Social Situations

Working from home: the ultimate guide

Following the government’s stricter Coronavirus measures on the 23rd March, the majority of us who work will now be working from home. Whether you’re used to working from home or new to it, understandably, it might feel different in the current environment.

The main challenges we face when working from home are around motivation and productivity. For that reason, it’s important to put into place some habits that help us remain positive. For those of us with children or other people who depend on us, it might be helpful to think of a way to incorporate those individuals into our new routine and adjust it to meet their needs as well as our own.

Here at Second Nature, our team is adjusting to working from home and have found several ways to maximise our productivity, while staying sane! We’ve collected our top tips in this guide to help keep you as motivated and efficient as possible throughout this period of uncertainty. Some of these tips may not apply to everyone, but we can start by applying what’s realistic for us to our daily life right now.

Our environment

Of course, each of our situations is different and what works for one of us might not work for others. However, there are many ways we can maximise our environment for comfort and productivity:

1) Keep beds for sleeping

Although tempting, we should try to avoid working from our beds. Not only can this hugely impact our productivity but also it can disrupt our sleep as our brain associates ‘bed’ with ‘work’ rather than rest.

2) Make a workspace

Setting up a dedicated base in our homes where we work the majority of the time can help provide a sense of discipline and routine. This might be a desk in a bedroom, hallway, or spare room. Establishing our work set up with those we live with (including children!) might help to create a boundary between work and downtime.

3) Change it up

If we’re feeling unproductive one day or afternoon in our workspace, we might benefit from a change in environment. Consider switching up where you work by moving to a different room/table in the house. It could mean moving to a different room for any video meetings, or moving to a bedroom desk from the dining room table some afternoons if we’re struggling.

4) Keep it comfy

A comfortable workspace helps us to protect our mental and physical health while working remotely. Where possible, we should aim to have a comfy chair, a proper desk or table, natural light, some plants/flowers/art, and pictures of loved ones (pets included).

5) Avoid clutter

Once we have our comfy workspace, try to avoid the area getting cluttered with unnecessary papers, stationery, mugs etc. Clutter can crowd our mental space as well as our physical space, reducing efficiency. A good habit to practise is tidying away anything we don’t need every evening when we finish working. For those of us living with older children, try making a daily tidy part of a fun activity and set mini challenges, such as allocating a small area to tidy each day to different members of the household.

6) Work at eye level

Most of us work on a laptop or computer, so it’s important we protect our posture. It can be easy to slouch over and this causes strain on our necks and backs. If possible, use a desktop display screen. For a cheaper option, place your laptop on some books or a box so that the screen is eye level and use a wireless keyboard and mouse.

7) Background noise

Sometimes it can get a little too quiet (if we don’t have children!) and some background music can help us focus. Evidence suggests that music without lyrics interrupts attention less than music with lyrics. Try out YouTube videos like this or this. Listening to music with headphones on can also help us zone out of a noisier environment.

8) Ditch your mobile

Mobiles can be extremely distracting, whether it’s social media, news updates, or replying to messages. Unless you have an important reason to keep your phone close by, we should aim to leave our phones in a different room to our workspace and only check it during breaks.

Our routine

Although most of us will be at home for a long period of time, it’s important to try and stick to a relatively normal routine.

For those of us just caring for ourselves, this means waking up at the same time each day and working during relatively normal working hours. For those of us caring for others, it might mean taking shifts with a partner or family member and speaking to our employers to make a plan of action.

1) Preserve our morning routines

We can improve our mental wellbeing by giving ourselves the proper time to wake up in the mornings. As far as possible, we should wake up, shower, get dressed, and get ready for the day, as we would if we were going into the office.

2) Mimic the commute

Unless we’re in quarantine, going for a 5-15 minute walk before starting work and again at the end of the day can really boost productivity. It helps to replicate the commute to work which for most, symbolises starting work and finishing work.

3) Prioritise to your strengths

We should plan our day around our personal energy levels. For morning people, it makes sense to tackle our harder tasks before lunchtime, whereas those of us who focus better in the evening might benefit from saving those tasks until later.

4) Set ‘work’ hours

Consistency in a routine is key to allowing ourselves to properly ‘switch off’ once we log off. Set specific working hours for the day, for example, 9am – 6pm, and try to stick to them. Telling a housemate or family member when we’re expecting to finish can provide extra accountability for us to stick to these hours.

5) Over communicate

If we’re not used to working from home, we might need to adjust how much we interact with our colleagues. This could be more formal, such as sending more regular updates on your projects, or informal, such as regular video coffee catch-ups. Over-communicating keeps everyone in the loop and improves our motivation.

