7 ways to stay engaged while working from home

As more of us prepare for sustained periods of home working, our guide will help you focus and flourish in your new (yet familiar) surroundings

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Once seen as something of a convenient perk, working from home is set to become the norm for huge swathes of the UK workforce.

While the country and the world revises its response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the way that many of us work is changing fast – and it’s unlikely to return to “normal” for a number of months yet.

While we doubt that many of us will miss the daily commute, it can be difficult to know how to fully transition from the office to the study (or bedroom, or sofa, or kitchenette). Working from home may bring greater freedom and flexibility, but such comprehensive – and in this case, sudden – changes to routine can throw up their own share of issues.

Whether you’ve worked from home before and are now adjusting to going full-time, or are completely new of this way of conducting business, there are ways of making this brave new world work for you.

Here, we’ll share our top tips for ensuring that your new working life is healthy, efficient, and sustainable.

1. Don’t forsake your wellbeing

Of course, there are two things that set our current situation apart from more typical home working: 1) very few of us have a choice in the matter, and 2) it’s not just from 9-5 that we’re being asked to stay indoors.

With this in mind, your wellbeing is more crucial than ever. Aside from eating and drinking well – and resisting the urge to snack out of boredom – it’s also important to precede and follow the working day with some good old-fashioned exercise.

While many of us may feel constrained in our efforts within the same four walls, there’s a huge bank of online resources to help people stay in shape while housebound. If you’re looking for yoga, Lesley Fightmaster and Yoga with Adriene are two popular YouTubers, while Asana Rebel is a workout app that comes recommended by the editors of the iTunes App store.

There’s also plenty of room for ingenuity – tins of beans make for great impromptu dumbbells, while initiatives like the Pushup Challenge are encouraging people to make full use of their time indoors. 

As well as looking after your body, your mental health is arguably even more important. Popular wellness app Headspace has already released a collection of free meditations entitled ‘Weathering the Storm’, while mental health charities such as Samaritans remain on hand to speak with anyone who may be struggling. And if your business already has an employee assistance programme of its own, don’t be afraid to make use of it.

2. Keep on track

Without your usual routine – however rudimentary it may be – it can be easy to get distracted. Fortunately, there are a range of productivity apps out there to help you keep your eyes on the prize: 

  • Slack – for instant messaging with a professional edge
  • Trello – for simple, easy-to-follow project management
  • Google Hangouts – for efficient, yet personable video meetings
  • RescueTime – for more general time management

Make sure that documents and files can be accessed quickly and easily if needed – cloud products like Google Drive or Dropbox can help with this. 

Don’t forget to turn off notifications and/or log out when your work day ends – particularly if your work and personal devices are the same – in order to preserve that precious work/life balance. This works both ways – if you avoid checking social media and personal email accounts during work hours, this will help you stay focused, and draw a distinct line between work and play.

But it’s not just technology that can keep you focused: music can, too. Streaming giant Spotify has already compiled a number of playlists dedicated to concentration and combating anxiety, as have numerous musicians and blogs around the world, including Stamp The Wax, Optimo (Espacio), and the ever-popular ‘lofi hip hop radio – beats to study/relax to’.  And if you prefer to work in silence, that’s okay too – it’s about finding what works best for you.

3. Set up your workstation

In an ideal world, your domestic workstation will be in its own separate room. It’ll feature all the equipment you need, including a chair with back support, a spacious desk, your computer, and maybe an extra monitor for good measure. There would also be space for some desk plants and other personal trinkets, as well as proximity to a window.

But of course, not all of us live in an ideal world. Sudden enforced working from home may call for some improvisation – if you can’t allocate an entire room, you should at least set up a space that’s available from 9-5, and consider designating certain spaces for phone calls or video correspondence. When it comes to video calls, don’t forget what’s visible behind you – a plain background looks especially professional, and is less distracting to others calling in.

Try to avoid working from within your bed/bedroom, or anywhere you associate with rest and relaxation – it’s important to keep these concepts completely separate from the notion of work!

