Making it Work from Home: Eight Top Tips for a Productive Work Day
The effects of COVID-19 have created business unusual for many of us, with working from home becoming the norm. For a huge percentage of the population, this is a sudden and new working environment and it can be challenging to juggle work, school and home life in one space.
Much of the challenge lies in a single word: ‘routine’. Our 'normal' routine is established, collaborative and, although it may be flexible, it will almost certainly involve fixed points and other people. At home, however, an environment that is usually separate from the deadline-driven professional world of work, life is generally much more relaxed and less regimented.
If we’re going to work from home, we need to merge these two worlds, without losing focus during the nine-to-five, and without allowing the home office to infiltrate our downtime. It’s not easy, particularly when we’re already coping with all the anxiety of these extraordinary times, along with the social isolation and health concerns that come with them. For some people, loneliness and mental health will be ongoing challenges, while for others, a busy family home will be at odds with the need for a quiet and professional workspace.
The picture looks different depending on your job role, your home environment and your previous experience of working from home. We wanted to offer some real-world tips and advice, however, so we asked some of the Morson Group team for their insights on how to adapt to working from home and adopt new routines.
Establish a regular workspace
With the sun shining for most of us, the spring weather creates the temptation to work in the garden on days when it’s fine but part of establishing a routine at home is anchored in being ‘at work’. Lots of people have shared their 20 second commute from the bedroom to the spare room on social media, but not all of this is tongue in cheek. The transition from home to work environment is part of the process of stepping from one mode to the other. Perhaps more importantly, it also allows you to step away from work at the end of the day, even though you’re at home throughout.
Having a workstation, no matter how Heath Robinson it may be, enables you to get organised, have everything you need to hand and step into a professional, focused environment. You can still pop to the kitchen for a cuppa and take a lunch break in the garden (more on this below), but you will clearly differentiate between work and home.
Rebekah Lee, head of marketing at Morson, explained how important this is to her:
“I pop the coffee on and go and clean and tidy my workspace first thing in the morning. I find that having a clean and uncluttered workspace is essential for me to take control of my day, feel centred and organised.”
Wake up for work
Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t mean office hours are out of the window. Getting up at a regular time and having a routine for how you spend your time getting ready for work is just as important when you’re working from home as it is when you’re in the office.
As Kerry Redmond, executive manager - head of Morson Screening commented:
“I wake up early and like to sit outside if the weather is nice. Usually, I will take our gorgeous doggy around the block and through the park and back home again, all before 7.30am. I think it is great to have a good morning routine and get up, washed and dressed and ready to work in line with your usual working day.”
Sleep your way to productivity
Just as important as getting up at a regular time for work is going to bed at a regular and reasonable hour. It’s tempting when every day feels like a weekend to slip in to weekend habits of late nights, particularly if you’re living with a partner who has been furloughed.
The pressures of these strange times can make sleep more difficult than usual, so a good sleep routine is not just important for productivity but also for good mental health.
Organise your day
One of the biggest challenges for many people is that the external structures that map out how you manage your workload are not in place when you’re working from home, so it’s important to establish a routine that works for you. In this way, you can focus on tasks without becoming distracted and maximise your productivity.
For many of the Morson team, this means catching up and planning in the morning. Rebekah said,
“I begin the workday by answering emails and scheduling activity, then I can dive into the day’s projects.”
Kerry echoed this sentiment:
“I think it is key to tackle your inbox in the morning,” she said, “and then any specific pieces of work or client activity in the afternoon.”
Get fit for work
Exercise might not be going to the gym at the moment, but it should still be part of your routine because it helps us to feel energised and ready for work. One of the Morson team told us that he’s enjoying an hour-long bike ride early each morning before work, for example, because there’s so little traffic on the roads
Rebekah maintains that exercise is key for her too.
“I find that exercise in the morning works really well for me, so I set my alarm around 6, giving me time to fit it in before work. I struggle with meditation and yoga, so for me it’s cardio in the morning to get me focused and clear my head, which either means a HIIT session or a run just as the sun is coming up and the only sound is birdsong.”
Others have found the plethora of online exercise classes is a great way to start the day. As one of the team said: “PE with Joe Wicks in the morning is a great way to start the day with exercise and family time before I open my laptop and start work.”
Breaks are good for you
For most of us, working from home means working alone, which is something many of us are not used to. It may mean that we’re not frustrated by interruptions but it could also prevent us from having the natural breaks we’d have to catch up with colleagues or pop out for a sandwich if we were in the office.
Taking regular breaks is important, whether it’s topping up your vitamin D in the garden or checking the kids’ progress with the day’s home schooling tasks. As Kerry told us:
“It is so important to take regular breaks away from your work area to keep focused working from home all day.”
Feed your productivity
The downside to working from home is that you’re always a short walk from the fridge. It’s all too easy to fall into a snacking habit but it’s not great for productivity.
Try to keep to regular mealtimes and eat a nutritious lunch. As one of our team told us: “poached egg on toast has become a lunchtime favourite because the time it takes to make it gives me a chance for a proper break from my desk and it keeps me full all afternoon.”
One of the hardest challenges of the lockdown is the lack of social interaction it involves. For those who live alone, the change to working from home involves an especially difficult transition from a busy office. It’s important to catch up with colleagues and, where possible, do this by telephone or video chat rather than email to maximise human contact during the day.
For Kerry, whose partner also works for Morson, this is much less of an issue.
“We have set up a “mini Morson” at home,” she said. “It’s great having someone who works for the same company to bounce ideas off and chat decisions through… though I can’t get a word in edgeways at the moment!”