Many have found themselves in unchartered waters having been plunged into a working-from-home (WFH) situation.
Your WFH situation may be short-term, a couple of days a week or you may be in it for the long-haul. Some companies like Twitter even see this as a permanent solution for some of their employees. Regardless of the terms, here is all you need to know to keep productive and well during your WFH stint.
Benefits of working from home
While it’s not all doggy cuddles and iced-coffees in the garden (as social media would like you to think), there are still some great benefits to be had by WFH.
- No distractions of office life, such as pop-ins from a chatty colleague, those long meetings with no conclusion and interruptions from visitors to the office.
- Being able to adjust your working environment to match your preferences and needs, which can help you to stay relaxed and boost your morale.
- No commuting – that journey from bed to the dining room table is the shortest you’ll ever have.
- Money savings – lunching in the city is expensive. All those daily £10 sandwiches and £5 speciality coffees on your doorstep can be hard to resist. At home, you can save big time by going to the store and preparing food. And with the right choices, you can be sure it’s healthier, too!
Drawbacks of working from home
- Home-based work can come with its own distractions, especially if other family – or pets – are there too.
- Working from home can create an ‘always on’ mindset, causing you to work too long and too hard.
- Difficulty sticking to a routine.
- Loneliness – you might suddenly find yourself missing those drawn-out cat stories from your office mate.
To overcome these potential pitfalls and optimise your WFH experience, you need to create suitable conditions. This will allow you to stay focused and effective throughout the workday. Here’s how.
Create a workspace that works
- Choose the right location – pick the place you’re likely to be most productive. Avoid areas of the house that could cause distraction and that receives good natural light to avoid eye strain. Avoiding a direct eye line with the biscuit tin might be wise too!
- Stay connected – make sure the location you choose is near power outlets and not in one of those unexplainable Wi-Fi blackholes common in houses around the UK.
- Make it as ergonomic as possible – set up a chair with back support next to a table or desk. Place your laptop on the desk and make sure it’s high enough so you don’t have to hunch over to type. If needed, place books underneath your laptop until the screen is at eye level and use a detachable keyboard if you’re working from a laptop so your shoulders aren’t by your ears.
- Resist trying to work from the couch or bed – you may find it difficult to separate work life from home life if you bring work to your areas of relaxation. It may lead to work thoughts creeping into your downtime, interrupting the latest Netflix crime series or even worse, impacting your sleep.
- Make a plan
Numerous studies suggest you are more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down (1). At the beginning of each day, try writing down all the things you want to achieve. It may also be beneficial to note down deadlines with each goal, whether it’s a time of day or day of the week.
- One task at a time
Although tackling a few projects at once may seem the most efficient way to complete tasks, it may actually be the opposite. Multitasking has been linked to hindering productivity. Try focusing on one task only, and complete it fully before moving on to the next. Honing in on only one thing leaves you better positioned to finish it faster and to a higher standard.
- Minimise social media
Instagram notifications with the latest video from your favourite grumpy cat are not helpful to your focus and may be just too hard to avoid clicking on. Try turning your social media notifications off throughout the workday. Even better, if you have a dedicated work phone, try keeping your personal phone switched off during working hours.
- Keep a tidy workspace
It is often said that a cluttered living or workspace means a cluttered mind. And it appears a 2011 study testifies to this (2). The research shows that physical clutter in our environment can make it more difficult to process information and efficiently complete tasks. Try clearing your workspace at the end of every workday. This way, you’ll start again the next morning with a clean slate, ready to address the tasks at hand.
- Take time-outs
It can be all too easy to sit in your WFH set-up for hours straight without realising it’s been several hours since you last moved. Research suggests scheduling in short breaks will help you to focus better and keep you productive over a longer space of time (3). We recommend taking a movement break every 20-30 minutes to stimulate the areas of your body that are less active whilst you’re sitting such as your hips.
