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Learning to work from home

Survive the pandemic lockdown with help from Fair Finance.

Rewind back to the beginning of 2020, and for most people in the UK, work meant leaving home to go to a different place. At that time, only around one in three people worked from home, and less than half of them did so all the time.

However, in the first UK-wide lockdown, people were told to work from home wherever possible. This is not possible for everyone, particularly key workers. But the crisis has proved to businesses that not only can many jobs be done from home, but most workers are being just as productive - if not more so - as when in the office.

Already, around 13% of London businesses have stated that working from home will now become part of their standard practice. Some, for example Twitter, have gone one step further by announcing that their employees can now work from home “forever”.

But is this what people want? Perhaps in the early days of lockdown, some people may have been unsure whether working from home would work for them. However, it now appears that the majority of those who were asked to work from home because of Covid-19 want to continue doing so for at least part of the time.

Which all means that for many people it looks as if working from home is going to be here to stay, so it makes sense to take the time to learn how to do it well.

Here are Ten Top Tips from Fair Finance to help you make working from home really work for you:

 

1. Routine matters

One of the golden rules of working from home is to get into a regular routine. This doesn’t necessarily need to be 9 to 5. But there are three important things to consider:

  • When are you expected to be available by your boss / colleagues / clients?
  • When are you at your most productive?
  • What works best with your home environment and other responsibilities?

Once you have established the working hours that work best for you, then do your best to stick to them. Yes there may be days where you need to be more flexible, for either work or personal reasons, but you are likely to work better if you have a regular daily routine.

 

2. Create a work space

As well as planning when you are working, it’s important to decide where you will work. Most people find they are more productive if there is a set place where they usually do their work. This is because you will associate that place with work, rather than relaxation or other home-based activities.

Not every home has space for a separate home office. But you can still try to find a corner somewhere to use as your work space. Whether this is in a spare bedroom or dining room or even an outbuilding, you can make it work for you.

Whatever space you do find, it’s important to ensure you set it up as well as possible for you to be able to work safely and comfortably. Investing in a decent chair is important, so that you are at the right height and angle to be able to use your computer easily without having to bend or stretch.

It’s also important to keep your work area clean and tidy. Unlike your previous office, there is no-one to clean up after you. And if you slip into bad habits and let your work space get messy and disorganised, it will end up being a block to your productivity and efficiency.

Despite all the above, you may find that from time to time there’s a day when you just can’t focus. So it’s also a good idea to have one or two back up places where you can go to work for a change of scenery. For example a coffee shop or local library. Anywhere you can continue working but perhaps feel a little more connected, with a bit of everyday life background noise going on.

 

3. Dress for work

It is very tempting not to bother with your appearance when working from home. And it is definitely an advantage not having to get fully suited and booted every day, geared up for the commute to the office.

But it is still important to build into your routine the concept of getting ready for work. Whilst you can perhaps wear more comfortable and relaxed clothes at home than in the office, you will most probably feel more in the mindset of work if you look presentable. It all helps to get you geared up for work and boost your energy.

This is also really helpful if your daily work is likely to include contact with others, for example video calls. It’s good to be prepared for such situations at short notice, rather than be caught on the hop.

 

4. Plan your day

As well as your set working hours, it’s important to plan each day on an individual basis. Start each day by making a To Do list, in whatever format works for you. Some people prefer a handwritten list, others use a computer calendar or app.

Ensure that you make your list realistic. If you put too many things on it you will feel defeated before you start. So start with the most important things, for example meetings, conference calls and urgent tasks. Then if there should still be time left, add on a few more things in order of priority.

But don’t fall into the trap of trying to do too much. It’s easy to do this when you start working from home. You want to make sure that people know you are working hard and not slacking, but if you are not careful you may end up doing much more than you are expected to do.

Having a list of goals and tasks for the day will help you feel motivated and give your work a sense of purpose. You can then work through your list in the way that works best for you. It’s a good idea to break your work into chunks, working for a certain length of time then taking a break to refresh yourself. We will look further at this below.

 

5. Check in with colleagues

Many companies or departments have some kind of regular online briefing for staff. These can be really useful to keep you in the loop about what’s going on and help you organise your own priorities.

Over and above this, it’s important to keep in touch with your colleagues so you don’t feel isolated. Perhaps you have an idea to run past them or need their help solving a problem or getting information. Don’t hesitate: get in touch. It can seem more of an imposition to contact someone when they’re in their home, but just try to act as you would if you were together in the office.

Also don’t be afraid to pick up the phone for a social chat from time to time. Again, this is what you would normally do if you were together in the office, and it’s important for both you and the business to keep up with your work friendships. If you are worried about interrupting their work then why not pre-arrange a time for a phone call, or maybe even share a Zoom lunch together. Or if there is anyone who lives close to you perhaps you could meet up for some fresh air and a chat at some point during the day.

 

6. Take a break

As well as being social with your colleagues, do remember that when you are working from home it is ok to take breaks during the day. You are just as entitled to this as office-based workers, but because you are at home you can feel guilty. But don’t.

We looked earlier at splitting your work time into chunks and taking regular breaks. It can feel easier to just keep going, but you will be more productive if you get up to stretch your legs or have a coffee or a quick breath of fresh air. Otherwise you may well find yourself just staring at your screen and not actually doing anything.

The beauty of working from home is that when you do take a longer break - e.g. lunchtime - there is so much more you can do than if you were in the office. Whether you decide to do some jobs round the house, get some outdoor exercise, go shopping, or sit and read a book or watch TV is totally up to you. But do something that will use the time constructively and also recharge your batteries.

 

7. Look after yourself

Taking breaks are just one aspect of looking after yourself whilst working from home. You also need to be careful what you eat and drink whilst working. You need to eat and drink well to give you the energy to be productive, but not overdo things.

On the one hand, you are away from the office traditions such as takeaway coffees and lunches, cakes, doughnuts and birthday drinks. So in theory you should be able to eat more healthily - and save money too.

But the temptation of being at home is that you can eat and drink whatever and whenever you want. So it’s a good idea to try and establish some discipline for your working days. Perhaps even plan your lunch and snacks in advance, so you can ensure you have everything you need in the kitchen and don’t end up resorting to junk food.

 

8. Guard your personal time

We looked earlier at the danger of doing too much work through feeling you have to prove something. Another aspect of this is that you need to decide when you are going to switch off from work.

Even if you have regular working hours as we’ve recommended, it can be difficult to switch off. You begin to check emails one last time in the evening, then get involved in something that really could have waited until tomorrow.

To make a real success of working from home, you need to learn to compartmentalise your work life and home life. This means keeping them separate.

It can be helpful to create a finishing work routine to stick to, and draw a line under your working day. Clear your desk, switch off equipment, then walk away and get on with the rest of your life.

It can be hard to get into this routine but it’s important for your well-being and your personal and family life. So let your colleagues know you will not be checking emails or taking phone calls outside your working hours. And stick to it. You will be glad you did!

 

9. Keep learning

Another important thing that’s easy to overlook is that you will not always be doing the job that you are doing now. You will most probably want to develop your skills and abilities, and move onto bigger and better jobs when you are ready to do so.

So even though you are working at home, you need to continue to learn and develop. If your company is not providing opportunities for training and development then you need to ask them, and also create opportunities yourself. There may be online courses you can do to improve your skills, for example take a look at the government-run Skills Toolkit for free courses on a wide range of skills.

Also ask your company if there are any opportunities to work virtually alongside someone else to learn something new, or perhaps to research a topic of interest to your business and do an online presentation to the rest of the team.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to learn and develop. Even when you are on your own at home, it is still important to be looking ahead to the future.

 

10. Have fun

Last but not least, remember to have fun. It is something that can easily be forgotten during this awful year. But many of us used to have fun at work, and there is no reason why this can’t continue even if most of the team are now working remotely.

We’ve already looked at the importance of staying in touch with colleagues during the working day, but why not encourage them to organise social gatherings too? Even if physical meetups are not possible due to Covid-19 restrictions, there are still other things that can be done.

Just a few ideas for this are:

  • Friday night Zoom drinks after work
  • Online quiz nights
  • Virtual escape rooms
  • Zoom karaoke or dance nights
  • Themed conference calls e.g. fancy dress
  • Virtual award ceremonies for weekly achievements (the funnier the better)
  • Watching online gigs or theatre productions together

Whatever you decide, it’s important to be able to continue socialising even during changing circumstances, and perhaps establishing some good new habits for your company. Encouraging a fun work environment really helps to boost everyone’s emotional wellbeing, build trust and improve teamwork.

We hope the ideas above helps you improve the way you work from home, and also enjoy it more. Check back here soon for more lifestyle and financial tips from Fair Finance.

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