New to home working? Looking for some tips on how to do it better? Chris and I have both been working fully remotely since early 2016. We are in very different career situations. I am a freelance translator and ESL teacher, but have mainly had one client for a long time. Chris is in IT and works for a bank. Between the two of us, we can almost surely help you out.
Regardless of what kind of job you have, the number one thing to do to make working from home work for you is to create and maintain a home office. Ideally, this office should be a room you only use for work and that you can shut at the end of the day. If you can’t do this, at the very least, put all of your work supplies fully away and out of sight at the end of the day. I am so strict about our office that I close it off from the cats when it’s not in use and I rarely use my computer for anything other than work or blogging so I am not tempted to check in out of hours.
Just because you can work any time does not mean you should! Working from home presents a huge danger of overdoing it. Create a schedule and stick to it. The reasons for breaking your schedule should be the kind of reasons you’d be comfortable physically staying in the office extra hours. You will burn yourself out fast if you work all the time.
Do not wear your pajamas all day! This does not mean you have to arrive at work fully dressed or anything like it, but do not sit around in your pajamas all day. As you don’t have to drive to work and appear in front of people in person, you don’t have to be fully made up or even in your normal work clothes. That said, sitting around un-showered in your PJ’s will make every day feel like a sick day and this will not be good for your mental health. It’s OK to start the day in your pajamas, but make a point of taking a “shower break” and getting dressed no later than 60 to 90 minutes into your work day. It can be sweat pants and a t-shirt if you like, but getting dressed and cleaned up will normalize your days in a good way.
Silence is golden. Silence any out-of-hours alerts you can. I use a combination of my iphone’s do-not-disturb feature and a strict do-not-disturb schedule for my job’s preferred app, Slack. Slack is a sort of instant messenger office space. I silence Slack every weekend unless there is a special reason and I am actively planning on doing some weekend work. I silence it every evening as well. You need to be able to get down time and relax to be good at your job, so protect yourself diligently from being constantly tuned into the office.
Work outdoors from time to time! It’s fun and much more possible if you have a backyard, balcony or patio of some sort. We love working in the backyard and it’s a pleasant way to make the most of working from home.
Do not spend lots of time working on the sofa as spending too much time hunched over a laptop on a sofa can give you back issues. More than that, using your home leisure spaces as work spaces isn’t a brilliant idea in terms of work/life balance.
Buy a good set of headphones. If you’re video or audio conferencing, background noise from your house can be distracting to your colleagues. You need a good set of headphones with a microphone. When using them, make sure that your voice is going through that microphone, not your laptop’s microphone. If you can, get noise canceling headphones as they are also ideal for blocking out annoying sounds in your house, like a dishwasher or a loud fridge.
Learn how to mute your audio or video during a conference as needed. If you need to speak to someone in your household, you don’t want the whole conference to hear it.
Position your camera at eye level. A laptop on a desk will give your colleagues an unflattering view up your nose.
If possible, position your desk so that other household members don’t accidentally walk into shot during video conferences.
If both you and other members of your household are working from home, you need to figure out ways of not irritating each other. For example, you may have to speak to your respective colleagues on video at the same time. Plan a secondary space that you can disappear to for any meeting clashes.
Zoom is great, but try to get your company to try out Slack! Zoom meetings are useful from time to time, but Slack is what a company with a mature home working setup should be using. Rather than intrusive, long-winded Zoom meetings, Slack is a cool instant messenger with break out rooms that allows you to chat more normally with your colleagues. I have found it much better for ongoing, non-intrusive collaboration than Zoom. It also has the bonus of everything being written down so you can easily refer back to it. Full on meetings can be done in Slack. This is how they’ve done it in my job for while. We save Zoom for training new hires for the most part.
Be mindful of the fact that you are now near your fridge and all of the food that you currently own. This can be a blessing or a curse. You can use it to cook well and eat less processed lunches or you can let yourself over-snack. Make sure to choose well whenever you can.
Make your breaks useful! In an office situation, you might take a walk around the block, but a break really just needs to be getting up and doing something that isn’t your job from a physical and mental point of view. I like to get all my chores done during the work week as my breaks. I haven’t done laundry on the weekend in years because folding laundry is a fine way of ticking the boxes of “physically not my job” and “mentally not my job.” It means I can actually have a very clear line between paid work/housework days and the weekend. The most productive thing I shall be doing this weekend is playing Animal Crossing on the Switch and writing this blog post and I will be a happier, better rested person for it.
Do your hobbies during your breaks. Not all breaks have to be “useful” though. You can take 10-15 minutes to play an instrument or a video game. You can play with your pet(s) or kid(s). Everything you can do in and around your house is all now available to you during your breaks. Take advantage of it!
Questions? Do let us know! We’re happy to share more of our experience to help all you new home workers out!
Here’s the YouTube video for a look at our actual office set up and more tips: