As we are increasingly thinking about how we might find ourselves housebound and in quarantine in these unprecedented times, I have found myself reflecting on home working. I have in many ways been a home worker since 2012, I consider myself lucky to be able to work at home, in a sense it is a privilege, that I can take a laptop and work anyway, and I don’t need to be ‘hands on’ anywhere specifically.
I have learnt a lot about myself as a home worker, what helps me get motivated and what leads me to play around on Twitter, as well as a few approaches and habits that have helped me to be a homeworker. I thought I would share some of those helpful habits and tips here.
- Make sure you have the tech. That is, ensure you have fast, reliable WiFi, a PC/laptop and a home printer if you like to look at things on paper sometimes. You might also want to invest in a good headset, with a microphone and headphones, it can make video-conferencing that bit easier. I also have set up a ‘docking’ station for my work laptops so that I am typing on our home keyboard and using a larger screen and regular mouse. We have a switcher cable to make that really easy. (I don’t think that’s the proper name for it, but hopefully you know what I mean). Make sure you have signal for your work phone, and also ensure you have the skills to fix minor tech issues yourself. IT probably aren’t going to come to your home desk. Also if you are going to use Skype or Zoom etc a lot, have a good practice with it. Have a plan for how you will deal with any confidential waste you might create whilst working at home.
- Once you have the tech, sort out the environment. I invested in a comfortable chair/desk to help me ‘sit well’. I have never been required to do a home ergonomics/VDU assessment, but the principles apply, if are going be sitting there a lot, ensure you protect your back or wrists etc. Make it look nice, put a plant or a pen pot, have a place to file things, and so on. I also have a fan for the summer and a nice window to day dream out of. Make it a place you want to work.
- If you can have your home space in a separate home office room rather than the kitchen table this is a good idea. For me it helps me ‘go to work’ that is, when I am in our office, I know I am at work. I tend to not use the room at the weekends etc also, to keep that boundary.
- Try to set a routine, just as you would if you were going to work, what time will you always start. I start at 8 am. So if I haven’t finished everything from breakfast, like putting stuff in the dishwasher etc, tough… if I was catching a train I would leave it, so I leave it, even when I am working from home. I might put the odd thing into the dishwasher later when I make lunch instead.
- Build in some other routines, e.g. a walk round the block or with the dog at 10:30 or even up and down the stairs a few times at lunch etc, try to break up the day a little and try to be a little bit more mobile. When home working, you are not even walking to another building for a meeting any more. Your step count can easily go to less than 100 steps a day when you work at home and don’t try to change that. (I know this from the last 3 months of thesis writing!).
- Try to section the day a little to break it up, if you say all day for reading and then tomorrow all day for writing and then another day all for meetings, it is hard to stay motivated, and it can be exhausting to have 1 teleconference after another non-stop. I like splitting the day into 2 hour chunks that I plan some variation into.
- Try to stay social. In that I don’t mean spend all day on social media, but do try to stay connected. I have tried deliberately planning in calls, ideally face to face on video chats/Skype etc with people 1/w or everyday with key people even when I am not clear what we might discuss. It is nice to see colleagues’ faces and have a smile. It can be a little isolating at home, especially if most of your colleagues still work together in an office, you miss in-jokes, and banter and sometimes important communications because it was done verbally and locally. I feel a little bit more effort to stay connected and maintain/build relationships is needed. Make time for it, it is important.
- I have also used social media as a reward and way to motivate myself… i.e. when I have written this 500 words or presentation etc, I can go on Twitter for 5 mins etc. and I deliberately try to interact on there rather than just passively reading tweets etc. I have found that there is a community of tweeters in the day that is different to the evening, and I feel that many of us are home workers, so this is an equivalent space to the coffee area at work, in a way. (You can also switch WiFi off temporarily if needed if the temptation for social media, email or instant messaging is beginning to distract)
- Do take advantage of the benefits of homeworking, try not to eat into your working routines, but it does mean that you can put the washing machine on at the same time, or book a delivery of a parcel and let the window cleaner into the garden etc. The only real disadvantage I have noticed of homeworking is at Christmas, when every single delivery company on the planet wants you to look after every single neighbour’s online shopping and you have a persistent knocking on your door (the Tuesday after the 1st December weekend seems to be the worse). Not so relevant for now, I suppose.
- Working at home with kids… mine are teens now, so it is pretty much OK, I can leave them to their own devices, PlayStation, TVs etc. Every now and then I check they are OK, and if they want something to eat, but so far, when it has happened, no dramas, in fact they offer to help do chores sometimes, so a bit of a bonus really.
- Be comfortable, if you want to pad about in leggings all day, do it. If you want to wear work clothes do that. Wear what suits you to work best. I have a day coat I put on, because I find I get too cold sitting all day (even when everyone else in my house is in T-shirts), so I look weird on teleconferences sat in a coat but it hasn’t been a problem. Don’t forget to brush your hair though!!
- Finally, remember when you need to finish up for the day. One of the main advantages of home working I have found is less interruptions, so I get a lot more done, a lot more quickly. So don’t forget to clock off, have an end of the day routine (I tidy up the desk) and enjoy that fact that your commute home takes approximately 2 seconds!!
What tips do you have?