The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people to start working from home (WFH). This has been a difficult transition for many, as COVID-19 continues to disrupt daily life.
The unexpected shift in routine and environment can easily lead to a lack of motivation and feelings of loneliness. Other WFH struggles include distractions around the home and communication difficulties.
As US states begin to reopen and ease lockdown restrictions, workers who can work from home are still advised to do so. It’s unclear when, or even if, working life will return to pre-coronavirus times. WFH might be the 'new normal' for many.
Once you’re into the swing of your new routine, it’s easier to see the benefits of working from home. The lack of commute not only means that you are safer from the coronavirus, but it can also save you huge amounts of money and valuable time. WFH also allows room for levels of flexibility that you wouldn’t get in a regular office.
We’ve put together some top tips to turn the struggle of working from home into a success.
What Does the Science Say?
A common theory among neuroscientists, psychologists, technologists, and WFH-veterans, is that tricking your brain into thinking that you aren’t at home is the best way to stay motivated and focussed. One of the ways you can achieve this is by sticking to a strict morning routine and getting dressed as if you were about to leave the home.
Assigning a specific part of the home for work is another way to achieve optimal focus. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institue for Neuroscience & Human Behaviour, suggests that the brain finds associations with everything. So, adding ‘markers’ like a specific chair, change of smell from a candle, or an altered form of lighting, will trick the brain into quickly recognizing that you are ready to work.
As science suggests, creating a successful work-friendly environment is arguably the most important thing to get right when working from home. Forget working from your bed or sofa, however tempting that might be, it’s just not going to work.
Instead, find a quiet corner with enough space to accommodate everything you need. An ergonomic office chair is ideal, but any chair where your back is supported will work.
If you don’t yet have a home office, you can improvise with things you find around your home. A makeshift desk is better than no desk, after all. Listen to your body and design something that best suits your needs to avoid excessive strain.
However you decide to design your at-home workspace, it’s important to keep it calm, organized and clutter-free. It’s also important to keep this space as strictly work-only. Refrain from doing anything work-related until you’re at your ‘office’ and vice-versa. Keep anything that’s not related to work away from this space.
Make a routine that works for you, and stick to it. This can include adapting your pre-coronavirus routine to fit with your new working environment. If your routine used to involve a trip to the gym, swap it for a home workout or socially-distanced jog.
The most important thing is to get up and ready for the working day ahead. Although working in your pajamas does sound like a dream, setting aside working clothes will help your brain switch to work mode.
Factor healthy eating and plenty of movement into your routine, too. Something as simple as changing from a seated position to a standing position or having a quick walk around the house will help improve your posture and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. A balanced diet and regular active breaks will help keep you energized, motivated, and increase productivity.
There are many distractions at home that can affect your time management skills... if you let them. If simple tasks are taking longer than usual, make a note of everything around you that may be distracting you.
Without the atmosphere of a real-life office, it may be tempting to turn on the TV, or check social media more often than usual. This will negatively affect your productivity.
To increase productivity, it’s important to write down your daily schedule and realistic goals. This way, you have something physical to help you manage your time and hold you accountable.
Another popular WFH technique that helps to manage work time and breaks accordingly is the Pomodoro method. This involves working on a set task for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. After four of these sessions, the break is increased to 30 minutes. This is then repeated throughout the day. It’s a great way to stay focussed while maintaining healthy breaks.
Being away from colleagues can cause communication breakdowns. However, this is easily overcome by committing to regular virtual meetings. Thanks to technology, you’re only one click away from touching base with your whole team.
These video or phone calls can be used to keep everyone up-to-date, motivated, and accountable for their tasks. However, WFH can be lonely, so these chats can also be used as virtual coffee breaks to keep things social.
Communication is key. Not only can it help keep you focused but it can also help to improve your mental health.