The COVID-19 outbreak hit many folks hard. People who were used to seeing their co-workers every day (however irritating they were) suddenly found themselves locked in the house on their own. Relationships were tested as people found themselved locked into a small space for a concentrated amount of time. Now, nearly half a year later, remote working has become the new normal for a significant number of people. Whether planned or not, the transition from working in person to the carpet commute can be a tricky one.
At one point in my career, I worked remotely for 8 years. During that time, I loved it and hated it all at the same time. I loved the ability to set my own schedule around work; enjoy coffee breaks in the garden with the dog; lunchtime could easily include the home gym and I could cook whatever I wanted. However, it had its downsides too – lack of water-cooler chat with colleagues often made it hard to form friendships and when I did go into the office people were so pleased to see me that I got very little work done for all the folks stopping by to say hi. After a while though, I learned some hard lessons that helped me get the balance right so that home working became much more of a pleasure than a problem.
Here are my top tips for making working from home, work for you:
1.Walk and Talk.
If you’re working from home and having phone conversations that don’t require you to be glued in front of your laptop then get up and walk around. Pace around the room while you talk. You’ll be amazed the number of steps you get in and that small amount of exercise can keep you invigorated through the day.
If you are glued to the computer, then consider standing up for some phone calls. Even that can get the blood flowing enough to wake you up a bit. If you’re in this for the long hall I’d highly recommend a standing desk. You don’t need to go buy anything special if you already have a perfectly suitable table you’re working from, you can buy converters that sit on top of the desk and allow you to raise and lower the height from standing to seated as much as you like. If you are standing, I’d also recommend being barefoot on a standing mat. It sounds strange but these squidgy mats help keep the stress off your joints and prevent sore soles of your feet – think of it like a giant insole.
2.Digital Coffee catchups.
One of the things I struggled with working from home was the lack of social contact that wasn’t just work chat. People would phone me for a work issue and I’d end up trying to engage them in conversation around it. Often to their frustration when they had a busy schedule to contend with. What I implemented in the end was a couple of “coffee catchups” via skype or facetime with individuals that I was closer to. We’d talk a little work but more than anything it was a break and a chance just to chat. This is particularly good if you’re both working from home as you’re likely to both appreciate the social interaction equally. Agree upfront though, that it isn’t a work call, it’s just a chance to have a chat. Schedule it, it’s as important as the rest of your day.
3.Close the door.
In a small apartment, this can be the hardest but absolutely the most important. Put a door between where you work and where you relax. If you have a spare bedroom work from there and then at the end of the day close the door. Close the door and it remains shut until you start work the next day. If you have a separate work mobile phone leave it on your desk and even if it rings do NOT open that door until you start work the next day.
This will prevent you from working constantly and give you some mental distance. That mental distance is crucial to prevent burn out. It’s far too easy to quickly check and reply to those emails as they come in and completely miss all your relaxing time. Think of it this way – by constantly being “at work” you are setting the precedent that you don’t need downtime. When you do then take the time to rest some unreasonable people can be, at worst, annoyed that you’re not replying at your usual efficiency and at best worried that something has happened to you.
If you can’t physically put a door between you and the computer, try tidying it all away and putting it in your backpack/bag at the end of the day. If the thought of packing and unpacking every morning is unbearable then at least throw a bed sheet over the set up at the end of the day so you’re not staring at it all day. It will be a mental trigger for you that now you’re resting not working.
Whatever happens, regardless of whether your work from home period is an unusual blip or a longer-term fixture please make sure to take the time to look after yourself and reach out to others if you need help. Isolation and loneliness are no joke and a simple phone call or text can go a long way to bringing light to the darkness.