We planned the text on the upsides and downsides of working from home some months ago, but in the current situation – the world is in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic – we’ve decided to write and publish it sooner and to take these circumstances into account. We hope that you’ll find some useful tips about how to work from home effectively and hassle-free: during isolation, quarantine, or when done willingly.
Working from home is our standard course of action, because we chose that type of work about 7 years ago. The text is based on our experience, so it concerns the situation in which home office is a result of a conscious decision and not when it is an emergency situation. We believe, however, that the majority of these tips and pieces of advice is universal and everyone will find some, if not all, useful when they’ve found themselves in an ad-hoc home office under a mandatory quarantine.
Generally speaking, we think that the current situation may bring about positive effects in this regard. Usually, people rarely make a decision to change their habits drastically, especially when it comes to such fundamental aspects of life like work. Many people now don’t have a choice and they have to experience remote work for the first time. Some people may find out that working from home is great for them and if the employer and the circumstances allow that, they will continue working like that. Others, though, will find out that they prefer working from anywhere else than home and they’ll appreciate their office even more. So, in both cases we arrive at a happy ending!
We’re aware that we’re kind of lucky. We work from home because it was our conscious decision, so little has changed currently. Moreover, we work together, while the majority of the self-employed or freelancers work alone. Additionally, we don’t have children, so our home office is basically undisturbed. Obviously, everyone is in a different situation and there are many circumstances to be taken into account but, like we’ve said, we believe that you’ll learn a thing or two.
It’s a good idea to stick to your wake-up routine, which means you get up at about the same hour every day. Of course, much depends upon your organism, your biological clock, and the professional culture of your customers and co-workers, that’s why it doesn’t mean that everyone should get up at the same time. Some people prefer getting up at 6 AM, others at 7 AM, and some at 8 AM or 9 AM. There’s no point in jumping out of your bed at 5 AM just to prove yourself you’re the knight of dawn if your brain and your whole body are not used to working at this time and if you become efficient after 10 AM.
This is a tip for everyone who just begins their home office adventure. It may seem obvious, but you shouldn’t assume that if your work starts at, say, 9 AM, it’s enough to get up five minutes earlier and turn on your PC in pyjamas and just begin working and think “I’ll just check the mail before I dress”. We know from experience (yes, it happens to us also) that this can really mess up your morning, because once you’re drawn by incoming mails, tasks, and other ASAP duties, you’ll notice that the hours have somehow slipped by, it’s midday and you’re sitting in underwear without breakfast.
That’s why it’s great to have a morning routine and dedicate half an hour or more, depending on your preferences, to a “start-up”: put on your clothes, have breakfast, do some exercises, read a chapter in a book, or an article, learn a few new words… there are many other pleasant or useful activities you can do before starting your professional work. And, at the same time, your brain will be more efficient as it wakes up too, so your productivity will be better as well.
HOME OFFICE DRESS CODE
Speaking of pyjamas: it’s a good practice to dress more like you’d do for work rather than at home. It helps your brain to get to the professional mindset, and once you’re done with your work for the day, you may wear something more comfortable. This sets clear borders between when you’re “at work” and when you’re “at home”. Besides, this makes you feel better – and prettier. After all, you don’t just dress for others! Of course, if a bathrobe is your uniform of choice and the one you’ve always dreamt about, relax and take it easy – just make sure your bathrobe is clean and in your favourite colour. ?
SETTING YOUR BOUNDARIES – TIME AND SPACE
Another important, if not the most important, issue of maintaining the balance between home office and home-home is to set clear boundaries. Firstly, determine the hours when you begin and finish your work. At the end of your working day, turn off all the notifications, log out of your work email, and in general, disconnect from your professional life at the hardware and/or software level. This is a very difficult step, but a necessary one.
Moreover, it is necessary, or at least recommended, to determine physical or spatial boundaries. It’s a good idea to choose a place in your home specifically for working only, which is not connected with resting, and most importantly with sleeping. In our first year after graduation, we rented a single-room flat: we slept, worked, ate, and relaxed in one room. Month after month, it had become a growing psychological burden, because we felt kind of imprisoned without a real place to unwind, even though we tried various things to do so.
So, if it’s possible for you, choose one place that is devoted to work only: a corner in a room, a separate room, a whole storey. If you have a desk in your bedroom, it’s a good idea to temporarily move your work station somewhere else for temporary remote work.
SETTING YOUR BOUNDARIES – CO-HABITANTS AND CO-WORKERS
This is especially important now when many of you have found themselves in makeshift home offices with temporary co-workers like partners, flatmates, or children. Even if we muster all our kind-heartedness, this situation may lead to conflicts. That’s why it’s so important to set clear boundaries and rules, and to talk about them. Set clear rules for working from home, talk about what’s distracting for you and how to change it, so everyone can feel at ease while managing work.
BREAKS AND MOVEMENT
Just like in a normal office, set breaks in your home office. You need to get up once in a while to stretch your arms, legs, back, fetch something to drink, to eat (something healthy, we presume!) or take a longer break for a snack or lunch. This sounds like a hackneyed cliché but really: don’t underestimate the power of a break. Try arranging a pause away from all the gear, equipment, electronic devices even for 15 minutes.
During a pandemic, leaving your home for a short walk may not be advisable or allowed depending on the place where you live. At least try the balcony or, if not possible, open a window and breathe some fresh air. Our flat is surrounded by green areas so we rest our eyes on trees, bushes, and grass during the day.
