Working from home can be quite a shock. After a lifetime of commuting to offices filled with people, buzz and banter, suddenly we are sat at home in makeshift workspaces, trying to concentrate while the world is turning upside down. For many, it’s a truly challenging transition. Don’t panic. I’ve been doing it happily for six years now, and there are some simple things you can do to make it a whole lot easier.
The biggest issue by far is self-discipline - it’s so much harder to motivate yourself to work in your own home. So whether your home is in Marylebone, Mayfair, Hyde or Regent’s Park, there are distractions everywhere and no-one is watching. It’s too easy, after pinging off a couple of emails, to slope off to empty the dishwasher, have a coffee, do a bit of tidying up. Even those neglected DIY chores can start looking attractive. And then there’s the news. Yes, it is important at the moment, but it won’t help you get your job done.
The way you set-up your home office will play a crucial role in helping you keep your focus. First and foremost, your office area should be separated from the rest of the house in some way. If you’ve got a garden studio or some other suitable outdoor building, lucky you. For everyone else, the most popular choices are spare bedrooms, attics and unused dining areas, sometimes cupboards. Me? My desk is sat at one end of a large utility room, with a washing machine and tumble dryer at the other end. Even if you are short of space and crammed into the corner of your siting room, you can still put down a small rug to delineate your work area. It’s not ideal, but under the circumstances, needs must.
Another good tip is, if you kit out your workspace like a proper office, it will feel more like one and you'll act accordingly. Buy yourself a desk and swivel chair (which you can still order online). You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your home office, so make sure they are decent quality - comfortable and hardwearing. Add a task light, some shelves, a filing cabinet and all those vital bits of office stationery, such as staples and cellotape. Check you’ve got plenty of sockets nearby. If not, buy an extension and some adaptors. And, if your wi-fi signal is not strong enough, get a booster, or connect your computer directly to your home hub via an ethernet cable. Amazon can supply either.
Keeping regular hours is, of course, vital. You should also buy yourself a white board. Write down your tasks for the day and, that way, you’ll more easily be able to monitor your progress.
For some people, motivation is not the issue. Shutting off is, as there is no physical means of distancing themselves from their work once it is over. Many of the same rules apply to them, too - regular hours and separate work areas. It also helps to schedule a walk or some form of exercise just after you’ve finished, as it will create a natural break between work and downtime.
Something else that can be hard to deal with is the lack of contact with other people. Luckily, there are lots of meeting and video apps - Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp etc. If you don’t need to see anyone, make up an excuse. It really helps to see another face. What you need to be careful about, though, is what’s behind you. People are not going to be surprised to find you in a domestic setting at the moment but do they really want to see your overflowing laundry basket? Your unmade bed? Or your washing up.
Conversely, too many people can also be a problem. My comfortable homeworking life, for example, has suddenly been invaded by my two teenage boys and my wife. As a journalist, I need peace and quiet to write and edit and my house is open plan and I don’t have a door to my office. My solution – make sure everyone else has a door and that they are kept shut. I can still hear squeals of rage and joy as the kids play on the Xbox, but at least those sounds are muffled. My wife, whose work often involves lots of noisy phone calls, works on the floor above or in the garden (if the sun’s out). The best thing we ever did, though, was buy desks for everyone, right at the start of the lockdown. They have quite possibly saved our marriage and prevented me from throttling my children - all for £40 a pop. Talking of kids, make sure you explain to them that your office area is for working and that they shouldn’t interrupt unless it’s urgent. Growl at any unnecessary incursions. For smaller kids, set them up with something to do each morning. It may take time to organise but you will be repaid you in spades. And never forget the power of bribery!
So there you go. Hope that helps. One last thing before I go, make sure your household insurance covers you for a home office.