More people are working from home in the UK than ever. A study conducted by the TUC in May 2016 reveals that the number of home workers sits at over 1.5 million, an increase of nearly a quarter of a million in the last decade.
Having worked from home regularly myself for the last two years, I can safely say that whilst the practice is liberating, you should take care to ensure that you continue to be productive. The flexibility is great but needs harnessing in order to maximise your output. This is especially true if you have a family - something I have fallen foul of many times before - as recently as last week!
Here are some of my top tips to help you with your setup for a home-working lifestyle.
Define Your Spaces
If you have the luxury of having a dedicated room you can call your office, then that's great. Try to make this the only place that you work. You should walk into the room and a subconscious part of your brain automatically shift gears into work mode.
For those others (myself included until recently) who need to use a living space for working, it's important to try and create an environment that differentiates between work and leisure. Sometimes, it can be something as simple as closing a door. This action tells the brain that you are about to start work, as well as others around you. Perhaps using some noise-cancelling headphones whenever you are in work mode, which you wouldn't do if you were in leisure mode
Dress For Work
I know many people who will still dress formally for work, even if they are at home! This works for them as it helps them get into the mindset of work easier. Personally, this doesn't work for me - I still like an element of comfort, however I always make a point of making sure that I don't touch the keyboard until such a time as I have washed, dressed and prepared for the day ahead.
Set Regular Hours
One of the great things about working from home is the flexibility that it can bring. I would caution against relying on this. If you can still aim to set yourself regular hours, you will find it easier to get into a working mode of flow as your brain will wire itself into the routine. The flexibility can come with not having to work 8 hours per day. Perhaps you could work for five hours, with a twenty minute gap in between. You will probably achieve as much with this as working eight hours in a busy, distracting office. Just be sure to be intentional and regular with the hours.
Communicate With Your Family and Friends
This has been the hardest part for me, especially with young children. Seeing Daddy in the house must mean that it's open season for jumping all over me and grabbing my attention. It's vital that you setup some agreed boundaries with your loved ones. I try to ensure that I'm in a room with a closable door and, when it's shut, I'm not to be disturbed. One colleague I know uses coloured tape and sticks it on the door to let everyone know his status. Red means Do Not Disturb, Yellow means knock first and Green means you can get your little butt in here - kids love that approach and find it easy to read.
Without a commute, that can invariably involve walking, you may find that your fitness can suffer when working from home. Don't let this happen. Use the fact that you can take regular breaks to get out of the house for walks, maybe even put your exercise gear on and get our for a full run or cycle. The endorphins will push the brain into another creative gear when you return home and you will find that you don't look quite as "desk-shaped"!
It can be a lonely business - I can attest to that. If you can mix your routine up, by working in more public locations such as coffee shops, you will feel slightly less like a hermit. Even if it's just a regular chat with your barista, it's a lot better than just having yourself for company, no matter how great you may think you are! There may be groups in your local area that meet early morning, such as a Business Institue or similar network for entrepreneurs.
Schedule Time For Friends - No Drop-Ins
This is tough, but one scenario I guarantee you will come across when you start working from home is as follows:
- Cue Phone Ringing
- Friend/Family Member "Hi - it's me - are you working from home today"
- Busy Telecommuter "Why Yes I am, got a busy day ahead"
- Friend/Family Member "Oh good, I'll pop in for a catch-up then. See you in a bit"
Harsh as it sounds, you just have to nip this in the bud before it becomes a 'thing'. If you were in an office in town and they were just walking past, would they pop in for a chat? No - you need to set these boundaries and help people understand that just because you are home in body, you are not there in spirit. You are working in exactly the same way as you would be if you were at a different location.
You don't have to be an idiot about it though, there are ways and means of getting this across. I always make a point of offering an alternate time for a catch-up that is more amenable to both parties. You see, it's important to still maintain relationships, even during working hours sometimes because it's easy to drift into a reclusive state when you aren't interacting with colleagues regularly. Spending an hour for a coffee with a loved one may be a great break in the day for you - just make sure it's on your terms.
Pretend You Are Not At Home
I do this one a lot, especially when it comes to phone calls on the land line. When I'm working from home, I ignore what we call the *house phone* and will only answer the door when I'm expecting a delivery. If I was at the office, I wouldn't be responding, so why should I now? No reason in my eyes.
Watch Your Focus - Be Flexible
Lastly, I would say that working from home offers some great flexibility. There are times when you need to leverage this, none more so than when your focus starts to drop. You know those moments when you're on your laptop and the temptation to wander to a social media site or news article starts to become too much to resist. You start thinking about what to cook tonight, wondering what the kids are doing at school - anything apart from the task at hand. Those are the times when you should embrace your new found freedom and get away from your machine. Go out and get some fresh air, maybe run a couple of errands, go for a run/cycle. You could read a book, or watch some self-improvement videos. If you are particularly struggling with your attention, then maybe a twenty-minute power nap is exactly what you need. There is nothing wrong with doing any of the above, as long you are intentional about them. You are sleeping because you need to recharge, a quick jog will help with the endorphin creation and prepare your mind for the next session of work.
So there we are - nine tips for working successfully from home. There are much more out there, I'd love to hear them.