Don’t get caught between two office chairs - Tips for working effectively from home
Working from home a day or two a week can be a great option to build into a more flexible approach to work. With more and more companies offering this to office based employees, there has never been a better time to look at avoiding the daily commute. The following tips will help you avoid overtime creeping in at home or extra stress on return to the office, allowing you to make the most out of your work from home day!
Pre-WFH (Working from Home)
Before you work from home, it’s good to agree with your manager what day(s) are most suitable. Some teams have a specific day of the week and others work on individual schedules so it’s always good to see what fits for your team. If it is based on individual schedules, you may consider some of the following:-
Are there certain days where there are more meetings in the office than others? Would you be happy dialling in remotely to these or would you choose a day with less meetings?
Are there days when your manager and / or key members of the team are not in the office and does it make sense to align with them?
Looking at your home life, what day(s) would benefit the most from you not having to commute?
It may be helpful to look at your calendar for the previous 4-6 weeks and think about which of these days would have been difficult to work from home, and why. You may want to avoid choosing those days or else organise your week in a slightly different way.
Deciding this up front is very helpful when you first start working from home because it gives you some structure and also helps your manager and team know when to expect to see you in the office. It’s always nice to update you calendar to notify people you will be available online.
3 Days Before WFH (the first time)
Working from home requires a couple of obvious technical things; a laptop, power supply, internet, connection to your company’s corporate network and a phone which people can contact you on. Needless to say it’s important to check and test these things at home a couple of days before to ensure everything is working ok.
Many of us forget the contrary nature of video-conferencing software. It works perfectly at your desk. Then you plug headphones in / out or move to another room, and it falls to pieces. Either you can’t hear the rest of the participants, they can’t hear you, they hear you with an echo, (very annoying for all), the screen share doesn’t work etc. For your sanity, I would highly recommend testing this from home with everything set-up as you plan to have it. If there are any problems you have a few days to figure it out.
The Day Before WFH (every time)
Regardless of whether you plan your day in 30 minute slots or organise your day around coffee breaks and lunch, knowing in advance what you are going to do for the first hour you are working from home is a huge help. Writing this down before you leave the office the day before puts you on the right step to start your next day. It also makes you aware of what time you are starting work the next day, which I’ll come back to in a while.
When you get home, find your “office space” and set up your desk. For some people this may be a dedicated room and for others it may be the kitchen table. Whatever it is for you, setting it up the night before means you can come straight into a ready space to begin work - just like when you are in the office!
Finally, set two additional alarms for the next day; one 10 minutes before you plan to start work and the other 15 minutes before you plan to finish work. Trust me - you will thank me for these.
When you first begin to work from home, having some structure is very helpful to ensure the working day doesn’t creep into the early morning or late evening, and to ensure that you get meaningful work done.
Always get dressed for work, even if you are more casual than when in the office. This sounds too obvious I know but otherwise you may find yourself on a conference call at 11.00 am in your pjs. It’s not a good look and also doesn’t help put you in the right frame of mind.
Don’t touch your laptop until your “10 Minutes to Work” alarm. Remember you already have your first hour planned so you can have breakfast, work out, or do whatever you normally do. When the alarm goes off, you still have time to make a cup of coffee and take the minute commute to your desk for the day.
Write down items you start, progress and complete throughout the day. Keep the list simple; it’s purpose is to remind you that you are getting work done and to help you identify what you’ve achieved at the end of the day. If it’s still blank by 11.00 am, it also serves as a good reminder to focus on what you need to get done!
Take breaks regularly. It’s important to get up and move about while at home so take regular breaks and ensure you are staying hydrated. If you can get outside the house for your lunch break, all the better.
Prepare your mind to finish for the day when your “15 Minutes to Finish” alarm goes off. At this point, it’s very easy to work for a little longer but that can leak into hours of unplanned overtime. So review the list you’ve been keeping during the day, wrap up what you are currently working on and finish at the same time you would if you were in the office.
Put away your laptop and tidy away your “office space” when you finish. Leaving the laptop open, even if it is powered off, may tempt you to log back on later that evening. Packing it away so you are ready to go back into the office is a much better way to end your working day.
Finally, find your end of work ritual. I always bring the dogs for a quick walk and have a shower before doing anything else for the evening. This physical break from the working day allows me to switch off and enjoy my evening. Find what works for you and build it into your routing.
I hope this is helpful to those of you looking to work from home for the first time. As always, I’d love to hear your comments and what tips you follow!
Niamh specialises in career and personal effectiveness coaching with a particular focus on career advancement and time management. You can contact Niamh here if you are considering a coach in these areas.