Working from home is becoming the new normal for many, but it isn’t without its challenges. Here are our top 12 tips to work from home effectively, productively and successfully.
“What do I need to work from home?” is often the first question people looking to work remotely ask. Firstly, you need to find a dedicated space that you can use solely as your work zone. If you don’t have a separate home office, a desk in the corner of your bedroom or the end of a dining table can suffice. The key is to designate a certain area as your workspace; this signals to yourself – and anyone else who is home with you – that when you are in that area your workday has commenced.
You then need to stock your bespoke workspace with the right equipment. Working from a laptop for a long period of time can become tedious and lead to poor ergonomics. You might be far more comfortable if you invest in a laptop dock, larger monitor and a separate keyboard and mouse. You may also need to consider a webcam for videoconferencing.
Comfortable, noise cancelling headphones can help to keep you focused, particularly in a noisy neighbourhood, while ensuring you catch every word spoken during a videoconference or telephone call.
A regular morning routine that mimics your usual workday can help you get into the right mindset when working from home. For example, if you usually walk to work, go for a walk in the morning before you log on. If you usually grab a coffee on your way to the office, take five minutes to make a cup before turning on your laptop. Such small routine actions will help you transition into your workday.
When working from home, it’s important to understand exactly what tasks your manager expects you to achieve by the end of each day or week. You cannot simply drop by your manager’s desk to confirm expectations or ask a question. Therefore, it’s a good idea to schedule a daily or weekly – depending on the nature of your work – call with your manager to go through your to-do list, prioritise tasks and ask questions. This sets clear expectations for you both and allows you to progress with your most important tasks.
Not everyone is a natural at effective time management. For some, the lines between your personal life and professional life begin to blur when working on your own from home. For example, perhaps washing needs to be folded, the dog taken for a walk or a bill paid. If you find yourself distracted by domestic tasks, take steps to schedule your work day so that you minimise distractions and maintain your productivity. Try prioritising and time blocking to take control of your working week and keep your productivity high.
Within your daily schedule, make sure you allocate break times. Without the distractions of your usual workplace, such as a colleague dropping by your desk to ask a question or a group coffee run, people can become so engrossed in their work that several hours pass by before they realise it. If this happens to you, make sure you set reminders to hit pause and take a break. Your concentration, productivity and wellbeing will all benefit from regular breaks away from your screen.
Of course, people also want to enjoy working from home. One of the greatest barriers to enjoying the experience comes from the fact that people can feel isolated or disconnected. A lot of unplanned collaboration and communication takes place in a workplace. For people who have been working from home for some time, out of sight, out of mind can be a real issue. It’s important therefore to take every opportunity you can to reach out to colleagues and your manager. Replace face-to-face communication with virtual equivalents, such as videoconferencing, chat or online collaboration tools to maintain social connections, share ideas, discuss issues and make timely decision.
You may find an unwelcome and awkward distraction comes in the form of friends or family who think they can drop by for a chat or coffee because you are working from home. Make it clear that during your set working hours you will be unable to stop work and they should not interrupt unless it is an emergency.
Workplaces can be noisy. Some people find that a noisy office adds to their stress levels and they therefore thrive in the quietness associated with working from home. Their productivity and levels of concentration soar as a result. But others find they miss the buzz and background noise of an office. If you fall into the latter category, turn on the radio or play gentle background music.
Working from home can be a very sedentary experience. It’s not a long walk from your bed to your desk, and it certainly doesn’t compare to the incidental exercise that accumulates when heading to and from work, walking to meetings, grabbing a coffee or going to the water cooler. After a few days you might feel tired and restless due to a lack of exercise and this can have a negative impact on mental wellbeing. Therefore, during your scheduled breaks, spend some time exercising in your backyard or go for a walk around the block. You can also try the 5-55 rule, which involves spending five minutes out of every hour standing up, stretching your legs and moving – even if you only go to the kitchen for a glass of water.
Everyone has a certain time in their day when their concentration weakens and motivation falls. In a traditional workplace environment, your colleagues can get you through these times. But when you work remotely, you have no one to help motivate you out of your slump. Instead, you need to find ways to get yourself through it. One strategy is to schedule a break during these productivity slumps. For example, if you find yourself struggling to concentrate at 3pm each afternoon, go for a walk, make a coffee or do a few exercises in your lounge room. You’ll come back to your desk refreshed and in the right mindset to keep ploughing through your tasks.
Try to maintain the same hours you would if you were in the office – including your regular finish time. While mimicking your normal morning routine, as mentioned above, helps you transition into work mode, sticking to your normal habits at the end of the day helps you shift back into your personal evening time, which benefits your work-life balance. This starts with logging off at the same time and stepping away from your designated workspace.
Some diligent employees may find their work day extends into their evening, so if you find this is a regular occurrence, set an alarm to ensure you log off and unwind at the end of each day. If you have been working long hours from home over a sustained period of time, make sure you know how to recognise burnout and make the appropriate adjustments to prioritise your wellbeing.
With these tips, you’ll be able to set good practices to ensure you work from home effectively, productively and successfully.
Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.
Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.
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