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How to adjust to working from home

27 March 2020

I’ve chosen to work at home for years. First as a freelance journalist then as a communications consultant in the Third Sector. Recently though I’ve been hired for a couple of interim roles working in house so it’s safe to say I’ve experienced both ways of working.

My in-house working means I’ve got a pretty good idea what you’re going to be missing right now. The camaraderie, the fun, the shared experiences and working as part of a team for example. Or, perhaps it’ll be loss of the simple joys of going to the pub after work with colleagues, coffee in nearby cafes for “brain showers” or eating lunch in a communal kitchen that gets you.

So based on my years of working home alone here are some tips to make this time a bit more bearable.

The routine

Get up at the same time you would’ve done to go to work. Use the time you would’ve spent commuting to do something just for you. This is found time. Think of it as a treat. Maybe get outside for some exercise if this is feasible but remember to keep your distance and maintain self isolating.

Always wash and dress. This sounds trite but the temptation to fall out of bed and go straight to your computer in your pyjamas should be resisted. You need to feel professional and you won’t if you don’t wash/shave and dress as if you’re going into the office. Trust me on this. You’ll feel better if you dress for work even if you aren’t leaving your bedroom.

Turn on your computer and start your working day at the same time every day. It gives a shape to your day and it’ll help you feel focused.

Don’t have the news on all day! Maybe lunchtime but that’s it.

Avoid social media during working hours – unless that’s your job.

Eat at set times and don’t snack. Even if you snacked in the office there was always the self regulation of doing this around others. With only yourself to regulate you may comfort eat. And eating too much carb-based food during the day makes you feel sluggish.

Maybe now is a good chance to cook or prepare yourself something delicious for lunch? It’s a good way to break up the day.

The tech side

Be prepared for technology hiccups. Remote working isn’t magic. It has to be set up by the tech department and if you’re not used to this it may take time to adjust. Try not to get too frustrated if there are teething problems connecting to the office.

If your wifi goes down, try not to panic. There is always the phone to let people know you’re disconnected. Have tasks you can do for these internet down times which are probably inevitable given there may be a lot of extra pressure on the systems.

Set boundaries

If you have a family you must make it clear to them when you are working you are not to be disturbed. For anything. If you have very small children this is going to be difficult but they will adjust and they will learn to accept boundaries if you are firm about them.

This may be the toughest aspect of working from home. So be prepared. Set your children tasks. Arrange lunchtime meetings when they can show you their work. If you are sharing care with small children with a partner stick to set times when you take responsibility for them. Children will be missing their school routine in the same way as you’re missing your work one. So set them a routine and try to stick to it as best you can. Routines make children feel safe and secure.

Break it up

As well as breaking up your day with some exercise and lunch make sure you break up the week too. Do something to ensure weekends are different. Maybe dress differently, get up later, spend more time in the kitchen having a cooked breakfast.

Find ways to socialise over the weekend so it feels different. Something I do is tweet along to Top of the Pops and the other music programmes on BBC4 every Friday night. It can feel a bit like a virtual party, chatting to others on the hashtag #TOTP. Think of things you can do to give your brain a message: work time is over, this is play. This is especially important if you have a family.

Log it

Keep a log of your activities. Even if your employer or client doesn’t require this it’s a useful thing to have for reference. Doesn’t have to be anything complicated; just a document on your desktop where you record timings and whatever you did.

Future historians will be very glad of personal records kept at this time of how it felt to live through the virus. It’ll also help you to write it down if you’re struggling. So keep a virus diary too. Look forward to the time when you’re back in your office and can compare notes with fellow workers.

Get a different view

If you’re live in a multi-occupancy home with no shared space such as a lounge you’re going to need something to get you out your room. Go for walks and breaks remembering to keep away from other people when you’re out the house. If someone else in your house or flat is also working from home maybe suggest you swap rooms during the day time so you at least go to a different room to work? Move whatever furniture you have in your room around a bit, if you can. Try not to work on your bed as this may make sleeping difficult if you associate the bed with work. Can you work in the kitchen?

You’re in control now!

Lots of offices have music on. If this is a bugbear for you (it was for me!) you can work in blissful silence. On the other hand if you hate working in silence and you co-workers preferred it you can control your working environment in a way you couldn’t before. Same goes for temperature control, lunch times, and other things. You can also swear liberally if this helps!

Also carrying out phone interviews of case studies is much easier when no one else is around. It’s also reassuring for the people you interview.

Talk to someone

You’re probably going to feel isolated and a bit down at times. This is normal. Find someone you can talk to, preferably over the phone as that’s more intimate than over a screen. Have a “WFH buddy” you can share the ups and downs with. Maybe arrange times to call each other – it’ll give you something to look forward to.

Above all, remember this will pass. It isn’t forever. You’ll be back at the office with your colleagues soon enough. We all need something to look forward to. So think about the time ahead when you return and tell your stories of how you ended up talking to the kettle and the toaster!

Photo: Kelly Lacy on Pexels

Laura Marcus

communications consultant, freelance

Laura was a reporter and sub-editor for the Surrey Comet in Kingston after which she left to go freelance working for a variety of national newspapers and leading women’s magazines. She’s also an occasional BBC radio broadcaster. Laura switched to comms after being approached by a major charity and asked to bring her expertise and bulging contacts book. Having trained as a Relate counsellor Laura particularly enjoys case study work.