Working from home: what lessons have we learned?

Staying motivated when working from home can be tricky – as many of us learned during lockdowns. But for those who are continuing to work remotely, how do we realistically navigate the challenges of the home office and stay productive?

The novelty factor of working from home powered many people through the initial months of lockdown. But the everyday soon set in. Now, we’re in a world where working from home is much more the norm than in the pre-pandemic days. So how do we stay productive?  Here are some of the ‘best-practice’ tips we’ve found, with some real-life angles to make them more… user friendly.

1 – Create a morning routine

This probably sounds like a no brainer, something you’ve been doing since your schooldays. But be honest, how many times have you rolled out of bed at 8.50am for a 9am meeting? Or chucked on yesterday’s T-shirt because you’re not going to be on camera. If working from home is a regular feature in your life, setting up a routine will keep you much more motivated. What the routine is is up to you – a walk, a jog, yoga, a shower, breakfast, catch up with the news. Even if your routine is watching telly for half an hour, it’s fine. Really, you’re looking for any activities that shift you from sleepy and slow into motivated work mode.

2 – Work your set hours

Set a schedule and stick to it. This is a nice idea. Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to call it a day would add structure and routine, but our time doesn’t always just belong to us. Everyday distractions vary from person to person, but they’re still just as disruptive. The key really is to make sure you’re working the right number of hours, not selling your employer short or overdoing it. If your work allows it, taking an hour out early afternoon doesn’t matter, as long as you recoup it somewhere else.

3 – Keep a dedicated workspace

Great idea. If you’ve got a massive house and no kids or pets. Otherwise, wherever you go, they go too. Rather than hiding in your bedroom or cosying up on the sofa, we’re advised to dedicate a specific space to work in the house and treat it like the office. Your partner, kids, dog, cat, toys and washing wouldn’t usually turn up to the office though…

It isn’t easy to establish specific boundaries between home and work, and if your dining table or kitchen island is the only place to set up camp for the working day, it’s unrealistic to banish the rest of the household from entering your work zone. The ranging backdrops on Zoom calls are enough to show you people are constantly moving around for the best WiFi spot, proximity to a plug-socket, or simply to escape the noise. The trick here is to make sure your dedicated workspace doesn’t turn into a dedicated overtime space. Keep, evenings, weekends and holidays sacred. If this means having to pack your things away at the end of the work day, so be it.

4 – Take a break

We’re told to find our company’s policy on break times and take them. Of course, there’s no doubt using our breaks as an opportunity to recharge is key to staying motivated throughout the day. In reality, when collaborating with the team, all on different timetables, pencilling in specific lunch and break times is a tricky, especially when we often find ourselves running over and running late. So, rewarding yourself with time to switch off doesn’t always happen within standard lunchtime hours. Remember too that a break is a break – you don’t have to be constructive at every minute of the day, so do whatever it takes to unwind. A quick meditation or yoga tutorial, chapter or two of your book or a little peek at daytime TV can all give your mind a much-needed rest.

5 – Know when to log off

As the world is becoming increasingly connected, it’s not uncommon to have both work and personal conversations taking place throughout the day, across many different platforms. Your inbox is pinging, your phone is buzzing and it’s hard to feel like you are ever truly ‘logging off’. Physically closing those open documents and browser tabs is one thing but managing your professional and personal to-do lists in your mind is one of the most challenging aspects when working from home. It just feels non-stop.

You need to be a bit strict with yourself here. Try focusing on crossing one thing off your work to-do list, then replying to your WhatsApps. If you have a separate work phone, you could switch your personal one onto silent while you’re working. Essentially, whatever you’re doing give it 100% focus and don’t fall into the trap of worrying about what else needs doing.

6 – Stay connected

From the beginning, instant messaging and video conferencing tools were recommended as a way to check in with co-workers, friends and family alike, as the closest substitute for face-to-face interaction. It is a great way to remind yourself of how your work contributes to the bigger picture and check in with colleagues when you’re missing the office buzz, but webinar fatigue and Zoom gloom is real and sometimes you just want the quiet. We’ve been in lockdowns, on and off, for over a year and some of us are feeling more disconnected than ever before.

While technology has been something of a lifesaver, if you’re feeling exhausted with it all then think how you can stay connected in other ways. Plan in some walks with friends and local co-workers, or arrange an outdoor lunch break together. Write a letter (we all love getting handwritten letters in with the bills) or send postcards. You might even get one back…

7 – Be kind to yourself

You’ll have had bad days at the office and you’re going to have them working from home too. For those not familiar with remote working, this would have been a totally new experience and you may still be adjusting – to some extent we all are. Having little motivation from time to time is to be expected. Don’t forget to reach out and ask for support, if needed, because being kind to yourself goes beyond the 9-5. Look at what you’ve achieved, not what you haven’t done. The way we speak to ourselves can make a huge difference to our frame of mind.

Nailing working from home isn’t something that you should be striving for – even those who’ve been doing it for years will tell you there isn’t a perfect answer. But try to get some balance into your day and add in as many small comforts as you can.