The new rules of work
As increasing numbers of us have had to ditch traditional workplaces and hellish commutes for the comfort of our own homes, the experts explain how to do it right
Brush your teeth at 2pm! Crack open the rosé at 4pm! Change out of your pyjamas… never! Working from home sometimes feels like living the dream. But tempting though it may be to descend into one half of The Twits when you don’t have to go into the office, it’s not the best way to kill it at work.
Though some have worked from home for years, the coronavirus pandemic forced employers and employees into what productivity coach and founder of Go Do Karen Eyre-White calls a “mass trial” for working remotely, which served to “jolt people out of their existing way of working”. As a result, she thinks we’ll see more people working flexibly: “If you get it right, both the organisation and the individual will benefit. People are now more comfortable with online meetings via Zoom or Skype.”
Annette King, CEO of Publicis Groupe UK, formalised her business’s flexibleworking policy in 2019. “When your entire workforce works remotely, you need to be sensitive to people’s circumstances, trust them to get the job done, overcommunicate to stay connected and provide reassurance – especially in challenging times.” So if you’re finding yourself working away from the office some – or all – of the time, here’s how to smash it…
CURATE YOUR WORKSPACE
Unless you happen to be Tamara Ecclestone, you probably don’t have spare bedrooms aplenty to convert into an Instagrammable-AF home office. Vicky Silverthorn, professional organiser and author of Start With The Sock Drawer, explains how to hack it (top tip: your pedal bin is not a suitable desk).
Choose a light, airy room for your “office”, but ensure you’re not squinting into your screen. If you’re limited on space, try the dining table. Dressing tables can also make great desks.
Wherever your “office” is, make your set-up collapsible and easy to tuck away into a cupboard or a box when it comes to mealtimes and the end of the day – it creates a physical and mental boundary between “work” and “home”.
Use the most supportive chair possible and raise your screen to eye level, using a laptop stand or some coffee-table books,
so you aren’t bent forward. Use a keyboard and mouse if this helps your posture.
Find some signifiers. If you are using your dining table as your “desk”, put a bunch of flowers or an ornament on it at the end of each day to signify that work is over.
NAIL YOUR MORNING ROUTINE
Energise your morning with these uplifting rituals, says Mira Manek, author of Prajna: Ayurvedic Rituals for Happiness.
Smile as soon as you wake up and write down a few things you’re grateful for.
Create a morning playlist of songs that make you happy and play it as soon as you step out of bed.
While it’s playing, take deep breaths and hold each one for 6-8 seconds before you exhale. As you do so, visualise all that oxygen entering your body and brain.
Next, have a few glasses (a litre if you can) of room-temperature or warm water.
Once you’ve showered, make an immunity drink – try a mug of grated ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, lemon and honey in hot water. This helps kickstart digestion and boost your immune system.
If you struggle to do your best work away from your office, Karen Eyre-White can help. “Working remotely splits introverts and the extroverts. I’m an introvert, so I’m happy working alone, but the extroverts I know go crazy without calls and conversations,” she says.
Make phone/video calls rather than just emailing.
At the start of every day, pair up with a colleague and have a short conversation. Tell each other what you’re aiming to do that day, then discuss what you’ve done at the end of the day. We’re better at keeping commitments to others than ourselves.
Get an online body double! Set up a video call with a colleague, say hi, tell them what you’re working on, then get on with your work, leaving the call running. Just like in an office when you have people next to you, it gives you a sense that somebody else is working with you.
Use messenger chats or phone calls rather than video conferencing.
Capitalise on the benefits – working remotely can make life more manageable for you as you’ll find it easier to focus.
Remove yourself from communication platforms for a few hours if you’re trying to concentrate, and let your boss know. If you’re using messenger systems like Slack, you can set emoji statuses to tell people what you’re up to (eg a pizza for lunch; a house for working from home). You’re not ignoring people for no reason – you just know what you need to do your best work.
Create structure, routine and rhythm. One of the challenges of working from home is that it’s quite easy to get burnt out because you could be working at any given moment. Even though you’re not commuting, stick to a start and end time.
If you’re working at home with a flatmate or partner, communicate what you each need to work effectively and stay in different rooms. Say to them, “Let’s start at 9am, have lunch together at 1pm, finish at 5pm and do something this evening?” This type of structure harnesses the benefit of having social connection and helps to distinguish between work and social time.
Avoid procrastination: it’s connected to a fear of failure. Circumvent it by tricking
“Create structure and routine. You may not be commuting but stick to a start and end time”
your brain: commit to doing the first step of the task – that could be opening the Word document or writing the title. Normally you’ll get into the zone and keep going.
Break your day down: try working in 45-minute chunks. Set a timer, and when it goes off, have a break of three to five minutes – make a cup of tea or put some washing on. Keeping domestic tasks inside breaks can stop them from distracting you.
Turn off email notifications. This is a general productivity tip but it’s critical when working from home, because email is your way to connect with people, so there’s a risk you’ll live out of your inbox all day. Check emails at specific times and, rather than cherry-picking the ones you want to answer, deal with them systematically.