- Schedule communications
To minimise distractions, you need to take control of communications. Having scheduled check-ins with your team can allow you to deal with minor issues on the spot rather than having to deal with them throughout the day. Tools like Slack and Google Hangouts are a great way to communicate with your team. They offer the option of an ‘unavailable’ status, to avoid interruptions when you are focusing on key tasks.
Keep healthy working from home
- Prepare healthy meals and snacks
Eating healthy, nutritious food is key to staying focused, energised and productive throughout the workday. Do your best to stock your kitchen with healthy foods and self-prepared meals.
Sugary drinks and foods such as white bread and baked goods will give you a quick energy boost, followed by an insulin spike (and consequently low blood sugar) a few hours later (4). This can result in poor concentration. You may also feel jittery or hungry facing into the dreaded 3 o’clock slump.
Keep a ready supply of fruits and veggies, whole grains and lean proteins. And avoid keeping less healthy foods such as cookies and crisps that are all too easy to grab when comfort is needed after an annoying work call!
Focus on healthy snacks like an apple with a handful of almonds, yoghurt with berries or hummus with carrot sticks.
- Keep moving
Sitting for prolonged periods of time is not good for us and has even been linked with illness and premature death (5).
- Make a habit of standing up and walking around at least once every half hour.
- Before work, try going for a walk to make up for the exercise missed on your usual commute. You’ll also benefit from the fresh air.
- Make it interesting for yourself and plan to squat five times each time you get up or sit down.
- Schedule in exercise
It can be all too easy to skip exercise when you are in the work zone. But as we all know, exercise offers many important health benefits including potentially helping to manage anxiety and stress (6). Try scheduling it into your daily routine, just as you would a work meeting. Signing up for an online class is a great way to make sure you follow through.
- Stay hydrated
Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration can lead to headaches and/or fatigue, which may inhibit your productivity. Aim for 6-8 glasses (2 litres) of water per day.
- Keep regular work hours
According to a detailed survey carried out by Irishjobs.ie, 40% of those who WFH work longer hours than they would in the office. While it’s not unusual to work a little extra some days, try to stick with your normal working hours. This way WFH won’t infiltrate your home life and relationships or cause burnout. Always aim to have dinner with family rather than eating in front of your computer.
There are many benefits to WFH. But there are challenges, too, such as remaining focused and being able to switch off when needed.
Be aware of potential distractions and be prepared to manage them. Set up a comfortable workspace, eat healthily and do your utmost to limit interruptions.
Plan your day as you would at the office, including break times. Maximise your time by goal setting and by managing the distractions of home life.
Keep the lines of communication open between you and your team, but at allocated times when possible.
An ‘always on’ mindset can impact your sleep and stop you switching off to get a much needed recharge for your mind. Create no-go zones for work devices, take regular breaks, and make sure not to sit at your WFH desk outside the working day.
1) Ferguson, Y.L. and Sheldon, K.M. (2010). Should goal-strivers think about “why” or “how” to strive? It depends on their skill level. Motivation and Emotion, [online] 34(3), pp.253–265. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11031-010-9174-9 [Accessed 5 Jun. 2020].
2) McMains, S. and Kastner, S. (2011). Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, [online] 31(2), pp.587–597. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3072218/ [Accessed 5 Jun. 2020].
3) ScienceDaily. (2011). Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208131529.htm [Accessed 5 Jun. 2020].
4) Re, T. (1987). Energy, Tiredness, and Tension Effects of a Sugar Snack Versus Moderate Exercise. [online] Journal of personality and social psychology. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3820066/ [Accessed 8 Jun. 2020].
5) Seguin, R., Buchner, D.M., Liu, J., Allison, M., Manini, T., Wang, C.-Y., Manson, J.E., Messina, C.R., Patel, M.J., Moreland, L., Stefanick, M.L. and LaCroix, A.Z. (2014). Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in Older Women: The Women’s Health Initiative. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, [online] 46(2), pp.122–135. Available at: https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(13)00594-1/abstract [Accessed 8 Jun. 2020].
6) Anderson, E. and Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry, [online] 4. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/ [Accessed 8 Jun. 2020].