As authorities around the world continue to take steps to try and reduce the spread of COVID-19, many workers are finding themselves working from home for the first time.
While millions of people around the world work from home full-time and a reported 70% work remotely at least once a week, for many the coming weeks will represent a dramatic change in the way we work.
Whether you’re working from home due to governmental or employer intervention, or because you are self-isolating, here are some tips to help you stay productive, happy, and safeguard your mental health.
Get Up, Get Dressed, and Get to Work
Some people believe that working from home means sitting about in your pyjamas, unkempt, and only making an effort if you need to take part in a video conference.
While that approach might work for some people, it’s unlikely to keep you happy and productive.
You don’t necessarily need to dress in business attire as you normally would, but you should get up and follow your usual morning routine. One benefit of choosing to wear business clothes at home is that you can get changed out of them later, creating a feeling of finishing work for the day. This will also help your brain to identify the time of the day and help you to relax and wind down.
If you’re not self-isolating, you could even take a walk at the start and end of the day as if you are travelling to and from the office, creating a boundary between ‘work’ and home.
Create a Structure and Set Boundaries
Although you might be able to enjoy some extra time in bed as you don’t have to commute in, you should still try and maintain some structure to your day.
If you’re normally in the office from 08:30 to 17:00, then stick to working those hours. Even when working from home you will be expected to be available during these times as usual.
Ideally, you should create a working space at home that doesn’t involve sitting on the sofa, isn’t in the same room as the fridge, and isn’t in your bedroom if you can help it. You’re trying to create a specific area that, for the next few weeks or months at least, is associated exclusively with work.
At the end of the working day, be sure to put your laptop away to signal the end of work. If you don’t have a study or spare bedroom you can repurpose as an office space and are working in your main living area, then make sure you tidy and clear paperwork out of sight at the end of the day.
Close Your Internet Browser If It Isn’t Needed
If you’re working on a spreadsheet, proofreading a report, or writing something that doesn’t require you to regularly check online sources, then close your internet browser to avoid distractions. If you find that difficult you can consider downloading one of the many apps that prevent you from browsing the internet, to help you stay focused on the task at hand.
At the same time, try not to be too hard on yourself. While working at home might bring additional distractions, we know that even if we’re in the office we occasionally use the internet for non-work-related activities. The trick is to manage this and ensure aimless social media browsing doesn’t eat up your entire day!
Put Your Phone in Another Room if You’re Not Using It
Smartphones are often the biggest distraction we have in all aspects of our lives, not just at work.
When we’re at home without the risk of being spotted by co-workers or our boss, it might be tempting to spend longer posting in our WhatsApp groups or scrolling through Instagram. Unless you use your phone to listen to music while working, or you need to have it with you, put it away in another room.
In the same way that having an app on your laptop to limit distractions may be helpful, having to physically go to another room to check your phone will often be enough to put you off doing it. If it isn’t and you have others at home that can help, get them to hide it from you!
Try to Avoid Checking the News
While the current COVID-19 situation is unprecedented for us all, checking the news regularly is unnecessary.
There is unlikely to be vital new information that we as global citizens will need to act on immediately, and regularly checking the news can trigger unnecessary anxiety which in turn will disrupt your working day.
The best strategy for consuming the news is to do so once a day, at a specified time if possible. In fact you can also adopt this approach to your social media behaviour too, allocating half an hour per day to check it, and that’s all.
If You’re Not Self Isolating, Go Out
Working from home doesn’t mean you should stay indoors all day, unless you live in a territory where you’ve been advised to do so by the authorities or are self-isolating.
You should check government advice in your home country first; but provided neither you or any of your family members are symptomatic and you don’t have a specific vulnerability to COVID-19, then it should be safe to get some fresh air every now and then.
As we explored earlier, taking a walk in the morning or at the end of the day can be ideal for mimicking the act of going to and from the office. Getting out of the house during your working day, whether for a short walk to the park or a jog around the block, can also help you to deal with any mental blocks and keep you productive.
Talk to People
If you work in an environment where there is typically a lot of interaction during the day, this is likely to be the thing you miss the most about working from home. Take the time to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Even better, use video calling to actually see the person you’re talking to.
Actively plan this in with your colleagues. Pick a set time to speak to your line manager or junior reports every day. You can even plan to all have lunch at the same time via video conference so you can have an informal chat. Many businesses around the world are encouraging these sorts of virtual social interactions to help maintain a positive work environment, and keep people sane!
Give Yourself a Break
When planning and structuring your time working from home, ensure you give yourself breaks to avoid the day becoming monotonous.
You might already have a strategy you use at work to get you away from your desk, but if not, then look into strategies such as the Pomodoro Technique that will help you break up your day.
There are numerous studies and articles that highlight the benefits of taking shorter breaks more regularly rather than infrequent longer breaks, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking a break even when you’re “on the clock”, so to speak.
Staying Productive When Working from Home
While a unique set of circumstances is forcing millions more people worldwide to work from home than usual, this provides a great opportunity for us to really make the most of it! Done the right way, the coming weeks or months of working from home can be happy, productive, and physically and mentally healthy for us all.
You might even find that working from home is something you grow to enjoy so much, that once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, you’ll want to do this more in future. Good luck and stay safe!