How to survive working from home

Due to the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, millions of working people around the world find themselves confronted with a new reality: working from home.

For parents, or others living with young children, this transition has undoubtedly been an uphill battle which brings its own challenges. For others, used to their usual work space, the greatest problems may be staying motivated, being productive, and effectively managing their time.

Whilst I sympathise with parents and carers, I am not a parent and therefore not the best person to advise on homeschooling or juggling work and childcare. I do, however, have experience working from home when I worked remotely as a social media manager in London, whilst also completing a Master’s degree. For around eight months I had to manage my tasks and time 7 days a week. The tips I am going to share are mainly aimed at people working from home, but can also be useful for anyone looking to stay productive – and sane – during quarantine. Students missing the structure of taught lectures and the library study-space, this is for you too.

  1. Have a designated workspace

If you have an existing workspace at home, such as a computer desk or even a room that serves as an office / study, use it as much as you can. If you don’t, try to create one that’s as ergonomic as possible to avoid long-term injury that bad posture can cause. When you take a break, get up and leave your workspace. Have a coffee whilst gazing out the window, not whilst flicking through spreadsheets or your work’s WhatsApp chat. Your eyes and your brain will thank you for it.

Working from the sofa is generally a bad idea. It’s important to create a division between work and home, both for yourself and for anyone living with you. You need to avoid distractions and be able to leave your workspace and relax when you’re done working, and people you live with also need to know when you’re ‘at work’ and shouldn’t be disturbed (without good reason, of course). If it’s not possible to create a physical division between ‘work’ and ‘home’, try to create a mental one and ask those who live with you to respect and support it.

2. Keep a routine, keep the momentum

There’s a saying I’ve come across a few times recently: “You can’t always be motivated, so you have to learn to be disciplined”, or words to that effect. Without the need to clock-in at a certain time, the temptation is there to go to sleep later and wake up later. Don’t. It will be hard to stay focused and be productive if your body clock is working against you. Pick a time to wake up and have breakfast, and a time to start work, and stick to them as closely as possible.

3. Take a break. Actually, take lots.

Set your working hours, with scheduled breaks, and stick to those as well. If you’re working on a computer, you can use a program like TimeOut to schedule short breaks to stretch your legs or to avoid eye strain, and longer breaks for coffee and lunch. If you find yourself working on the computer more than you normally would, it is definitely worth following the 20:20:20 rule and consider buying some blue-light blocking glasses. Make the most of any opportunity to get outside and get some fresh air. This could mean stepping out into the garden, if you have one, or using your ‘one form of daily exercise’ to go for a short walk.

I used to always walk to the Tube station to meet my wife from work, as many times it would be the only reason I would leave the apartment for a whole week. Not a great example of taking ‘fresh air’, but it was good to feature time outside into my daily routine.

4. Get dressed for work

You may not be leaving the house, but it’s a slippery slope once you’re three hours into working from home and you’re still in pajamas with unbrushed teeth. This really follows on from the last point about keeping a routine… Shower, brush your teeth, get dressed. It’s all about the mentality of being ‘at work’. I’m not saying you should wear a suit if no one is going to see you, of course one of the perks of working from home is you can wear comfortable clothing. But trust me, wearing your pajamas day and night for 5 days is really going to affect how you feel.

This advice goes for just about everyone currently living in ‘lockdown’ conditions. The more ‘normality’ we can bring into our daily lives, the less this situation will affect our mental health.

5. Don’t be a stranger

You may not necessarily miss your co-workers, or your overbearing boss, but deep down I think humans do crave a certain amount of social interaction. Particularly if your job usually entails working with other people or dealing with the public, it might come as a shock to the system to be at home, relatively isolated. If there are friends or colleagues you would normally have a chat to over coffee and unload your work stress with, why not put the kettle on and speak to them over the phone, or by video call?

If your work group usually have drinks after work on a Friday, why not check in on them and see if they fancy having virtual ‘drinks’ via videoconference? The hardest thing about home-working is possibly balance. Work-Life, Work-Home, Work-Social. Millions of people are facing similar difficulties in this current situation, so don’t try to face it alone.

I hope these tips have been useful, and that maybe they’ve made you think about what you’re already doing pretty well, or how you could make a few changes. Please feel free to comment below and add any suggestions you may have.

Ultimately people work in different ways and there will be no one-size-fits-all approach to home working, but since I found what worked for me over many weeks and months of trial and error, I thought I’d share.

James Sturt-Schmidt - Millennianaire

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