6) Use your calendar

Whether it’s a wall calendar or Google calendar, consider booking in different segments of the day to remind you of your routine. This could include booking out time for breaks, video meetings, silent work time, exercise, lunch, or activities.

7) Take screen breaks

If our eyes feel tired it’s important to give them a rest. Try the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at an object that’s 20 metres away, for 20 seconds. An object, such as a tree, can always be relaxing. If we’re feeling unproductive or overwhelmed, a 5 minute stretch or yoga practice (such as this or this), making ourselves a cup of tea, going outside to get in touch with nature, or simply standing up for a moment can all help us refocus.

Our wellbeing

Sometimes when we’re working from home a lot we de-prioritise our mental and physical wellbeing. It’s important to protect our health, especially when we might feel more overwhelmed, anxious, or emotional.

1) Consider your personality

Those of us who’re naturally introverted might benefit from finding short periods of alone time each day to recharge our batteries. For extroverts, finding some time to be around people can help (phone calls and facetime can help if we live alone). Whether it’s alone or with others in the household, short walks, meals, tv shows, and exercise are some good options.

2) Prioritise sleep

Sleep is incredibly important for all aspects of our health, and sticking to a routine can help us get enough sleep. Here are some tips on how to sleep better.

3) Go outside each day

Whether it’s a jog in the park or a walk around the block, leaving the house when we’re working from home has a large positive effect on our health.

4) Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water and/or herbal teas each day. Staying hydrated is important for our energy levels and can also prevent us mindlessly snacking. Avoid caffeinated teas after lunchtime to make sure our sleep isn’t disrupted.

5) Exercise for efficiency

The energy boost we feel following exercise helps with productivity. This might be enjoying yoga if it’s been a stressful day, or heading out for a run to enjoy the sunshine in your lunch break.

6) Stick to three meals

It’s easier to graze on snacks throughout the day when we’re working remotely. Try to have three healthy, balanced meals during this time. This may mean making a weekly meal plan and meal prepping as if we were heading into the office. For those of us with children, including them in the cooking can be a fun activity and will teach them some new skills.

7) Don’t forget your hobbies

Engaging in extracurricular activities that we enjoy outside of work, ideally ones that aren’t screen-based, can benefit our mental health. Aiming to practise one thing we enjoy each day is a good guide. This could be a musical instrument, yoga, knitting, cooking, baking, meditating, reading, or arts and crafts.

8) Pay extra attention to four-legged friends

For those of us with pets, quick breaks to walk or play with them can be extremely beneficial to our mental health!

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Write a response

Claire Brierley
27 March, 2021

I think is a great plan, but just not feasible for everyone. I work for an asset management company, supporting globally. I work long days and often my work creeps into my weekends. My biggest problem is I forget meals and then when I do have a meal it’s late and then off to bed. Some days I just live on coffee.


Angela Coates
25 February, 2021

This is a great article. Really useful hints and tips. 👏


Anne Cox
1 January, 2021

We both work from home now and have started going for a walk at the end of the working day. It is a useful transition time to let go of work and return home for the evening.


Nadia Mazzone
22 November, 2020

A lot of “food” for thought. A lot of good ideas.


Patricia harrison
23 October, 2020

I dont work retired now with my husband we have a dog I am going to walk with him cant go for with my back but I love Tia che I hope thats how you spell it


Jacqueline
15 September, 2020

great article 👏 I will start going out for a break


Katie Langley
4 May, 2020

This is really useful and I will certainly adapt this to my college load that I am ploughing through.
Thank you


Anne Nicole
19 April, 2020

Hi, I just wanted to say that the information you have provided is excellent!


Jag
9 April, 2020

Interesting read
Thank you


Denise
7 April, 2020

This article is beneficial to me especially keeping hydrated and getting to bed on time . Thank you Fiona


Tracey Preston
2 April, 2020

Thank you for the tips I’m on week 2 and have had a few really low days this article has made me realise I need structure in my day and I need to stop winging it, going to bed at 3.30 in the morning after binge watching TV is never gonna set me up right for the next day.


Vanessa
2 April, 2020

Ness here and in my 3rd week of lockdown. Some useful tips, especially if you live on your own. Definitely go out for a walk, otherwise isolation starts to become a behaviour trait both mentally and physically .


Lucy
1 April, 2020

Really helpful, some useful tips to stay sane whilst working remotely – thanks Fiona!


Jack Matthews
31 March, 2020

Hey, thanks for taking the time to write this
There is some good advice there and I have definately found taking a dog break has helped me out a lot!