You skip the commute, your music’s on as loud as you like and pyjamas are acceptable office wear. What’s not to like about working from home?
Whether you’re an employee or a freelancer, fact is many companies are trying to reduce office rents and offer better work-life balance. Yet working from home isn’t as easy as taking a laptop and setting up camp on the kitchen table, at least not if you want to stay productive and avoid a nasty crick in the neck.
Define a space and call it “your home office”
Absolutely central to regular home working is having a space that’s where you work. It’s where you set up your computer, keep your files and work without fear of interruption. When you’re in this space everyone should know you’re “at work” and leave you alone.
If you’re lucky enough to have the space this should be a separate room where you can shut the door. A spare bedroom can double as an office, or you could invest in an outbuilding in your garden. If not then a small desk in the bedroom is far better than thinking you can work at the kitchen table while the kids run around.
My “home office” in a pine bureau that’s been in bedrooms and dining rooms for as long as I’ve had it. Everything to do with my business in here and when I need it I asimply open the desk and start working. When I’m done or we have guests it gets closed and becomes just another piece of furniture.
Whatever option you choose guard it jealously. This is your workspace and when you sit at your desk you are at your office.
You need more than a laptop
The right equipment will make your home working life so much easier. There may be some legal requirements about what you should (and should not) have, which an employer could be required to provide you with. I’ve always taken the view I’ll buy what’s right for me, not what my then employer wants to give me.
Spending all day on a laptop is not a good idea. Ideally you should have a separate keyboard and mouse so you can adjust your position until it’s comfortable. A separate monitor will also help you avoid strain in your neck and shoulders, although a laptop stand will be good enough if it lifts the screen up high enough.
Investing in a good chair is a must. You’re going to spend all day sitting, so trying to tough it out on one of your hard, wooden dining chairs won’t do (even with a cushion). Spending a little extra on a quality office chair that’s fully adjustable and with good support will pay for itself by keeping you productive for longer.
Manage your time like it’s gold dust
Having a clear plan of attack for your day will keep you from getting distracted and keep focus on what you’re supposed to be doing. A simple to-do list is all that’s required, setting out what you want to achieve. Even if you think of yourself as hyper-motivated and self-organised working steadily through a list is going to help.
During the day it’s likely new requests and demands will come your way. Rather than reacting and disrupting your work it’s important you step back, assess and then decide where in your to-do list they’re going to go. Just as you’ll save work from tomorrow in the office, so you’re allowed to do it when you’re working at home.
There is some baggage associated with home working that you’re going to have to deal with. Some colleagues will think you’re goofing off, managers will be uneasy about losing sight of you and clients may question whether you’re worth the day rate if you’re not in their offices. This is where a little PR spin can help you enormously by clearly communicating what you’re hoping to achieve before and showing you achieved it afterwards.
Turn off notifications
The near constant chime of email alerts or Twitter notifications can be a drain on your focus. What would be brief conversations in the office can quickly escalate into prolonged email exchanges that divert time and attention away from what you’re trying to do.
Take control of your time by switching off notifications and setting your status on chat apps to “do not disturb”. If you’re feeling really brave you can even divert your phone to voicemail. With distractions gone you can focus on your work more easily.
During the day, at a time that fits in with your workflow, check and respond to your messages. Not only will you be able to give more time to your responses, but quite often discussions will have moved on and even answered themselves. My approach is switch off all notifications on my laptop permanently and check messages whenever I finish a task on my to-do list. I’m rarely more than an hour away from an email and I’ve never found that to be a problem.
Take breaks. Get out. Have lunch
In your office you’re probably getting interrupted every 10 or 15 minutes by colleagues asking questions or having to take the walk to the coffee machine or whatever else passes for work in an office. In your home this doesn’t happen and you can easily find yourself sat at your desk for hours at a time. You need to force yourself to take breaks or fatigue will set in, your work will suffer and you’ll start to feel aches and pains.
Ideally you should be taking a break every 45 to 50 minutes. That’s not a “stop working and look at Facebook” break, it’s a “get up from the desk and move around” one. It doesn’t matter if you make a coffee, stand in the garden or look out the window you need to do something that gets you up and looking away from the screen.
Even if you don’t eat lunch take an extended mid-day break and get out of the house. A walk will get some fresh air into your lungs, compensate for missing out on the exercise of the commute and give your eyes a chance to focus on something further away than three metres.
At any point if you start to feel your shoulders aching and your eyes are tired stop, stretch and look into the distance. Working from home shouldn’t be physical torture.
Working from home means just that: you work from home. You should set aside a dedicated space that’s correctly kitted out, manage your time carefully and take breaks. It’s a simple formula, yet one that will make working from home more productive and enjoyable.