Working from home (WFH) is the new “normal” for many people who used to work in an office before the coronavirus pandemic.
And as a result, there are plenty of articles around the web that provide quick tips on how to set up a new home office.
But we’d like to go one step further and provide you with our tried-and-tested strategies to be — and remain — productive and happy when you work from home.
And that includes working from home with a significant other and with the kids.
So let’s dive in.
Working from home for the first time
If you’re working from home for the first time, you’re going to find it strange. Sure, it might be fun at first, but after the novelty wears off, you need to find a way of working that’s productive and healthy.
Everyone is different, but here are a few tips we’ve found useful.
1. Know the ground rules
It’s important to know what your employer expects while you’re working from home.
For instance, if you’ve always worked in the office from 9 to 5, does your employer expect the same at home? Or are they willing to be more flexible as long as you complete your tasks?
Everyone is in a different situation, so employers have to set clear expectations from the start.
2. Assign dedicated time slots
If your employer allows flexible working, you’ll probably want to break all the “office rules” and work when you feel like it.
But hold on. That’s not a good idea.
Although you’re working from home, you’ll be more productive by sticking to a routine. And your co-workers will also know when you’re available to discuss projects.
Sure, you might have other things to fit in while working from home, like looking after the kids, but make sure you and your coworkers know your timetable.
3. Get up and get dressed
“Yay! I can work from bed in my PJs,” said everyone on their first working-from-home day.
But like the work routine above, you should make an effort to get up, washed or showered, and dressed for work.
It doesn’t have to be a full suit and tie – jeans and a t-shirt work fine. But the fact you made a conscious decision to get up and get ready, puts you in the right frame of mind for work.
4. Use a dedicated workspace (when possible)
If you have a home office where you can work from, then you’re good to go. But most people don’t have that dedicated workspace because they always went to the office and never needed it before. So what are the options?
While it may be tempting to work from the couch with daytime TV in the background, it’s not recommended.
Ideally, if you have a dining table or breakfast bar, you can designate that as your workspace during the day. And then, most importantly, clear your laptop and work items away at the end of the day to signal work is finished.
5. Look after your body and mind
Whichever workspace option you choose, make sure you look after your body and posture by taking frequent breaks to move around and loosen your joints.
Alan Hedge, Director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group at Cornell University, told the HuffPost:
“If you don’t listen to your body, you’ll accelerate the onset of musculoskeletal problems ranging from neck, shoulder, back problems, to hand-wrist problems, to leg problems, all because of working in poor postures.”
And eye specialists recommend the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes look away from your screen and focus your eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Pro Tip: set a timer on your computer or phone to remind you to take a quick break every 20 minutes. No app even needed, Google can do it for you:
6. Maintain human interaction
You’ll also want to ensure you have some social interaction during the day.
In the office, you likely had some informal conversations at the watercooler with coworkers. But working from home removes that type of communication. So while we’re social distancing, try talking to your neighbor at a safe distance or making a video call on your phone to coworkers or family. Don’t become isolated.
7. Maintain a work-life balance
By having a dedicated workspace and setting dedicated time slots, you can separate your work and non-work activities. When you leave your workspace, you’re also making a conscious decision that work has finished, and you’re now relaxing.
Don’t be tempted to “just check for emails and messages” in case something is urgent. Switch off work mode and wait till your next working slot.
It’s easy to slip into an “always-on” mode when you start working from home, and it’s not a healthy habit to form. So set your work schedule and stick to it.
8. Get the right hardware equipment
Working from home is a lot easier thanks to the internet and the growing number of cloud-based software products. Here’s an essential list of hardware equipment:
- Internet and Wifi – You’ll need a robust internet connection, preferably high-speed with plenty of bandwidth, especially if the kids are streaming movies in the next room. And, as most laptops connect via Wifi, you’ll need to ensure you have a good wifi signal around your home.
- Computer – Hopefully, you have a company laptop that you can bring home, power on, connect, and off you go. If not, you may be able to use your home computer instead and connect to your work computer via remote desktop software (see below). Check the working from home rules with your company.
- External monitor – Working from a laptop screen for long periods will cause you neck and back problems down the line. So if possible, try and use an external monitor so you can maintain a healthy posture.
- Webcam – If you don’t have a built-in camera on your computer, then you may need to invest in a webcam for video conference calls.
9. Install the best software apps
Most companies will have a setlist of software apps that they’re licensed to use. But as COVID-19 caught many traditional office-based firms on the hop, you may have some flexibility to choose.
Here’s a roundup of software apps to consider:
- Remote desktop – If you need to connect to your work computer from home or if your IT team need to help you with a tech issue, then you’ll benefit from remote desktop software, such as Microsoft Remote Desktop (RDC), Apple Remote Desktop (ARD), TeamViewer, or SplashTop.
- Real-time communication – You’ll want to keep in touch with work colleagues and possibly clients through real-time chat message apps like Slack and Teams. If you find you’re using different messaging platforms, try connecting with Mio.
- Video chat / conferencing – Seeing a real face can help break your remote isolation. Plus, having face-to-face conversations removes any confusion or misinterpretation from email and chat messages. There are lots of contenders in this space that cater to different numbers of attendees, from 1-2-1 to company-wide meetings. Try Zoom, Skype for business, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Messenger Rooms, plus Facebook and Instagram Live broadcasts.
