I’ve been self employed for the last 15 years so I’m well used to managing my own time and way of working.
For many people working from home is a new challenge, so this is a list of ideas that might help. They won’t apply to every situation but even if one helps that’s got to be good thing.
Create a space to work in
If you have a busy house or a few kids at home 24/7 it’s rarely going to be quiet and you’ll be facing a lot of potential distractions throughout the day.
If you can, find a private space, such as a spare room or a garden shed, and make that your work environment. Ask family members not to disturb you when you’re there - you could even get a child to create mummy or daddy a “Do not disturb” sign to keep them entertained for a while.
If you haven’t got the luxury of a spare room your kitchen may be a good space. The chances are kids and partners will be in the lounge or in their rooms most of the time, so outside of meals times it may work for you as it’s often the least used room.
Have a routine
You’ll probably already have some sort of regular work pattern at your workplace, but at home you may have to make some adjustments.
Creating a routine will help you focus and be more productive.
You don’t have to do the exact same thing every day, but give your day some sort of general structure - for instance I normally spend mornings dealing with email and important tasks, and projects in the afternoon.
It’s ok to break up your day with non-work activities, for instance spending time with a child or partner, nipping out to the shop, or washing the car. This can help clear your mind, mull over a work problem, or just give you some reset time.
Don't check your email inbox every 5 minutes
Just don’t. It’s very easy to get into this habit, but be careful because it can start to give you “inbox paranoia” and make you worry about what emails have arrived since you last checked - that can also start to keep you awake at night, not good.
If email is a major part of your work then yes you’ll need to check it regularly, but make it every half hour or hour so you don’t overload yourself.
Your mental health is important!
You don't have to work "9 to 5"
Just because you work 9am to 5pm at the office, being at home means you can sometimes work outside of your “normal” hours. That’s not to say you need to do a 12 hour shift, but spreading your workload over the day can give you a bit of family/personal/breathing space time when you most need it.
It’s all about working when you are most productive.
I often spend time on a project during the evening when I’m in the right frame of mind. Using that time when they are no distractions helps me focus and get a lot done in a short amount of time.
If you’re an early riser who gets up at the crack of dawn raring to go, spend an hour on work tasks before the family gets up. Conversely if you go to bed late (like me), there’s no harm in working for an hour or so at midnight when the family are sound asleep.
Everyone is different, but aim to find the best balance that suits you and those around you. You may even find that a change of work pattern is beneficial because you’re not governed by the clock all the time, reducing stress and pressure.
Prioritise jobs and tasks
If like me you have to deal with a constant stream of emails and always seem to have 101 things to do, prioritising them can help you deal with them more efficiently.
Typically I split my tasks a few ways:
- High priority (to do today or asap)
- Medium priority (to do when high priority tasks are done)
- Low priority (to do when I have time)
Set realistic deadlines
How many times has your boss said “I want this by lunchtime”?
In normal circumstances that’s just part of everyday working life, but during the current crisis we all need to assess what’s actually important and what’s not.
This is where prioritising tasks really comes into play.
If you’re a manager
- Ruthlessly consider what you need as opposed to what you want. You’ll need to keep a business running, but that report you want may not be that critical and can wait.
- Remember that staff working from home for the first time will be encountering many new pressures as they try to adapt. Be practical, flexible and considerate, share the workload amongst your team when you need to.
- Don’t chase people up every 5 minutes, there’s nothing worse for productivity or morale. Your employees really need your support right now.
If you’re an employee working from home
- Don’t be scared to say if a deadline isn’t achievable under your circumstances.
- If you encounter a problem, communicate with your manager as soon as possible so you can find a way forward. In some cases it may be possible to share the workload with other colleagues or extend a deadline.
- When you have a routine going you may find that you are more productive than usual, and will be able to complete more tasks in less time - usually that’s down to not having as many distractions as you would when you’re in the office.
Schedule online team meetings
Use audio or video group sessions to get the team together to discuss current issues, plan what tasks needs doing, and who will do them.
Some tips for online meetings:
- keep meetings as short as possible
- avoid using HD video streaming for those people who don’t have fast internet connections
- if you have a lot of things to discuss create an agenda and allocate a maximum time duration for each topic
- arrange meeting times to accommodate as many participants as possible, people with children may struggle to get to an 08:30 meeting every day so bear things like that in mind
- try to make meetings fun to keep spirits up, have something like a silly hat competition every Friday!
How often you meet will vary according to the needs of the business you’re in.
Daily meetings might seem like a good idea but they can get very tiresome very quickly over an extended period, and often the number of things you need to discuss may dwindle over time - it’s very frustrating for people being told to attend a meeting when there’s nothing to talk about!
On the other hand meeting, say, once a week may not be enough. There’s a good balance somewhere, so ask yourself:
- how often do we need to meet?
- does everyone need to be involved with every meeting?
- can you use other communication types instead, e.g. email, text, Slack?
Take regular breaks
If nothing else for your own sanity!
Try to take a short break at least once an hour, especially if most of your time is spent in front of a computer screen. Leave your workspace, put the kettle on, go into the garden for 10 minutes to get some fresh air, read a book, meditate - anything that helps you relax a bit.
You’ll feel better for it.
Appointments and meetings
Use a calendar app to remind you of scheduled meetings or things you need to do.
I normally set a final notification 10/15 minutes before the start of a meeting so I can get prepared such as opening up a chat app, getting documents ready, grabbing pen and paper for taking notes, and making myself a coffee!
Tell work colleagues when you're not available
If you need to concentrate on a work related task, or spend some time with your family, make sure your work colleagues know so they don’t interrupt you.
When you emerge by all means tell colleagues you’re available again!
A good boss is worth their weight in gold
At times like these a good boss or employer will:
- trust you to work as best you can under the circumstances
- support you when you need assistance
- understand your work environment has changed and make necessary allowances
If you’re unlucky to have an employer that wants to spy on you all day, or doesn’t show any trust in you, you have my sympathy!
Of course you will get the odd bad apple who sees home working as a chance to skive off - don’t be that person.
It's ok to work in your underpants
Yes, I really mean it. Did you know all top freelancer web developers do just that? Well, sometimes anyway!
You’re not going into the office so wear whatever you feel comfortable in, it’ll make you feel better. If you really want to work at home in a suit and tie that’s great, most of you will probably be just right in jeans and t-shirt or your pyjamas!