We can all agree it’s been a long four months, with most of us ready to exit lockdown and return to … normality? But what if we crave a different normal, equating perfectly the work-life balance we so desire? Can this be achieved by working from home? Many have managed it already although tackling work crises in our pyjamas, spending all day creating the perfect work environment instead of actually working, or juggling a customer’s requirements with our child’s education is not sustainable long term. So, with distractions aplenty, how can this opportunity be grasped when home-life constantly imbalances our work? The following advice may seem obvious but think back – how are you coping really?
Rule 1 - Create a space
Even with hot-desking nobody has to actually share a desk at the same time. So take a few moments to think about the space available and what is possible to separate your work from your home. Set aside a table (or the employer can provide a fold-away desk – tax deductible for them if they buy it) in a room not essential to daily life, and furnish it with the necessary equipment. Add a good light, an aesthetically pleasing plant that doesn’t require as much attention as the kids, and make sure you have secure storage for stationery and paperwork. Ensure you sit correctly as strains like back-pain can be especially debilitating. Visit https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-sit-correctly/ for how to set up safely for a healthy working life. Having your own space, no matter how small or portable, away from the hubbub of home provides peace and quiet to work without distraction, but also puts you in a different mindset. Start calling it your office and ask your employer to pay you for the privilege. From 6 April 2020 your employer can pay you up to £6 a week (£26 a month) to cover your additional costs like telephone or utilities if you have to work from home. You cannot claim for items which have no additional cost like broadband access unless an upgrade is required to improve productivity. By learning to disassociate the living space, for example, with being a place to work, not only will you increase productivity, but you won’t come to resent the space as a cog in your daily grind.
Rule 2 - Get dressed
Ablute and get dressed. Putting on clothes instead of staying in pyjamas all day is an instant mood-booster. Clearly, this doesn’t have to be a suit (it could be if that floats your boat) but if you find it difficult to separate work from home try and put yourself in a work-environment. Opt for something comfortable such as loungewear but add a touch of formality like jewellery or cologne. These small perks will promote the mental adjustment to work mode and maintain productivity. When you know you will see colleagues face-to-face, make an effort. Coat on the mascara, whip on a tie, brush your hair. Angle your camera in readiness for any meetings, so you are not just looking at yourself (this can cause stress) and ensure what people see is not up your nose.
Rule 3 - Establish a routine
Just as in the office, it’s essential to set up a routine even if the hours have changed created around a more flexible approach. Once created, sit down in your work space. Make a cup of tea at 8:50, turn your computer on at 8:55, and you’ll have nothing left to do except work by 9:00. You could even set aside a time to dress later, to force you to move away from your work station to take a break, and because the time taken to commute is removed you may wish to lengthen these breaks. Now, at lunchtime, it’s important to revel in those 30-60 minutes as a break from productivity. Don’t just think 'I’ll crack on straight through until 4', then clock off early, because studies show human beings cannot concentrate at full capacity for long uninterrupted periods and it is important to retain productivity or this opportunity may be removed. Taking a break of at least 30 minutes is required by health and safety and should be part of your employment contractual terms, so working from home should be no different. During this time, do whatever you would at the office: go to a different room, eat your pasta salad, take a walk around the block (exercise is vital; check out https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/for-your-body/move-more/home-workout-videos/ for some simple ideas)– some may be able to slip into home-mode and load the washing machine, but often doing chores will take you out of the work mind-set. Be strict with yourself: once the time is over, sit back down refreshed and ready for the afternoon tasks. When 5 o’clock rolls around, make sure to complete the task you started, don’t leave it half done even if it means you stay an extra fifteen minutes. Close your computer down and shut the door on your home office (or put it away if portable). Clock off for the night, go for a walk, and return home feeling as though you’ve commuted and thus leaving the stress of work at the office. Isolation can create mental health issues so take a look at https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/toolkit/coronavirus-and-isolation-supporting-yourself-and-your-colleagues/ for practical guidance.
Rule 4 - IT
Either use it or obtain training. There are several technologies now which are geared up for communication and shared working, which once you have them sussed, will increase productivity and force you to stay in touch and schedule work in an efficient manner which works for everyone. Work together as a team to find out what will work for you internally (for a virtual shared tea-break) or externally with customers.
Rule 5 - Firm fair flexible
We’ve arrived at the dreaded question: what to do with kids (or pets – walk them)? For some, kids are back in school, so drop off and pick up times allow for a natural break in the day, but for those with hairy hooligans still running wild at home, the biggest tip is to remain firm but fair. If you’re in your home office and your child comes bounding asking endless questions about the extinction of the white rhino, explain that you have to work sharing with them timings or task deadlines. Be persistent: set clear boundaries but keep your promises and give them your full attention at the set time. Take this as an opportunity to share with them the economics of home and that new toys and ipads cost money, so in order to buy these things mummy/daddy/guardian has to work. Take a look at https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/what-we-do/coronavirus-information-advice/keeping-kids-entertained-during-lockdown for some help.
Be patient. Mounting tension is not good for productivity or kids. Remember this is a challenge for them so ensure your child has everything they need for their own school work. If they really are struggling ask for flexible hours. All employees have the legal right to request flexible working - not just parents and carers. Ordinarily employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible but in these strange times a flexible approach to problems should be welcomed. Visit https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working to check your rights.
Don’t focus on what you don’t like about working from home and instead concentrate on the tasks to be completed. Don’t forget your colleagues are only a Zoom/Team call away, so don’t make excuses: do what the Brits do best: make a cup of tea and crack on. Isolation stations, everyone, we’ve got work to do.
(Don't get distracted by political memes and cat videos like me ;)