Since the lockdown, all our lives have been turned upside down. Our favorite restaurants closed, travel came to a halt and while going to the bank wearing a face mask got you a free trip to the jail before, wearing one is now mandatory. It has not only changed the way we function as a society but also has changed the way we approach a lot of things. While most of the changes that resulted due to the lockdown are bound to revert back as soon as things get back to normal, according to a lot of experts, one has come to stay. Here is the ultimate guide to working from home.
Whilst some of the businesses closed and others scaled down to avoid it, one thing that every business has had to adopt is working from home as much as possible. The concept itself is fairly old and some organizations, mostly operating in the tech industry, have even been practicing it for decades. However, due to the current crisis, it has seen the quickest and most widespread adaption ever.
Work from home on a regular basis has been a big change for those who do it only occasionally while for those for whom it is the first time, the change is monumental. If you are one of the latter, it can be very difficult to adjust to the new norm. To help with the adjustment, I have compiled a few tips that have helped me be more organized as well as be more productive while staying home.
Set regular work hours
If you are doing work from home, it is important that you build a proper routine for work and stick to it. This is even more true for those who have the option to work flexible hours. Ask any freelancer or a software developer who has been working from home well before the lockdown and they will tell you how important it is to set a time for work and to stick to a routine.
You should allocate specific hours to work. If you are not sure, just keep the office hours the same 9 to 5, or whatever it may be in your case. Building a routine has a lot of benefits, and while working from home it becomes essential. The biggest benefit of following a routine is that you know that you have not overworked or underworked. You spend the same amount of time to work as you would be if you went to the office. This also helps you evaluate your productivity at home as for the same amount of time spent, you should be producing the same amount of work.
Building a routine also helps you stay more organized, hence more productive. It is very important to understand that working from home means working from home. It is an extra responsibility that you have to supervise yourself. Building a routine helps you fulfill that responsibly, especially if you are easily distracted. Sticking to a routine ensures that you have worked the time that you are required to.
Even if you are on a flexible timetable, sticking to the same or similar hours for work every day helps lets you be more productive. One of the key elements to a productive workday is good sleep the night before. By sticking to the same hours for work, you allow yourself the same hours for sleep every night, letting your body adjust its sleep cycle accordingly. This allows you to have better sleep during the nights and be more productive in the days.
Having regular hours for work is one thing, but your actual day should start with a morning routine to get you going. Jumping straight from bed to work and work to bed can leave you feeling like a zombie. Having a morning routine before work allows you to slowly let your mind and body get ready. There should be three basic components to your morning routine that are absolutely essential: exercise, hygiene and breakfast.
Exercise is maybe the most ignored part of the morning routine. Morning exercise, or simply going for a jog, pushes your mind and body to fully wake up. When you exercise, your body gets pushed a bit further than what is required for a desk job giving you that extra energy boost. Morning exercise also helps burn more fat compared to any other time of the day as you are exercising on an empty stomach. It reduces stress and depression and improves your metabolism. It is especially important to include exercise in your routine during the lockdown where it is easily ignored, limiting your daily life to bed and workstation.
The hygiene part of the morning routine is fairly simple. Taking a shower after you are done with the exercise helps you freshen up and get ready for breakfast. However, another thing that can be ignored if you are working from home is your clothes. Although it may not be a requirement by your employer, it is recommended to change into work clothes just like you do if you are working from the office. This gives your mind a que to get ready for work and further enforces a boundary between work and home while staying at the same premises.
Last but not least, you should always start your day with a nice healthy breakfast. Sleeping through the night makes the longest gap between meals and your body needs more food to prepare you for the day, and to keep you going. It is the most important meal of the day and you should also give it its due importance. Dedicate proper time for breakfast. You should not be rushing through the breakfast because you are running late for work, or having it in front of your computer as you go through your emails. Try to include a glass of freshly squeezed juice if you can. It has good sugars to give you that instant energy in the morning.
