We’ve been working from home for twenty months now and it will be two years or more before it ends, if not more. For fifteen years before the lockdown, I was a Home Counties commuter up to offices in central London. Over those years, the biggest change I have seen would be that we take for granted today the availability of robust IT technology that enables us to efficiently deliver office-based services remotely from almost anywhere in the world.
Some years ago I happened to fly to Aberdeen on business. I arrived at LHR and got to the security check: “please put your laptop in a separate tray“…laptop…laptop? LAPTOP? Arghh! My laptop was not present. But we had at that point, cloud-based IT systems that enabled me, without a laptop, to flawlessly deliver what my employer was flying me to Aberdeen to deliver. I was able to do this with no more hassle than logging into some other internet-connected computer. It was literally trivial. Today, changes have been forced over the last two years by the Coronavirus pandemic, that render the physical office itself barely relevant at all.
But we still have to work for a living. Working from home is not straightforward; it’s not obvious how to do it properly, and there are very good reasons why it is not always appropriate. This is something I believe: anything that blurs the distinction between work and rest, plays into the hands of the employer, not the employee. When Dilbert’s “pointy-haired boss” talks about “work-life integration” rather than “work-life balance”, that really is too true to be funny. Two things that blur the distinction between work and rest, both highly thought of by employees, both a potential minefield or poison chalice. Working from home is one of them. The other is the practice of “dress down Friday”, which we won’t go into here.
My top tips for working at home:
- GET UP
- Maintain disciplined hours: get up more or less at the same time as you would have done if you were commuting to the office.
- Dress properly – whilst slippers or bare feet is fine, for me, my clothes should be smart weekend casual at least – make an effort. I think a good rule of thumb is, if you needed to change to leave the house to go out for lunch, you’re probably not appropriately dressed.
2. START WORK, DO WORK, FINISH WORK
- As far as possible have set hours for work, and follow them. Put the hours in. Keeping a record of hours to make sure you do, might be worthwhile, but don’t be a slave to the timesheet.
- Try to avoid blurring work and rest. Start work at a certain time, take breaks, take a lunch break away from your desk.
- As far as possible – and realistically it’s perfectly possible – finish work at a set time.
- Don’t return to your desk “after hours” in the evening or at weekends – office hours is office hours. At the end of the day you are the one granting permission to work evenings or weekends. Not your boss, your spouse, not your kids….YOURSELF.
- Do work
- Have a written list of tasks for each day, do those tasks. Put a line through a task when it is done: make your work day about achieving small, discrete objectives, each one of them contributing to the greater objective of doing your job properly.
- Don’t be afraid to close your door if you’re lucky enough have a door or a separate room to work in, and to make it clear that you’re busy and not to be disturbed.
- Have breaks: make coffee, hang out the washing, talk to other people in your house, walk the dog, be flexible.
- Acknowledge that you’ll have good and bad days: Not all days are good storming days; some days are bad days. It happens; roll with it. A storming productive day can often be followed by a slower, less productive day: it all averages out.
- Finish work
- Close down your work computer
- Put your work equipment (laptop, papers etc.) away at the end of the working day – if you have the space, conceal it. Put it in a cupboard or somewhere it can’t be seen.
- Mark the end of the working week with some small ritual or ceremony. For me this is a walk into town to buy a bottle of beer and a bag of crisps. It could be a take-away, or a movie night, or a longer walk, or whatever.
- Try to avoid drinking alcohol on week nights – keeping off the alcohol in the week means the weekend becomes something a little more special.
3. LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
- Create!! Do something different Engage your left brain. Do something that is not analytical, something that is not your work. It might be drawing, gardening, painting, sewing, cooking, learning a language, studying a subject, playing a musical instrument, doing a jigsaw. It might even be ironing! Anything is allowed so long as it’s different.
- Be outdoors for some of every day. Ideally in daylight though this may be difficult in winter. Ideally alone though this may be tricky for parents! Get yourself some headspace.
- Get plenty of exercise as clearly distinct from just a walk around the block. This is vigorous aerobic exercise 2-3 times a week.
- Keep on eye on the calories: Don’t eat and drink more than you body can deal with. A modern western diet is so high in calories that in a home-based “office” lifestyle if you’re not careful your weight will slowly and inexorably increase.
In all of these rules, don’t be a slave to rules, and do whatever works for you.