WFH workarounds – How to stay productive and balanced

WFH workarounds – How to stay productive and balanced

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How to stay productive and balanced when working from home for the long term

As large numbers of the world’s population play their part to combat Covid-19 by staying at home, many are getting to grips with an extended period of homeworking for the first time. The recent update to lockdown restrictions in the UK indicates that, although those who cannot work from home are encouraged to return to work, it will be some time before the rest of the working population is permitted to head to the office again.

As working from home becomes a longer-term reality for many, it is even more important that we think carefully about how we can look after our wellbeing while also being productive in a home-working environment. Now the novelty has well and truly worn off, it’s a good time to step back and take stock of how we can develop good home-working habits and a set-up that helps us manage in difficult times.

Several members of the WebTMS team are seasoned remote and/or homeworkers, thanks to our flexible culture, so we’ve put our heads together to share our top ten tips for getting the job done while you’re based where you live:

caveat: please apply these tips within the parameters of any government restrictions or advice that is in place in your region.

1. Walk to work: When your office is in the same building as your bedroom (or even in the same room!) it can be helpful to establish some mental distance between your morning routine and work routine. Nick’s top tip for this is to walk to work, even if that is only around the garden. Ideally, a walk around the block is even better – if that’s possible given the restrictions in your area – so you can then re-enter ‘the office’.  A bit of fresh air and some physical movement helps generate some psychological separation and clears your mind before you start work.

2. Dress for work: It can be easy to get out of the office mindset when you are working from home. However, keeping a similar routine as though you were going to the office can help. It may sound obvious, but the simple act of having a shower and dressing normally really helps put you in the mindset for work – it also helps create separation between “work” hours and relaxation time. As an additional boost to this, if you’re still finding it hard to concentrate, it to put your work shoes on. It’s amazing how this small physical cue can get you into the work mindset.

3. Pay attention to yourself and find out when you’re most productive: When you are homeworking you are much more in control of your workload. You may still have virtual meetings to attend but, overall, you will have more freedom to work the way that suits you best – this is one of the key benefits of home working. Pay attention to when you perform certain tasks better. E.g. do you find you have more focus in the morning? In that case reserve time in the morning for tasks requiring a sustained period of concentration. Finding your rhythm and routine pays dividends over time. Some people find it very helpful to write a ‘to do’ list the evening before in preparation as a go-to list of tasks to focus on the following day.

4. Tailor your workspace: make sure your homeworking set up is as professional and comfortable as it can be in the circumstances; the novelty of perching a laptop on the duvet covers soon wears off! Sit at a decent chair with a table at a good height. You need to act as your own occupational health manager and make sure you don’t store up physical problems due to adopting awkward working positions. That doesn’t mean you can’t experiment – we’ve seen standing workstations created using ironing boards, for example.  And make sure you can step away from it at the end of the day – either by closing the door or packing it away.

5. All “start work” at once: A benefit of homeworking in more conventional times is being able to keep an eye on older children when they are on school holidays, while still getting (some) work done. However, they still need structure and interaction. Our top tip is to find an activity that they can do independently and start it at the same time you plan to start work, giving you all a chance to begin the day productively. Some great online activities we’ve come across so far are:

  • Joe Wicks PE sessions at 9am (UK time) each day (beware, trying to keep up when doing this with your kids can prove tiring!)
  • Zooniverse is a great citizen science resource where volunteers can help solve scientific problems. For example, the climate science team at Reading University (our local university) is looking for volunteers to help digitise decades of written rainfall records – this is a surprisingly relaxing activity and kids with an interest in meteorology will enjoy helping out. If rain is not their thing, there are many other projects – from counting penguins to counting stars – to get involved with.

The challenge of homeworking is much more difficult if you are also caring for younger children. There are a number of great online resources for younger children, but there’s no doubt that your productivity will be lower. Popsugar has a list of good resources including the brilliant “Read along with David Walliams” which takes place at 11 am each day.

6. Remember to eat – and try to eat healthily: When the working rhythm that you’re used to is disrupted, it is easy to get into unhelpful habits such as working through lunch. This leads to a slump in concentration early afternoon which often results in snacking on whatever can be grabbed from the cupboard (we’re speaking from experience here!)  Try to plan lunches and take time away from your screen to eat them. If you are able to get outside for some fresh air it sets you up for a much more productive afternoon.

7. Turn off notifications when you need to focus: for some reason, app notifications are MUCH more distracting when you’re working from home – perhaps it’s the lack of external stimulation, but every bing and buzz seems to demand attention. Especially in the current intensive news cycle, constant updates can add to anxiety and distraction. If you need to focus on a particular task, use tools like focus assist to stop your flow being interrupted, and leave your phone in another room if possible.

8. Check out productivity apps: if you’re finding it hard to focus, there are several tools and techniques that can help you develop your WFH rhythm. A popular approach is the Pomodoro technique, which uses focus time blocks interspersed with breaks to improve productivity.

9. Check in with colleagues – not just about work: it is easy to feel isolated socially as well as physically when you work remotely. All of the social interaction that just happens in an office environment is suddenly that much harder to come by, so you need to make an effort. Check in with your workmates to see how they’re doing – whatsapp groups or chat tools are a godsend for this.

10. Don’t forget to switch off: the boundaries between work and home life are never more blurred than when they happen in the same location. At the end of the working day, try to do something completely different – if possible, something that involves movement or raising your heart rate; endorphins are your friend when trying to stay mentally and physically balanced.

Working from home for a long period has challenges, but many of us are fortunate that we can access the tools and systems – like WebTMS – from wherever we are. Therefore, it’s not always technology that is the limiting factor, it’s the psychological adjustment to being more isolated and less physically connected. Self-care is especially important during major upheavals, and it takes time to develop the mechanisms that will help you stay balanced and productive, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

There are a wealth of great organisations in our sector who are sharing their tips for healthy and effective homeworking, such as Trademarknow and CITMA. Check them out and why not share your own tips with us through Twitter or LinkedIn.

As we continue adjusting to a way of working that is likely to become the norm for some time, our thoughts are with those who are on the front line and having to adjust in very different ways. We applaud their commitment and courage and wish everyone well.