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Many people are working from home during the pandemic, to avoid any non-essential contact with others. And while it might be second nature to the well-initiated, it may seem a little daunting to those who haven’t done it before – or those whose homes are filled to the brim with distractions.
It’s something Lee Chambers, a workplace wellbeing trainer and environmental psychologist, knows a lot about. He consults companies and their employees on how to WFH efficiently, having done it himself and struggled.
So yes, the reality is that working from home is an art, of sorts. How’s best to go about it then? We asked Chambers and HuffPost UK readers who’ve worked remotely for their top tips. Here’s your ultimate guide.
1. Find a space – and claim it.
Choose a designated work space and stick to it, says Chambers. And no, that doesn’t mean your bed. “Design it in a way that feels like a nicely flowing working environment for you,” he says. For some people, being able to go into a different room and close the door is important as it enables them to feel “psychologically closed off from home”, he adds.
Digital PR manager Surena Chande ensures she’s cleaned her desk (which doubles up as her dressing table) so it’s tidy for work – otherwise she gets distracted by the mess. Keep your desk clean throughout the day, advises Chambers, or clean it in the evening so you’re returning to a fresh space in the morning.
If you can, invest in a decent office chair. “Not everyone will have the luxury, but if you can sit in a chair that’s upright, you’ll be in a more work-focused mindset,” he says. Of course, not all of us will have an office or table to sit at – so how about claiming a certain spot in the living room, and experimenting with a food tray to prop up your laptop?
2. Commute, but not as you know it.
For those new to working from home, Chambers advises getting outside for a breath of fresh air in the morning to simulate a commute – even if it’s just a walk around the block for five minutes. It helps get light into the eyes, fresh air in your lungs and awakens your senses. It’s also a big mood booster.
“You’ve left that feeling of home and you can come back with a feeling of work,” he says, noting that a quick waltz around the block is also good for those who struggle to squeeze exercise into their busy days.
3. Stick to a routine and schedule.
Routine is key to getting your day off the ground, says Sam Akbar, a psychologist who works from home: “You must have a routine. This is crucial for your productivity and mental health. Get up at the same time everyday and find yourself a place to work. Then tell your family to leave you alone.”
Alongside having a routine, it’s important to build a schedule for the day, adds Chambers. Block out what you need to do into bitesize chunks, task by task. If you have kids you need even more focus and stringent scheduling – get the most urgent tasks done first thing because distraction is inevitable, he adds.
4. Take regular breaks.
“I’m using the Pomodoro technique,” says Chande. This is basically where she focuses for 25 minutes, then takes five-minute breaks in between. “I used to struggle to focus when left to my own devices and found this helps,” she says.
Another way to squeeze in breaks is to work in 90-minute cycles, so working on a task for 60-90 minutes and then taking 15 minutes to disconnect – this doesn’t mean going on social media or switching on the news, though. Instead, stand up, go for a walk, stretch, have a healthy snack or make a tea. All the time, you should be mindful of the activity you’re doing, giving your brain a bit of breathing space.
5. Communicate with your housemates or partner.
Communication with those you’re sharing the space with is key when you’re working from home. If you’ve got an important conference call during the day, make sure everyone is aware what room you’ll be in and that you’ll need everyone to be quiet.
Katrina Marshall works in the media and when she works from home, she’ll send her housemates a reminder an hour before a meeting or call to remind them. “Also: noise cancelling headphones will save your life,” she adds. Noted.
6. Carve out time for social interaction at lunch.
Don’t be tempted to work through your lunch break, because you’ll take a hit mid-afternoon. Likewise, don’t just sit indoors and watch TV. “By watching it you’re still stimulating your mind and you don’t get that disconnection from work,” says Chambers.
Lunchtime is often a good time to be social – given the current social-distancing measures you might want to avoid popping out and seeing someone, however you could phone a friend or FaceTime your mum instead. “Phone where you’d normally email just to get that human connection,” he says.
7. Nap if you want, but set an alarm.
“It’s a very personalised thing, there are people out there who can’t nap,” says Chambers. That said, there are people who can nap and, if you want to, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t! Take 10-20 minutes only, and set an alarm.
“Naps are incredibly powerful,” he adds. “The most beneficial period [to take one] is during the afternoon lull – that’s nature’s cue to go and get your afternoon sleep.”
8. Know you’ll get distracted – and that’s okay.
You will get distracted throughout the day, especially if you’re a parent. As mum-of-one Michelle Morgan Davies puts it: “Get used to working on your phone in one hand while also making snacks, changing nappies and answering inane questions. Learn to love the blare of Blaze in the background [that’s a kid’s TV show, FYI] or the smash of toy cars on the wooden floor. Be prepared to stop your wee mid-flow if potty-training toddler needs to go.”
How on earth can you deal with that? It depends on how old your kids are, says Chambers. The key is to set boundaries. Older children can be educated, so you let them know: “When the door’s shut, I’m working.” If you have young children, make sure they’re in your eye-line – you might want to sit them in front of the TV or in a play pen if they’re really young – and then get your head down.
Other times it might be your phone providing the distraction. If this is the case, download an app that controls when you use the phone throughout the day. You could also try using focus music. Grab a pair of headphones and be prepared to drown out the noise of the house around you.
9. And stop.
Just as you have a set time that you start working, you also need to stop at a designated time – otherwise it’s all too easy to work into the evening.
“Because you’re not restricted to 9-5, you need to set a strong boundary for when you finish work so you can disconnect,” says Chambers. “It could be that you know there’s one final task you need to do and once that’s done, you log off.”
Walk to a different room or walk around the block as another makeshift “commute” back from work – and get your head out of the game completely. He adds: “If you don’t disconnect, it’s harder to reconnect the next day.”