With Europe and beyond going on full lockdown, many people are now looking to work remotely for the first time. Having worked remotely from sunbed scribblings to building spreadsheets from my local coffee shop, I’m going to miss the freedom of picking my work up wherever I like but with social distancing and working during the lockdown looming, I thought I would offer some of my top 10 tried and tested tips for working from home.
1. Pick Your Spot
Whether you will be setting up shop on the kitchen table or commandeering the conservatory, you need to pick your workspace carefully when working remotely or working from home. Whilst WFH conjures up thoughts of snuggling in bed as you ‘work’, unfortunately, when it becomes a full-time gig it’s time to roll your sleeves up and get serious about your remote workspace. Some questions you need to ask yourself are:
- Do I need a desk when working from home?
- Do I have enough space to create a home workspace?
- And, most importantly, where are the plugs?
Whilst most decent laptops these days have at least a few hours battery life, if you are plugging in extra monitors, conducting a lot of conference calls from home or constantly surfing the web on your PC, your battery is going to suffer. You’ll also need somewhere to plug in any extra equipment you might need when working remotely such as a printer.
2. Think About Lighting for You Home Workspace
One of the most important tips for remote working like a pro is to make sure that your home workspace is well-lit. There is nothing like low lighting to strain your eyes and get you distracted from your work. If you are working remotely from home, aim for a space with as much natural light as possible. If you can, pick a room with a window and make sure it isn’t cluttered and blocking out the light.
Whilst natural light is great, you will probably need the assistance of an overhead light or side lamps to help avoid eye-strain when working on a laptop or PC from home. Why not kit yourself out with a decent desk lamp to keep you working from dusk til’ dawn (or almost) and keep you alert.
3. Find Your Noise Level
Are you more of a silence-is-golden worker or do you prefer a bit of background noise whilst you work? If you are used to having the radio on in the office, why not play a little music on low as you work? Or, if you are sharing your space with a partner or family member also working from home, pop on your headphones. just be careful not to listen to anything too catchy to avoid focussing on the music rather than your work!
If silent working is your jam, noise-cancelling headphones are a must. If you can, try to make sure your home workspace is in a spot away from the rest of the household. If possible, pick a room where you can shut the door on the outside world and concentrate.
4. Set Boundaries
Trust me, I know the feeling. You are just about to get started on a brilliant piece of writing or knuckle down to work out some tough stats and your mum comes in asking you to help her with (insert ‘technical’ challenge here) or your partner pops his/her head around the door for a chat.
I’ve been asked for cups of teas during skype calls and *cringe* been in a group video conference where the director has asked us to turn off our microphones when not speaking because my brother has decided to rebuild the kitchen sink.
When working remotely from home, it is incredibly important to set boundaries for those around you. Schedule set breaks and ‘quiet times’ and make sure those in your household know when you are working to avoid embarrassing (even if funny) interruptions and a smooth WFH process.
5. Check in With Your Co-Workers
When my lovely team went fully-remote recently, they put in place some ‘catch-up’ sessions once a day to make sure nobody felt cut off and could raise an issue if something was going on. When you work remotely, it is important to maintain contact with the outside world and talk to the people you would otherwise be sharing an office with.
Like our team video calls, these don’t have to be about business-related topics, they can be as simple as saying hello to someone’s cute dog, having a laugh about something that happened during the day or even a simple ‘how are you doing?’. Whilst work-related discussions are important, I highly recommend at least one conversation a day where you don’t talk about work. You wouldn’t only talk about work all day if you were in an office, would you? So working from home should be no different, for the sake of your sanity if nothing else.
6. Home Working Essentials
Before you get started working from home, make sure you have everything you need to be productive and make work less of a chore. Whilst the trackpad on your laptop isn’t bad for occasional use, I find that having a physical mouse makes the process much smoother. Psychologically, using an actual mouse gets me in the work zone more than using my laptop’s inbuilt trackpad. If you will be typing a lot, I would also recommend getting a full, separate keyboard for comfort.