We also recommend exercising – you can easily find a set of home or office workouts and adapt them to your needs and abilities. You can do them during breaks or after you finish your work. Home office allows you to adjust your tasks in this regard. Sometimes it’s enough to change your position for some minutes: leave your chair and relax on your couch, armchair, floor… this allows you to change your perspective, your eyes can rest from screens, and your “inner settings” can be reset ?
This also may sound like a truism, but remember about ergonomics. At work, your employer is responsible for providing you with appropriate equipment due to OHS regulations, but at home it is your duty. Your work station should be comfortable or you’ll soon hate it – and especially your spine will. Also, smoothly running equipment (PC, laptop, etc.) reinforces effective work and good mood.
FEEL AT HOME
When you work from home, you can adapt your surroundings to your needs. If you like listening to music, you can turn up the volume on your loudspeakers and you won’t disturb anyone. At least we hope so, see the section above. Do you like singing, dancing, talking to yourself while working? Just do it! As long as it helps and doesn’t distract you from your tasks, feel free to do anything you want.
This is not so obvious but it’s really important that your working environment is pleasant – and your home allows you to do make it so. Make your surroundings pretty and pleasant – work is done more efficiently if there are nice objects around you, which you can admire if your mind needs a refreshing moment or two. We’re not preachers of minimalism, by no means. Some people prefer when the desk is empty but for necessary tools, while others like to be surrounded by numerous objects. We’re in the middle between the two extremes – it’s simply the best to adapt your work environment to your needs.
FORGET ABOUT HOUSEHOLD CHORES
When you work from home, it is tempting to think “well, I’m at home anyway, nobody’s calling, texting, there are no current tasks, so maybe I’ll do some chores”. We now it very well from our own experience: swapping back and forth between chores and work can be very distracting. Washing, doing the dishes (manually or in a dishwasher), vacuum cleaning, and any other chores can be deconcentrating and draw your attention away from current tasks. The chores will be there once you’ll finish your work and usually, they are not that urgent. You may think it’s just 5, 10, 15 minutes, but it’s better to spend that time on a break that won’t be completely distracting, like preparing some food or doing some exercises to change your position from sitting and not to watch the screen all the time. Also, you can always bond with your pet.
Since we’re born cat lovers, we can wholeheartedly recommend breaks to pet your pet or play with him/her, depending on the pet’s mood. Especially those of you who have just begun your home office journey can bond with your pet and also calm him/her down. Pets can feel that something’s off the regular schedule, that the owner is constantly at home, worried or stressed about something. That’s why it’s also a great idea to use your breaks to calm your pet by petting or playing. And let’s not forget – this will also make you calmer!
STRIKE AN ATTITUDE
Every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and their grandmothers know that in many cases, it’s necessary to have a good mindset. If you’ve always thought that work from home is no real work, well, you’re in for a tough time. But your surroundings are secondary to the crux of the matter – you’re still supposed to do the same tasks that you do in the office but in a different manner, in a different environment. Once you realise this, it should be easier to switch your mindset to the “I’M WORKING!” mode even when you’re in your cosy home.
It’s always harder to keep your high morale and motivation when nobody’s supervising you, watching over your shoulder to check if you get things done instead of watching lolcats on Instagram. No mercy – put the pedal to the metal, set the highest gear of your self-discipline and focus on your current tasks. The majority of tips we’ve mentioned above are about setting borders, staying in control, maintaining discipline, and managing the situation. It’s a true test of iron will, but it’s so satisfying to pass it!
To build up your motivation, make decisive plans. This piece of advice is better for freelancers and people who run their own businesses and organise their work from scratch, but it can be useful for the regularly employed people as well. At the beginning of the day, or the day before, write down a list of specific tasks and goals to achieve and choose their priority (e.g. this is one of the simplest and most popular methods). It’s easy to get distracted without such a list, because there’s always something that appears out of the blue and seems to be urgent.
One more thing: be specific in your list. Don’t write “write something”, because it’s too vague, too general, and most likely it won’t be done or not in the way you want. Try “write a blog post about home office”, because it’s measurable and precise.
DON’T STAY AT HOME
This advice is somewhat controversial during the times of You-Know-What, but we hope that You-Know-What will soon be gone and you will be able to implement this in your daily life. Home office may result in spending too much time at home. It’s easy to go with the uncontrollable work flow and realise it’s Friday, the last time you were outside was to do brief shopping on Monday morning, and the only other face you’ve seen other than the familiar face found in the mirror was a deliverer. In many cases you’ll be seeing your family or flatmates, but the point stands: don’t stay at home! Every day, if possible, at any time you want. Go to a shop, park, cinema, gym… We go for a walk regularly and we try to meet friends and family during the weekdays or weekends. It’s not always possible, but generally it’s doable.
Remote work is a very broad topic and it would be possible to write dozens of how-to books about effective home office that doesn’t end up in insanity, divorce, or health problems. It’s quite likely that we’ll revisit certain topics to write more about them or we’ll deal with other issues related to home office.
Let’s remember that every day of home office is different, just like in the case of regular office. External circumstances and individual daily mindsets influence how efficient you are at work. And most importantly, bear in mind that every one of us is different and is in a different life situation. Home office is substantially different if you have kids, if you live with parents, siblings, or simply flatmates. That’s why don’t take our pieces of advice like gospel, that you have to do this or that; simply, you may do this or it’s worth trying. We share our observations and we hope that you may find some of them useful.
What are your home office experiences and how do you tame it?
Martyna and Paweł
PS: If you want to learn about our Why’s and Why-not’s of working from home, read Martyna’s post here.