Boundaries between work and home (and family)
If you are not used to work from home, one of the most difficult things to do is keep your work and domestic lives separate while. As I mentioned above, working from home should mean performing tasks from home. Mixing domestic and work-related tasks at one time means that you will not be able to focus on any one of them, leaving you less productive and running behind schedule on your work.
Working to the office from home has a physical as well as a psychological boundary and you want to recreate this when you are doing work from home. The first thing to do in this regard is to have a dedicated workspace at home. Space should be properly lit and if possible, find a place at home that has more natural lighting. Get a comfortable chair in which you can spend 8 hours a day. Working from home should not be working from bed and having a proper desk means you will not be slouching on the sofa and hurting your back in the long run. Feel free to ask your employer for help regarding the equipment that you need for work. Most employers will have a budget for such equipment or would allow you to borrow from the office if required.
If you have roommates or other family members, you should also be very clear with them about your work schedule and what they can and cannot do. Similarly, if you are working from home, you should not be expected to look after pets, entertain guests, or attend to the service people. Of course, one in a while is absolutely ok, but developing a habit of it will certainly hurt your work performance.
Take regular breaks
Working from home, you can build a more comfortable environment for yourself, but doing so it can be easy to ignore one important park of work – the breaks. You should be aware of your company policy on breaks and should not cut your breaks short even if you are working from home. An hour for lunch and two 15 minutes breaks standard in most of the companies and you should schedule your breaks to allow your mind and body that relaxation needed to keep you productive throughout the day.
It is essential to physically leave your work desk when you take your break. Walk away from your computer and phone screens. Do light stretching to relax your body, maybe take a short walk in your backyard or have some other activity that will relieve you of that work stress. Going straight 8 hours through the workday sitting at one place can easily become counterproductive.
Lunch break is also as important as work itself. Do not cut yourself short on your break-even if you think you do not need it. If you are allowed an hour-long break for your meal, make full use of it. You can also use this time to run some errands if you need to. Use a stopwatch in your phone to keep track of time. If you get back from lunch early, walk away from your desk. If you find it difficult to implement, you can also use dedicated apps like Smart Break for Windows and TimeOut for Mac to lock yourself out of your computer for a set period of time.
Just as it is important for you to leave your desk during work hours, it is also important to leave your home as much as you reasonably can. Especially during the lockdown when you are spending most of your time indoors, your mind and body need that natural sunlight and the fresh air to avoid that feeling of getting stuck in one place.
Many people may find it depressing to stay at home all the time. However, if you can maintain social distancing and follow those other COVID-related precautionary, you certainly should leave your house to get some fresh air. You do not have to go to crowded places. Visit your nearest park at a time when it is mostly empty or drive to the countryside for some outdoor exercise to get some fresh air where there are not a lot of people. You can also take your lunch outside once in a while if you are allowed, or take your dog for a walk.
The key is to remember that it is a lockdown and not a curfew. You should educate yourself on what rules are currently implemented by your local governments and within limits, you can do a lot. Of course, it is important not to leave home just for the sake of it, but getting locked up in one place for a prolonged period of time and not leaving your home for weeks and months can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health.
Take sick days off
If you are doing work from home, it can be confusing in a lot of ways. One of the things often misunderstood by employees and exploited by employers is sick leave. Sick leaves are not some magical exemption card that you play to avoid coming to the office. It is given due to your inability to work and the need for rest when you are suffering from an illness. The same should be true if you are working from home.
Just because you can work from home, does not mean that you should be work from home with an illness. This can prolong your condition and may have a long-term impact on your well being if you make it a habit. The rule is that if you are sick, you need to rest in order to recover properly. You should not be working even if your desk is only feet away from your bed. Of course, attending a very important short meeting, replying to an urgent email or sharing work that you have already done is fine, but any more than that and you are working on your day off. This should be made clear to your employer at the beginning of your work from home arrangement.