- Project management – If you need to manage projects that include task management, collaboration, file sharing, scheduling, and reporting, try one of these web-based project management tools: Asana, Basecamp, or Monday.
- Time management – Managing and recording the time spent on different projects and tasks is a whole lot easier with time management tools, such as Toggl, Timely, or Harvest.
- Marketing Collaboration: if you are looking for a way to structure your marketing workflows, Loomly is here to help your team collaborate, plan, publish and measure, all in one place. Start your 15-day free trial now.
Working from home with a significant other
For many of us, there’s more than one person now working from home. It could be a cohabiting couple, or it might be roommates sharing accommodation. So how do you manage that situation?
10. Respect each other’s work schedule
Not everyone works from 9 to 5. Some people might have to work a different schedule depending on their job.
As a couple, you need to respect that. Just because you’ve finished work doesn’t mean you can turn on the TV full blast or start playing an all-action video game.
If your significant other is still working, then maybe it’s time for you to put on your headphones and protect the working environment.
Make sure you know and respect each other’s working schedule to maintain your productivity.
11. Define a dedicated workspace
As well as recognizing your significant other’s work schedule, you should agree on a dedicated workspace, so it’s easy to differentiate between work and recreation.
If either party is in the workspace, then they should be left undisturbed so they can focus on work without any distractions.
12. Carve out individual time and space
Before the coronavirus, you had your own time and space, even if that was commuting to the office or going for an early morning run.
Now you’re together 24/7, and if you don’t give each other some time and space, then it’s possible things might get fractious.
Create a schedule in your calendar where you have “together-time” and “solo-time,” so you have space and room to breathe and also enjoy quality time together.
13. Show some empathy towards each other
It’s imperative to acknowledge that in this unusual and uncertain time, we’re going to have doubts and fears. Learning to observe each other and knowing when to support and encourage each other is vital.
It’s a new situation for everyone, so be respectful and show some kindness and consideration as we’re all in this together.
Working from home with kids
If you thought working from home with a significant other was tough, try adding kids into the mix. Aside from getting work done, parents also have to spend time minding or educating their children.
From a kid’s perspective, mom and dad are home, so they’re available, right? Logical thinking, but, sadly, not true.
Here’s how to work from home with kids.
14. Plan the week
It’s Sunday evening. You’ve had a great day with some quality family time. The kids are tucked up in bed, and you’re ready to flop in front of the TV.
But before you do, you need to set aside some time to plan the week ahead.
Decide who’s working when and who’s looking after the kids. Check your calendars to see who has fixed meetings and events they have to attend. Then fit in the flexible work around other commitments.
Next, you’ll want to decide what kids activities you plan to do, and what homeschooling tasks they need to complete.
With the whole week mapped out, you’re ready for the next step.
15. Set a timetable for each day
Divide the day into chunks, so you get a balance of work and family time. Where possible, it’s a good idea to follow the school timetable so there’s a mix of learning and playing, as well as breaks for drinks and meals where you can all meet together and socialize.
When you plan your calendar in this way, you’ll have one parent working while the other parent is taking care of the children.
16. Give your kids a routine
Children thrive on routine, even if they say they don’t. When they’re in school, they know where they need to be for each lesson and what’s coming next.
So while you’re all at home, create a timetable and pin it on the wall or the freezer, so everyone knows what to expect.
- 9AM-10AM is math with dad.
- 10AM-11AM is reading with mom.
- 11AM-11:30AM we’ll all meet for a drink and snack to catch up on the morning so far.
17. Set up work, play, and quiet zones
As well as knowing what they’re doing and when they’re doing it, kids also need to know where they can and can’t go.
Hopefully, you can have an office workspace where mom and dad go to work and can’t be disturbed. Plus, a zone where kids can study and play.
Also, you’ll need to set acceptable noise levels, so those who are working and studying don’t get disturbed.
And it’s not all work and play. Sometimes we need peace and space, so if it’s possible, designate a quiet zone, too. Or, at least allocate some quiet time in the calendar where everyone can retreat to a corner of the home.
18. Use online learning activities
As a parent, you’re not expected to turn into a super teacher overnight. Some schools have their own online portals where the children can access and download specific activities.
Plus, there are also generic educational channels that you can use to stimulate your children’s learning.
And don’t forget to tap into your wider family. For example, maybe you can ask Uncle Justin to teach the kids some science, rather than having to do everything yourselves.
19. Have fun
Most importantly, remember to have fun whether you’re working or looking after the children. Kids need playtime as well as study time. And so do parents! So make sure to have some quality playtime together where you can let off steam and enjoy each other’s company.
Conclusion: Work From Home (WFH) in a nutshell
Although many people have been thrown into working from home for the first time due to COVID-19, it’s a situation that’s likely going to stay beyond the current lockdown.
Nobody knows for sure how companies will operate in the future, but working from home will likely become more commonplace and play a significant role in the future of work.
Knowing how to manage yourself and organize your home and family for work and recreation is the key to working from home successfully.
Therefore, it makes sense to form some good habits from the outset so that you, your significant other, and the kids all know how to be productive and live happily under one roof.