23 March 2020

How to avoid a “home” office meltdown – Six top tips for working from home

I heard on Sky News that the divorce rate is set to rocket as businesses and national governments are encouraging or compelling people (depending on which country you live in) to work from home.

It’s a reasonable prediction, as no one likes to be cooped up. We already know that the long Christmas holidays are renowned for bringing simmering marital tensions to boiling point. Now imagine the added tension of being cooped up where there are health scares, food shortages, money worries, or if someone has taken the last sheet of toilet roll! Seriously, though, that could be the spark that sends someone flying to the divorce court.

So in response to this and to offer some useful advice to help everyone (singles or unmarried couples too) to get through the crisis, here are my top tips for working from home, especially for those of you who have never done the homeworking thing before.

Create a scheduled routine

Librarians and monks aside, it’s an unusual situation to be working isolated in a very quiet room when you’ve been used to the clamour and social hubbub of a business environment, and motivation is crucial.

Your boss expects you to put in the hours during a normal day in the office, so the same trust applies when you shift your seat to another room, albeit your dining/bed/living room. You may not be under scrutiny, but using home working as a reason for avoidance is simply stealing from the petty-cash tin from a distance.

If you work 9 til 5 in the office, ensure you structure your work from 9 til 5 at home too. Maintain the same routine by writing a to-do list to keep you on track. By planning your time in advance, you will hit the important deadlines without becoming anxious or stressed.

Enjoy the benefits

Most of us spend around two hours of our working day commuting, more if you work in one of the major cities. Newcastle city centre workers can expect at least an hour a day on the commute even if they live on the city outskirts. Home Counties’ commuters can spend 3 hours just getting to their London office before they even sit at their desk.

This is therefore an ideal opportunity to use the hours you would normally spend commuting doing something really useful or healthy. You can waste it or make use of the extra time to refresh and reinvigorate, or study. You can exercise or prepare the ingredients for an extra tasty mid-week dinner.

Although it may be tempting to lie in bed longer instead of managing the extra time in positive action, self-improvement or studying, when normal office work resumes eventually—and it will— the old routine will hit you harder than ever before.

Another benefit is money saving. No petrol, train fares or parking costs to eat into your pay packet. Think how much money you are saving by not buying shop bought lunches and Costa coffees! You can also govern your day and complete jobs at home without taking days off, so you are not wasting your holiday time waiting for a delivery, plumber or repairman.

Make your workspace ‘worky’

You may think that working in your underwear or dressing gown, or hammering out a project on your laptop in bed propped up by pillows is a great idea; however, knowing many successful work-from-home entrepreneurs, this is quite the fairy-tale.

I recommend still dressing smartly as it helps foster a more professional mind-set – you might shun the stilettos or pinstripes, but avoid wearing your duvet like a poncho as you work.

It is vital you create a working zone that you can own as “workspace”. Even if this is your kitchen table or a wide windowsill in the living room. That space should be a surrogate work area and nothing else. Extra tip: Close the door or screen off your workplace if you can at night to separate it from home/leisure space.

Keep your break times sacrosanct

You may not always take visible breaks in your normal office; but enforced breaks are a legal requirement, so at home be legalistic on yourself and have scheduled time out. You could take a walk around the block, sit in the garden or on your balcony, or walk the dog (Government guidelines permitting). You will not only feel better, but work much more efficiently afterwards. Make yourself some tea, stroke the cat or hang some washing out, and be sure to eat a lunch too, perhaps outside, or certainly take a step away from your desk for a bit to clear your mind.

Don’t self-isolate to extremes

Okay, you may have been told to self-isolate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chat to a neighbour from over the fence, or make a Facetime call to your pals, or even stroll to the park to greet another human being from a distance (Guidelines permitting). Social interaction is key for mental balance.

Anticipate the novelty wearing off

Joking apart, this ‘lockdown’ is quite a shock especially for those who live alone or the older generation. It is going to be a challenge. People who see their home as a retreat and all of a sudden are compelled to work from it will feel very strange. Self-motivation and organising yourself in such a different way takes effort. There are many distractions too like cats walking across your keyboard, people ringing the doorbell, and the temptation of procrastination…Hmmm, I’ll just water those plants; load the dishwasher; plump up the sofa cushions; have another snack…

Some of us remember the power cuts of the early 1970s during the coal strikes. It was cosy and exciting at first to have the house lit by candles, but it became tedious very quickly, especially on a Saturday night when the scheduled black out came just as Dr Who started.

This ‘new normal’ can be approached negatively or positively: It can threaten you and undermine you or you can embrace the opportunities home working brings.

It’s going to become very stressful if you are not mentally prepared for the longer haul, which it seems is what “the powers that be” are anticipating. Stay watchful and stockpile resilience for yourself, your families and your neighbourhood.

And if this time off work together is creating anxiety, stress or tension, please contact me – my service includes online support.

Please do look out for each other.