So many people love the idea of working from home, but in reality it can be quite a culture shock. Especially if you're used to working in a busy office environment with friendly colleagues, helpful structure from your boss, and sociable drinks after work. That said, homeworking can be the best career move you ever make, with no stressful commutes, more free time, and fewer distractions enabling better concentration. Having worked full-time from home for more than 10 years, I've discovered what helps make it a really positive part of my life and what pitfalls to avoid.
For the last four years, I've been a parent working from home. This brings with it some extra challenges, but there are various ways you can make it easier. Whenever possible, arrange for childcare outside of your home when you're working, whether that's at a nursery or with family and friends. Hearing your children can be distracting, and your children will find it difficult to understand that they can't come and see you whenever they want. If that's not possible all of the time, then try to ensure that it does at least happen when you have a conference call, otherwise you might end up in a situation like BBC Dad. If you need to fire off a quick email here or there when you're not officially in work mode, your children will deal with it better if you give them a favourite activity to keep them occupied for that short time, whether that's drawing, building Lego, or screen time.
Here are 8 tips for anyone who works from home.
- Don't stay in your pyjamas all day
An unwashed zombie wearing PJs is the stereotypical image of someone who works from home. Don't let that be you. Get showered and dressed each morning. Or at least get dressed, and save the washing for later. It's liberating not having to wear formal clothes or a full face of makeup every day, but you'll feel more capable if you're not in "sleep" mode. It also helps you achieve point two.
- Do get out of the house every day
If it's snowing, pouring down, or howling a gale, you can feel smug that you don't have to leave the house at 7 a.m. — or at all for that matter. But on every other kind of day, try to cross the threshold of your home at least once. Even if it's just to pop to the shop to get a paper or for a quick walk around the block. The fresh air and change of scene will help you feel more alert and less isolated.
- Don't work in bed
Or at your kitchen table. Or on your lap on the sofa. I tried working on my laptop in bed once and ended up with severe pain in my back and legs. When you work from home you're probably at your desk much more than if you were in an office, so it's even more important to get a comfortable set-up. Invest in a proper ergonomic chair that can tilt, rise, and lower and a desk that can be positioned at the perfect height for you. Your feet should be flat on the floor, knees below your hips, and arms at a right angle at the elbow. Position your monitor so the top of the screen is eye-level.
- Do have a dedicated work area
Having a dedicated work area is important for your physical comfort and your sanity. The ideal home-working scenario is that you have a separate room that serves as your office. You can close the door on it to help make the divide between work/life clear. You can keep all your work-related stuff in there so those important files don't get accidentally trashed by your housemates or family. If you don't have space to have an entire room, create a corner somewhere quiet.
- Don't try to multitask
It's tempting to try to multitask when you work from home. With no boss looking over your shoulder, you have the freedom to look at your personal social media accounts whenever you feel like it — or even watch TV while you're working. But, these distractions make it harder to concentrate, and your work will be sloppy, or it'll take you much longer to complete your tasks. Figure out what level of distraction benefits you, like listening to music, and leave the other things for after work.
- Do connect with your team
It can be isolating working at home. If you're part of a team, use online messaging tools like Slack or Skype to stay connected. You can start the day with that informal chitchat offices are full of. If your team is close enough to visit, arrange real-life meet ups with colleagues every now and then. And if you don't have a team, feel part of a work community by going to networking events in your field. If you freelance, these kinds of get togethers can help you find more work too.
- Don't forget about food and drink
It's easy to stay at your desk all day when you don't have a tea room or cafeteria to pop to with colleagues or an official lunch break time. And it's tempting to set your alarm for five minutes before you need to start work and forget about breakfast altogether. So, you need to make a concerted effort to get up and make yourself a drink, a snack, and lunch. Take advantage of the fact you're at home and can eat whatever you want — it really helps to keep food bills down and gives you greater variety too. Set an alarm to remind you to get a fresh glass of water.
- Do set an alarm and stretch
The flexibility of taking breaks when you feel like it is a big benefit of working from home, but only if you take those breaks. Alarms are your stand-in for bosses and colleagues. You won't have a co-worker offering you a cuppa or a boss telling you when you can take your break. So set an alarm to remind you to step away from the computer for a few minutes. Some experts say you should stretch every 20 minutes, but that's not necessarily practical. Aim for a stretching break at least every hour.