This year, the arrival of COVID19 has resulted in a surge in remote working. One survey in September 2020 indicated that 40% of UK office workers were still working from home.
For some, this shift has been welcome, offering a safer alternative to working in an office amidst a pandemic. But not everyone has found it easy to adjust to this new normal. Many people new to remote struggle with working efficiently and staying productive. Some small adjustments can help you get the most from working from home.
by Allie Cooper
Give your homeworking setup a boost
Lockdowns and other restrictions meant that many people suddenly found themselves working from home for the first time, with no chance to prepare or get set up properly. If you’ve been muddling through with your laptop perched on your knees, surrounded by empty coffee mugs and piles of papers, now might be a good time to pause and draw breath.
A comfortable, well-organised space that’s a pleasure to work in can really give your productivity a boost. Try setting aside and hour or two to get your workplace organised. Of course, it can be a real challenge to create a calm work space in a busy family home or a tiny apartment. But even small tweaks can help you feel more in control, such as getting some storage containers for your papers and desk clutter. And adding a few items that make you feel calm and focused, such as a couple of favourite house plants or photos, can give you a lift.
Take a look at how you’re sitting, too. Long-term sofa-surfing isn’t great for your back and general health. Ideally, your employer will help out with this – for example, if you need help to buy a better office chair. But even if you’re perched at the kitchen table, it only takes a few minutes to work through an ergonomic checklist and to find a few simple ‘props’ to raise or lower your screen and get yourself sitting more comfortably. Take a look at the Health and Safety Executive’s page with advice for homeworkers , including a video guide to getting your desk properly set up. You’ll be able to focus more easily if you’re comfortable. Plus, your back will thank you.
Work out your ideal schedule
Working from home can feel lonely and disorienting at times. It can help to focus on the ‘gains’, such as the time saved on commuting. Take a look at your typical week: is there a way to make the most of those saved hours to do something you enjoy?
You might also be able to restructure your work day so that it better suits the way you like to work. Some employers want their remote teams to stick to standard office hours. But even if you don’t have a lot of choice over your work hours, you might be able to find a pattern that works for you and start creating a broad structure for your working day and week. Knowing you’ve got team meetings and key tasks scheduled in each week can help you feel more on top of things.
If your employer does allow more flexibility, you could use this time to experiment with creating a work-day that’s a better fit for you. Some people find they’re more effective if they start and finish work earlier – or later. It’s easier to play around with timings if you don’t have to factor in a long commute. If your employer allows it, you could even try out a four-day work-week. This study found that a four day week resulted in gains in productivity.
Keep a to-do list
Though not exactly groundbreaking advice, keeping a to-do list helps to increase efficiency. Psychologist Dr. David Cohen explains that these lists give us a structure when everything else is chaotic and unpredictable.
Having a checklist of things you need to do is also a visual representation of your progress. Ticking those items off one by one can be very satisfying and can fuel your motivation.
There are so many options for keeping track of tasks. Some people swear by bullet journals. If you prefer digital solutions, there are many great apps (some free) that help you organise and keep track of tasks. Software like Monday or Asana can do the heavy-lifting for managing complex projects and large teams. For more simple task-tracking, myworkhive’s current favourites include Trello and Doist. Zoho is another nice option, letting you create attractive online notebooks for all your ideas and checklists.
Whatever system you choose, the key is to keep on top of it. Try setting aside a few minutes at the end of each work day to review what’s been done and plan out your time for the next day. It makes is much easier to start the next day feeling focused.
Focus on time management
Before COVID19, many employers worried that allowing their staff to work from home would result in a drop in productivity. But study after study has confirmed what long-term homeworkers always knew – we can be just as productive at home. In fact, the tendency is for remote staff to overwork, because work is always ‘there’ and there is no clear cut-off to end the work day.
Working longer hours is not ideal. In fact, a Stanford study showed that the output of a 70-hour work week was almost the same as a 50-hour work week. And many of us have been juggling new tasks like homeschooling, squeezing the time available for work.
Working smarter means you’re not giving each of your tasks more time than necessary. Most of us struggle to estimate how long tasks are going to take, but it gets easier with practice. Try looking at your tasks for the week and blocking out time in your calendar for the main ones, trying not to over- or underestimate how long it’s likely to take. Allocating tasks on your calendar can be a good way to give your work-from-home day some structure, if you’re feeling adrift. It’s also easier to be more accountable, as you can see when you’re powering through and getting things done – and when you’re not. This applies to taking breaks, too. If you’ve a tendency to get to the end of a day working from home without having set foot outside, try scheduling breaks into your calendar and setting up reminders.
Set clear boundaries
The great thing about offices is that you can leave work behind at the end of the day. When you’re working from home, you might need to explore new ways to set clear boundaries between your work and personal life. This can be something physical, like a home office or any designated workspace. But if space for this is limited, putting papers away in a box at the end of the day helps to keep work out of sight during your down-time.
Another way to set boundaries is to communicate with the people you live with. Let them know what your work schedule is like, so they know not to interrupt you at specific hours. Following a schedule helps here, so your housemates or family know what to expect.
Distractions are the number one productivity killer. Unfortunately, there are many distractions at home (pets, kids, phone calls, social media, housework – the list is long). The good thing is that at least some of these are within our control. For instance, a Fellowes report stated that mobile phones are the third biggest source of distraction from work. You can use app blockers to limit your use of your phone while working, or simply be strict with yourself about when you can check for notifications. Noise-cancelling headphones or even signs can work too.
Clutter is another distraction you can keep on top of. Keep your desk organised by using storage containers and tidying unnecessary things away. Decluttering also applies to your work computer, as digital distraction can reduce productivity, too. When we’re busy and stressed it’s all too easy to let the clutter (both paper and digital) build up. One trick is to schedule some clear-up time – say, once a month – and block that time out in your calendar, just to make sure it gets done
Find your community
If you’re used to a busy office, remote working can feel rather isolating, especially if you’re living and working by yourself. Working solo for long periods can make it harder to stay productive. To counter this, try exploring new ways to stay connected to your virtual work community.
You could schedule a virtual coffee with a colleague, or look out for online conferences and webinars in your sector. You could even try myworkhive’s friendly and free virtual coworking community, which brings together people working from home from all over the world. Taking some time out to connect with others can actually help you feel re-energised and really give your productivity a boost.
Be kind to yourself
Making a rapid adjustment to working from home – in the middle of a global health crisis – has been a huge challenge. Remote working in the midst of a pandemic is not like a normal decision to try home working, where there’s time to plan and get organised.
If you’re finding it really stressful and your efficiency has taken a hit, give yourself time to adjust. Maybe start to work on some of the tips we’ve listed above. And if you are really struggling, do make sure to reach out to a friend or colleague or to your boss – you won’t be the only one finding this new way of life hard.
We hope these tips help you transition to longer-term remote working. Once you get over that period of adjustment, you might just find you never want to work in an office again!
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