Working from home: how to reap the benefits (and stay sane!)

I know I’m a bit late to the party with this blog as there have been lots of similar posts recently. However, having worked at home sporadically throughout the majority of my career and having been permanently based at home since I set up Radwood Comms, I wanted to share some of my top tips. If it helps just one person ease into this change it will be worth it.

First up, I just want to say that working from home can be amazing. If you’re doing it for the first time, please don’t feel nervous as there are so many benefits.  That said, it can take some getting used to. When I started doing it every day, I found motivation first thing in a morning quite difficult and often found myself wandering around the house doing household tasks (or watching Netflix – shhh, don’t tell my husband) rather than getting on with the ‘day job’.

I’d love to tell you that there’s a magic trick to help you overcome this wayward feeling but really it’s just good old fashioned self-discipline that’s needed. Below you’ll find some of the things I swear by to bring some much needed structure to my working day. I hope you find them useful and, as always, I’d love to hear what you think.

Set up a workspace

Whether its housework, snacks (mmm snacks) or something else, there are distractions aplenty when you work from home. Finding a designated spot in the house that’s yours for work can really help you to stay focused – and avoid the biscuit tin.

I’m going to use my better half, Matt, as an example here. When he first set up Matt Radcliffe Photography he worked from our bedroom for a while. More specifically, he worked from my dressing table as this was the closest thing we had to a desk at this time. It was cluttered, the chair had no back support and, unsurprisingly, he struggled to concentrate. We quickly decided we needed a better solution and converted a small area in our spare room into a proper workspace for him – complete with desk and suitable chair. Cue a happier, more productive and back pain-free husband!

While setting aside a space in your home solely for work purposes might not be an option for you, even just choosing a designated spot in your house to work from can really help. I have a friend who works every day from her kitchen table. In the morning and evening, her family use it as a communal space to eat together. Once the kids are at nursery, she cleans it off and sets it up as a temporary office until she packs it away again at the end of the working day. 

Find your spot and do all that you can to make it feel like a workspace – whether that’s setting up a desk, clearing the clutter or putting work related paraphernalia on the wall. It will really help you get into the zone.

Get dressed

This might sound obvious to the loungewear rejectors out there but if you’re anything like me you might be tempted to stay in those PJs. Yes, working in your pyjamas might sound like a real luxury, but trust me, once you’ve done it for a day or two you’ll start to feel pretty gross and begin craving any opportunity to wear something nice or do your hair/makeup/beard etc.

Much like the point about setting up a workspace above, getting up and getting ready for work can really help get you in the right frame of mind and feel much more positive about the day ahead. It also helps to draw that line between work life and home life (put simply, pyjamas = home, clothes = work) which is so easy to forget when the worlds collide.

Getting dressed also has the added benefit of being prepared for that out-of-the-blue video call from colleagues or a client. No-one wants to be caught in their PJs no matter how well they get on with someone (and yes, I’m speaking from experience!).

Set your start and finish times

Sometimes easier said than done, but I find setting a time when I’ll start and finish work really helps my mental health when I’m working from home. Being clear with yourself (and your colleagues, clients, family etc.) about when you are and aren’t working will really help you to establish clear boundaries and good practices. Yes, it can be tempting to sneak that extra half an hour in bed in a morning, but this soon becomes a habit. You end up working in the evening and no one knows when you’re on or off, making the separation from work even more difficult.

Of course, there are times when you can’t be too prescriptive about your hours (last minute requests for work, IT failures, childcare issues etc.) but trying to be as disciplined as the work and your life allows is really important. Matt and I often designate certain days as ‘long days’ where we work through into the evening – and we’re partial to the odd lie in now and again.  But we try to make sure these are planned in advance so that we can plan our time accordingly.

Wherever you can, set your hours and stick to them. Your mental health will thank you for it.

Take a break

As easy as it is to get distracted when you work from home, it’s equally as easy to get totally sucked in to your work and forget to take a break. After all, there are no colleagues offering to get you a cuppa or the smell of food drifting in from the communal kitchen to remind you it’s lunchtime. Before you know it, its 3pm, you’ve missed mealtime and you’re feeling grumpy and tired. Not great for productivity. So… don’t forget to take those breaks people. Set an alarm if you have to – but do take the time to get away from your screen/ telephone/ notepad. It will really help you in the long run, even if it is tempting to work through.

Breaks can also be great for the days when ‘you’re just not feeling it’. We’ve all had them, there’s no shame – but this feeling can be debilitating if you don’t have colleagues there to cheer you up or chivvy you on. Taking a quick break can really help change your perspective. Get some fresh air, watch a bit of TV – whatever works for you. Sometimes just going into a different room helps to break me out of a bad mood or period of indecision.  

Stay connected

I have a friend who used to permanently work from home. He lived alone and would sometimes go weeks without seeing another person. When we’d meet up – and this is no word of a lie – he’d have lost the ability to communicate. Conversation would be slightly awkward for that first half hour as he adjusted to talking to people again. What did I learn? That humans are social animals and we need contact with others.

Working from home can be very isolating – particularly if you’re doing it on a long-term basis. If you do have colleagues, I’d really advise taking advantage of the technology you have available to you to keep in regular contact with them. If you’re a Microsoft business, Teams and Yammer are great options for more informal communications. You can also make phone and video calls through Teams which is fab. OneDrive is also great for sharing and collaborating on documents. If you don’t have access to Microsoft, other free options are:

  • Slack – an instant messaging platform very similar to Teams. Set up a group and message colleagues individually or on mass
  • Zoom – video and audio conferencing. There’s a 40 minute limit on group meetings on the free package but they quite often extend this (or you can just quit and start another session)
  • Whereby – I was only introduced to this the other day and it’s something of a hidden gem. Like Zoom but no time limit (although you can only have four people on a video call at one time on the free package)
  • Evernote and Google Drive – similar to OneDrive. Useful for document sharing and collaboration
  • Trello – I’ve never really got on board with this one but I’ve had colleagues that swear by it. A kind of project management, task tracking application

You're not alone

If (like me!) your facing isolation with no colleagues to keep in touch with, do drop me a line. There are loads of self-employed people out there in the same boat. Many virtual groups already exist or maybe we can set up our own if there are enough of us. Just remember to get out of your PJs first 😉

Stay safe!

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