it can also bolster your immune system. Staying well hydrated at home may be trickier, especially if you're used to having access to filtered and sparkling water while you're at work. Try and keep a water bottle by your side throughout the day as a reminder instead of fetching a glass at a time. Set an alarm or reminder each hour to drink water.
An easy rule of thumb for how much you should drink daily is 8 glasses of 8oz water.
Take Lunch Breaks Away from Desk
It's important to step away from the desk and the home office now and then, and lunchtime is especially important. There's no need to queue up for a sandwich or make small talk with people at your desk. Move away from your laptop, sit down and enjoy whatever you fancy. Put your feet up and relax. It's your break so do what you like with it. Spend the time with your family and share a meal together.
Keep Regular Work Hours
One of the most important and basic things you can do is to create a regular schedule for yourself. It's tempting to give yourself total flexibility as to when you get started, take breaks, and call it a day. Setting yourself regular hours keeps you accountable to yourself and to your boss. It makes you more likely to get all your work done, and it makes it easier for people to get in touch with you.
Separate Work Time and Personal Time
Just as it's important to work when you say you will, it's important to give yourself time for home life when you need it. It's very easy to fall into the trap of extending the work day little by little, working later and later, at the end you'll burn yourself out. Keep your work life and personal life compartmentalized as it helps you stay productive while you're at work, and it reduces stress when you aren't.
Leave the House
To the extent that it's allowed according to your local COVID-19 restrictions, get out of the house, and be active. Provided you can maintain social distancing of course. The same advice applies to everyone who works in traditional office settings, too, but now is more important than ever to stay fit and healthy. Leave the home at least once a day, go for a walk, a run, or even get outside and have a coffee in the garden. Your body needs to move. Plus, the fresh air and natural light will do you good, both physically and mentally
Clean your Work Area
We've all got into the habit of washing our hands thoroughly. But what about your keyboard and screen? Laptops are a breeding ground for bacteria, so it's absolutely essential you clean them thoroughly. You can get special wipes specifically for cleaning screens and keyboards. Clear the desk once in a while and wipe down the surface, vacuum and empty the bins. Open the windows and let in fresh air. These things sound simple, but its amazing how many people neglect them and let their office space stagnate.
Turn Off and Switch Off
After you've done your work for the day, ticked off the items on your daily planner, pack up - whatever you need to do to finish for the day. Leave no trace of work that will tempt you to return. Ideally you will have a dedicated area just for working in, so physically leaving the room and closing the door is a psychological trick to help switch off. If you don't have a dedicated area, unplug and put the laptop in a storage bag or drawer out of sight.Have you got any extra tips for working from home? Productivity boosters for home working or work from home life hacks? Let us know in the comments below!