When working from home on any big projects, I like having a second, larger monitor to work from as well as my laptop screen. When I’m in the office, I work from three screens (don’t judge me) so having that extra screen there gives me a much-needed extension for if I need to switch between tasks.
However, I know these can be a big investment. So if your workplace won’t let you take one home for use during the lockdown, take a look at your television or any other smaller screens you have in your home. Many will allow you to share your screen either wirelessly or through a HDMI cable to your laptop. (Just beware Macbook users, you’ll need a HDMI adaptor if you are going for the plug-in method).
Here are some other things you might need to consider when setting up your home workspace:
- Internet. If you are using a full PC, are you close enough to a port to plug in for internet? Do you need a dongle? If your wireless signal is patchy, consider moving your WFH space or getting an extender.
- Software. Do you have everything you need to work from home? Have you installed a word-editing (such as Word) or spreadsheet software or will you be using online tools?
- A chair. It may seem simple but a comfy chair can make or break your working from home experience.
- Stationery. Pens, pencils, paper, you’ll need it all to work remotely so stock up!
7. Keep Everything You Need Handy
Keep any paperwork or tools you will need during the day handy. If you end up going in search for something halfway across the house, you’ll inevitably get distracted by half a dozen things on the way there. Keeping everything you need within easy reach also helps when you need to jot something down or mention something you noticed earlier during a conference call.
On this note, one thing you don’t need within easy reach is your phone, whilst having it in the same room means you can pick up quickly if someone needs to get in touch from work, having it within arm’s reach is a shortcut to an hour (or several) wasted scrolling through social media.
8. Figure Out Your Working Style.
Are you a night owl or an early bird? If you do most of your work in the morning, make that your prime time to complete tasks when working from home. If you work better in the afternoon, schedule in more planning time for the morning and get on with the tough stuff in the afternoon when your mind is more focussed.
Do you need that extra bit of commuting time in the morning to get work-ready? Take a lap of the garden or a walk along your street (whilst practising social distancing), you can even take your morning cuppa with you if you like. If your workplace offers flexible hours, take advantage of this and move your hours around to fit when you know you will be the most productive.
9. Take time for Self Care
Whilst this blog is about tips for working from home like a pro, one of the most important parts of that is switching off after a long day. Creating strict times for when you are on and off means that you won’t wake up in the night thinking about work and will give your brain time to breathe.
During the day, try to take regular tea or coffee breaks and work on tasks in chunks to avoid burning yourself out. Whilst popping out to the coffee shop (my own WFH favourite) isn’t possible at the minute, your daily exercise time outside of the home is. Set aside a full hour for your lunch break to give yourself time away from the screen and aim to spend at least some of this time outside.
A quick walk or bike ride on your break can help you find your zen again and put you back in touch with reality. There are loads of free online yoga and exercise classes at the minute so if exercise is your thing, why not spend part of your scheduled breaks waking yourself up after a day spent sitting at your computer?
If quiet time is more your thing, try keeping a journal, doodling or spending time doing something creative? Even spending a few minutes cuddling your pet a few times a day will give you the time away from your work you need whilst working from home.
10. Ignore All of the Above
Yes, you did read that right. The truth is, only you know what works for you when it comes to working remotely from home. Whilst some people may need the structure of a designated desk space with two screens, others might get complete writer’s block with that setup and prefer a laptop and cosy blanket on the sofa. Try out a few different ways of remote working and see what works for you.
A Few Bonus Work From Home Tips
- Get dressed before you start work to get you work-ready (this also helps for impromptu video calls).
- Write a to-do list each day and stick to it.
- Ask for help if you need it. There are a lot of people in the same boat so reach out if you need a hand.
- Log out of social media on your computer during work hours and log out of work bits when work hours end.
Have your own working from home tips that work for you? Let me know in the comments section!
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