If you can’t be interrupted for a certain period of time, create a ‘do not disturb’ or ‘busy’ sign to let family members, children, or housemates know. 

Other ways to create a safe and healthy workspace include:

  • Take regular breaks and stretches
  • Use earphones for calls
  • Use a dedicated laptop and/or browser

4. Devise a routine

Set out what you’ll do in the morning and evening, as well as during the day. Make sure you introduce ways to mark different points in the day; for example:

  • Wake up with an alarm
  • Make coffee in the morning
  • Wear certain clothes for work, exercise, and downtime
  • Maintain the same work schedule as you would in the office
  • Take a full rest break
  • Be strict with your hours 
  • Block and plan time on your calendar

If you have kids, make sure to keep them in the loop, and create a system so they know when you’re working and when you’re available. 

If possible, share duties with a partner or another family member, and don’t forget to pull your weight – we’re all in this for the long-haul! Indeed, if there’s more than one of you working within the same home, switching workstations at semi-regular intervals will help to prevent things from becoming too mundane.

You could even use your family’s sleep/play time to help you keep on track, knowing you have to get a certain task done within that timeframe. 

5. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is about focusing on the present, and being aware of your thoughts and feelings, rather than dictated by them. Some of the most popular apps to help you with this include Calm and Headspace, which offer guided meditations (as touched upon above). Mindfulness offers a way to take time out for you; a way to destress and unwind. 

Be aware of how you treat yourself: this is a new and challenging time for all of us. So, if you have a particularly unproductive day, don’t be too hard on yourself – just ensure your team is kept up to speed. 

Conversely, if you’re easily adjusting and finding yourself being more productive, use some of your extra time to check in with your team members to see if anyone needs more support.

Usually, working from home successfully can take months to get the hang of. However, it’s only been a matter of days for many people, so go easy on your expectations – this is a learning process for everyone, in its own way.

6. Keep in touch

Now more than ever, it’s important to stay connected. Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, and other platforms can be used to reach out to team members. Use video calls, and try to meet more regularly than you usually would, so that you can see everyone and check in. Be sure to look at the camera, not the screen, to help maintain eye contact – you’d be surprised what a difference this can make!

Similarly, Slack offers a great way to communicate quickly and easily. When using messenger apps, think about the tone of your writing, and use emojis and images to make it as interactive and easy to understand as possible.

Let your team know what you’re up to: whether that’s through changing your status on your messaging app, a quick check-in with your staff, or just to let colleagues know when you’ve finished a task. In fact, there’s arguably a need to over-communicate, and to be more responsive than you may usually be. 

As a manager or a leader, it’s particularly important to be clear on how your team can best reach you (e.g. email, message, phone) – especially if you usually prefer face-to-face meetings.

For freelancers, sole traders, and anyone else that works independently, see if there are any industry organisations that have online communities you can join.

More ideas for virtual socialising:

  • Be more active on messenger channels
  • Conduct socials via video call

7. Get some fresh air

Unlike other nations around the globe – including close neighbours France and Italy – the UK has not yet placed full restrictions on citizens’ rights to leave their homes. It should go without saying, but make sure you go outside when you can (provided it’s safe to do so, and you’re following the official guidelines). Examples include: 

  • A lunchtime walk – these can be useful even on a normal day in the office!
  • An early morning run – perfect for shaking off the cobwebs 
  • A spell in the garden – you don’t have to be particularly mobile to benefit from fresh air
  • Open the windows – don’t seal yourself off entirely! (Bonus: you won’t have to listen to your co-workers moaning about being too hot or cold)

Working from home, especially for extended periods, can be a real challenge – but with a little direction, you can find a way that best suits you. Simple, practical considerations include staying active, avoiding distractions, and creating a designated workspace in your home. It’s also important to keep regular hours, interact virtually with the rest of your team, and get as much fresh air as is safely possible!

While the switch to home-working has been abrupt and unexpected for a lot of people, these tips will help you navigate the transition.

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