If you’re one of the lucky people who still has work and financial security in these uncertain times, it’s likely you’re working from home. Many will be over the moon that their commute has shortened to five seconds and that they can sneak in additional snack breaks. But the reality is that it’s not all that easy.
After the first few days, remote working can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. We’ve not seen a situation like COVID before in our lifetimes, so don’t beat yourself up if working from home doesn’t come naturally.
Motivation can be as lacking as pasta and toilet paper supplies right now, and it can be tempting to live every day like it’s the weekend, slobbing around watching Netflix. But it’s important to get in the right mindset and set up a good working environment – it’ll help pass the time and keep your mind busy.
Right now there are about 101 articles on how to successfully work from home. The important thing to remember is that none of these are a one-size-fits-all solution, and our article is no different. You need to find what works for you through good old-fashioned trial and error. But our tips are worth thinking about, particularly if you’re struggling.
Below we’ve made an easy visual reference of our tips. Click here to skip to the rest of the article.
Most of you will have already done this, but remember to ask your boss for any access, software, or hardware you might need to allow you to work as near to normal as you can. This includes having separate work tech where possible so that you can still differentiate between work time and self time.
Of course, whether this can be achieved depends on your living situation, but if your laptop setup is on your sofa, it’s unlikely you’ll be in the right mood to work. Your body will think you’re ready for the next episode of Brooklyn 99 and your elevenses ‘share’ bag of Doritos. You need a chair with posture support, just as you do in the office.
If possible, set up a desk in a spare room with lots of natural air, light, and space to breathe – unless you’re a nosy neighbour and get distracted easily by the outside world. It’s also good to have a backup area as an escape plan in case your workspace gets invaded by the boundless energy of the kids or the dog.
This is a tip I’ve seen in almost every article about working from home, because it’s a good one. If you stay in your pyjamas all day, you can feel grotty and too comfy for work. Get washed and dressed just like you would for a normal day in the office. This will make you feel better and ready to face the day. You can even go as far as doing hair and makeup if it makes you feel more like you, and comes with the added benefit of negating awkward surprise video calls in your Eeyore nightie and bedhead chic.
You’ve probably seen the Instagram photos full of needy cats getting in the way of computer screens. And who can blame them? You’re finally home 24/7 and you’re not even using that time to give them attention!
If you have cats, dogs, kids, or noisy housemates, it’s never going to be easy, but try to keep them occupied so you can focus on work. Enforce that once you’re at your computer, you are ‘in work’ and should be left alone. However, I am all for my cat jumping on the desk whilst I’m working – it brings a little laughter to my day.
If you can work with music on, choose a calm or motivational playlist on Spotify or Youtube to get you through the day, and drown out any noisy neighbours or other distractions that make you clock-watch.
Things can seem chaotic when you fall out of your 9-to-5 routine, so it’s important to get into a new one quickly. Set up to-do lists and calendar reminders until it starts to feel natural. By all means have that lie-in, but don’t overdo it. Getting up at 8 is still a luxury for most of us! Pick a time to get up in the morning, set a time to get to bed, and most importantly, when you finish work for the day, you finish working.
Of course, it’s going to be difficult to separate work life from home life at present, so once it hits 5:30, just stop. If you absolutely have to work past it, finish early the next day, but don’t make a habit of it. If you live with other people, they might feel lonely if you’re constantly working. Spend some time with them each day, even for a quick kitchen catch-up. This can also help set expectations for housemates to know when you’re ‘at work’ and not to disturb you.
Don’t schedule your free time post-work, but make sure you do something that makes you happy or makes you laugh. Laughter probably isn’t the best form of medicine, but it’s a damn good supplement.
Regardless of your job role and where you’re working from, communication will always be key – more so now than ever. The people you work with are often the people you spend the most time talking to, so stay connected. It’s so easy with technology and there’s really no excuse. Invest in a good headset with a mic and sound-proof headphones for those important meetings. Set up a regular communication plan with colleagues. Start taking video calls – it’s amazing how speaking face to face with someone can make a difference to your day.
Socials and events may have been cancelled, but you can still arrange online meetups to keep people motivated. Coworker Coffee lets you schedule time to get to know your colleagues better. You could talk to someone in your office that you’ve never met before, getting to learn about a different area of the business as well as both of you feeling a bit more positive.
Some businesses are trying weekly online ‘pub’ meetups (unfortunately you supply your own drinks), as a catchup after work, just like the pre-COVID days. There are lots of creative ways to ensure you’re still getting the weekly office catchup: try online games and quizzes, group calls, set each other challenges – whatever works for your team.
The news right now is utterly depressing and panic-inducing. The last thing you want to do is check the news mid-working day and lose all your motivation. Save it for once per day if you can (NOT directly before bed, though, if you value your sleep) and only look when you can talk about it with someone who can share the burden.
Unless you’re also obsessed with food, it can be surprisingly easy to forget to take breaks without social cues from colleagues. If you are also a coffee fiend, invest in a good coffee machine. It makes all the difference to your day. Thinking about that sweet, barista-style coffee will remind you to take a break. In fact, why not sync your coffee break with your work mates and have a quick catch-up call?
Some people feel guilty for taking breaks when working from home, as if it looks like they’re taking advantage of the privilege or that they’ll get in trouble for it. But even outside of the current situation, taking the odd ten minutes for yourself is totally justified. Your bosses should hopefully show some compassion and be forgiving of extra breaks for the sakes of your health.
Just as in work, staring at a screen all day is bad for your eyes, and doubtless you’re already feeling tired from copious amounts of doing nothing all day. If you’re up to it, take your allotted exercise time and go to a nearby park, sit in your garden (weather permitting), or do some yoga (flexibility permitting).
Find recipes that get you excited and take the time to cook properly. It’ll make the food more enjoyable and you’ll have something to look forward to, getting you through the working day. If you can make lunch the night before, you’ll also save some time for future you’s lunch break.
It’s important to get a change of scenery so that you can relax when eating. If this isn’t really doable in your home, at the very least turn your computer off.
And most importantly –
Contradictory to Tip 5, don’t worry if you fail to stick to schedules and deadlines. Work keeps our minds occupied during this time of uncertainty, but it is still uncertain, and global stress and anxiety levels are at an all-new level. On the plus side, most people understand if you feel overwhelmed and need a moment to calm down. Your health should always come first.
If you need to, take a timeout, do something non-news or work related. Watch a short programme, message a friend, doodle, write about a happy memory, pop in your headphones and focus on your breathing. It’ll be no good for anyone if you’re completely burnt out once normal service is resumed. Positivity is key, but if you’re not feeling it, you’re just not feeling it.
As with most things in life, it’s about finding the right balance between keeping to a schedule and not being too hard on yourself. Perfect those tightrope-walking skills until you can confidently walk that line. It just takes time and practice.
Whichever way you choose to work, we wish everyone the best of luck in powering through this, and hope to see you on the other side, stronger, and ready to roll. Stay safe!
Claire is a University of Nottingham student frustratingly close to finishing her Creative Writing Masters degree.
When she's not creating content for Kumo clients, Claire is glued to her PS4 controller, writing poetry, or reading a good sci-fi novel.