Tips for working from home

I’m writing this shortly after the Prime Minister of New Zealand asked all New Zealanders to work from home if they can in order to slow the spread of Covid-19, echoing moves around the world. In the midst of this big, scary pandemic, and all the changes that come with it, I hope that sharing my experience can make one change a little bit easier. 

Tips for working from home
Not my desk! Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Working from home can take some adjustment. I’ve mostly worked from home for the last three years, and my husband for over 10 years. It’s our preferred way of working. I’ve pulled together our advice on making working from home work well.

Tips for finding your rhythm

It’ll probably take you some time to establish a new work-day rhythm. Here are a few fundamentals to help ease the transition:

  • Get dressed – just because you can work in your PJs doesn’t mean you should. Embrace casual clothing but do get dressed. It helps you get into work mode.
  • Carve out a dedicated workspace – when you’re in your workspace you work, when you’re not, you don’t. Boundaries are everything when working from home.
  • Keep set hours – another important boundary this is vital to stop work taking over your entire being (this is especially important if you are self-employed or a business owner)
  • Don’t forget to move – incidental movement reduces when you don’t need to leave home. Compensate by going for a regular walk, run or bike ride, or do some indoor exercise. If you can leave the house, I find a morning walk really helps me leave home mode and enter work mode. 

Tips for being productive

Without the social conventions of the office, it’s easy for even the most self-motivated person to bunk off. Here are some tips to help you stay on task:

  • Accept some slacking off – you’re not 100% productive in the office, nor will you be at home. If small tasks, like unpacking the dishwasher or putting some washing on, are pulling you away from your emails, give in to them then come back to it when you’re done.
  • Manufacture deadlines – replace the social pressure of co-workers looking over your shoulder with deadline pressure. Make commitments to people that you’ll do a certain thing by a certain time. 
  • Make a realistic to-do list, not a wish list – I have a whole post on how to make to-do lists that actually help you be more productive . Make a to-do list the last thing you do each day so you get off to a focused start in the morning. 

Tips for maintaining community

One downside of working from home is you don’t have your workplace community right there. People often it difficult to adapt to the lack of regular human connection that comes with the physical proximity of the workplace. Keeping up those casual friendships can be done, it just won’t happen by itself. Here are some tips to help:

  • Make time for a chat – find ways to make room for a casual chat in interactions with your colleagues. You could set up a time each day just to check in with each other or try logging in to group calls a couple of minutes early to have a chat with other early arrivals. 
  • Take existing rituals online – do you always do the quiz, the crossword or have a Friday drink? Whatever your workplace social rituals are, pick one or two and find a way to keep them going online.
  • Don’t forget out-of-work activities – don’t forget all the social interactions that happen around your workday – getting coffee, meeting for lunch or catching up after work. Find an alternative way to check in with friends you usually socialise with around work so you don’t lose touch. 

Tips for working at home with your partner

The most common response I get when I tell people I work at home with my husband is “Really? I could never do that”. Honestly, being together pretty much all day, every day doesn’t have to be a relationship disaster. We enjoy it. Here are some pointers that work for us:

  • Be considerate colleagues – have a good chat about work preferences and how you can accommodate each other. Think through all the various scenarios and the practicalities of how you are going to deal with them. Do you need to take long phone calls in another room? Do you need to wear headphones on a video call? Eating at the desk? What about listening to music? Which music? Lots of things will come up along the way but having a few basic ground rules in place from the start helps.
  • Get your home life sorted – if living together isn’t going smoothly, working together is unlikely to either. Have a good chat about any changes to household routines that will also change with the move to working from home. Now is a good time to have a chat about expectations around chores – having a fight about who should do the vacuuming does not make working together easier! 
  • Find ways to do your own thing – if there is some way you can have a physical break from each other, take it. This may just be doing something at different ends of the house for a bit. 

Tips for working at home with your kids

Okay, so this one I don’t enjoy. I love spending time with my son, but not when I’m trying to work. I prefer to single task [link], whereas this is mostly multi-tasking. I had a good chat with my husband, he is a true veteran having worked fulltime from home when our son was a rampaging toddler, our advice was strikingly similar. Here are our tips:

  • Be realistic – this is not an ideal situation. You will have less than ideal parenting moments, you will have less than ideal working moments. You are doing your best and that is good enough. 
  • Triage your work based on how much of your attention it needs – you need to be able to match your tasks to how much of your attention your kids need at the time. We chunk tasks into:
    1.  Things we can do when the kids are in the room and need, regular attention (things you can still progress with lots of interruptions like simple replies to emails) 
    2. Things that need your undivided attention for a sustained period (these are best attempted when your child is asleep, or if they are older, are likely to be fully engrossed in something for a while) 
    3. Everything in between (break up your to-do list into smaller chunks and get used to doing short, focused bursts as the opportunity arises). 
  • Set expectations with both your kids and your workplace – if your kids are old enough, make a plan with them for how things are going to work. Things like, “If mum needs to talk on the phone, she’ll go into her room and shut the door. She’ll come back as soon as she’s finished. Only come and get her if you are hurt or there is a fire.” I find it also works well if your kids know there is a time soon when they will get to hang out with you, “Mummy is working until 12 and then we can have lunch together”. Also make a plan with your colleagues. I make it clear through the automatic replies on my email that I’m not in front of my email and to text me with anything that needs immediate attention. I also keep my phone on silence and send all my calls to voicemail, so I can return calls in the quieter moments. 
  • Think through your entertainment options – you want a good arsenal of things to keep the kids engaged. Think about what they get really engrossed in playing and play with for the longest stretches. More toys isn’t better, but novelty is gold.
    • Consider a toy and book rotation to keep things fresh. 
    • Open-ended toys and activities are the best: play dough and water play at the kitchen sink (as long as you can see them) are great for little ones, construction toys (blocks, lego, mobilo) are fabulous for kids of all ages, drawing or colouring, any outside play if that’s an option. 
    • Think of one or two “sit beside me” activities, special activities they only do when they are sitting up with mum or dad while they work. My son’s are handling Daddy’s tools and drawing on a tablet. 
    • TV is your friend but it works best if used sparingly. An occasional, well-timed movie can be a god send if you have lots of 3. and 2. tasks to get done. Audiobooks and podcasts are also great for some 3. and 2. time. 

Are you new to working from home? What are you finding tricky? 

Experienced at working from home? What’s your best advice for those just getting started?

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