Your essential guide to working from home… some of these tips may surprise you!

If you’re finding yourself having to work from home for the first time – perhaps you’re self-isolating due to the Coronavirus or for some other reason – then this post is for you.

We asked Paul McClenaghan (our resident design and marketing expert) to give us some tips he’s picked up along the way. Paul’s been working from home on and off for over 20 years. During that time he’s gathered lots of advice that could help you get organised and stay motivated.

By the way, if you’ve got any of your own tips then we’d love to hear from you, please share them with us on our Facebook page and we might also add them here.

Hey there, it’s Paul here. There are tons of reasons why working from home – for those of us that can – is a really good idea. We’ll get into some later in this post. Recent examples have shown that companies adopting these measures can gain massive productivity benefits. I predict that in the coming month’s many businesses will finally wake up to these benefits and this will actually be one of the positive things to come out of the coronavirus crisis.

Anyway, back to the job at hand… I’ve compiled some tips and resources that I hope might be useful if you’re suddenly having to work from home for the first time.

Before you get started

It’s really important to make sure you have a decent environment to work in. Not everyone is lucky enough to have tons of space or a separate office at home — I’m currently writing this in a fairly small bedroom/office! But whatever space you’ve managed to grab, there are things you should do to get yourself and your environment in order before you start actually working.

Have a wash and get dressed!

This bit of advice actually came from my mum. And no, she wasn’t saying I smelt bad (although after a good run I can be pretty whiffy!). When you’re working from home for the first time you might be tempted to just stay in your pyjamas for the whole morning (or even the whole day!). And you might not bother even having a shower before opening your laptop. To be fair, a few top authors do this so they can type out some ideas they had during the night. But for the rest of us, trust me, this is not a good idea.

Getting ready for the working day, just like you would if you had to go to the office, is really important for your frame of mind. That’s what my mum was alluding to. It’s the psychological effect of starting something fresh and alert that’s important. I’m not suggesting you need to get a shirt and tie on but you should at least put some “going out” clothes on. Try to avoid joggers is what I’m saying. Plus, if your boss suddenly asks for a quick video call you won’t be caught out wearing that embarrassing t-shirt you’ve been sleeping since 1987. Bit of an exaggeration but you get the gist!

Declutter your work area

We bang on about decluttering and organising your home better quite a lot in this blog. The Loft Boys are all about turning your unused loft into a useful storage space and thereby making the liveable part of your home less cluttered. There are many well-documented reasons why living in a tidy home is good for you. When it comes from working from home this becomes a lot more apparent.

There’s nothing worse than sitting down to start work and instantly getting distracted by bits and bobs scattered around your room. My advice would be to have a tidy up the night before so that in the morning you can hit the ground running (well sitting!).

Have you got a decent chair?

Whether you have an office chair or are using a dining room chair it’s super important to make sure it’s comfortable. If you’re hunched over or in a weird position you’ll soon feel like this working from home business isn’t what it cracked up to be. Keeping your neck and back in good shape is vital and one very simple trick is to put a small cushion behind your lower back. This pushes you forward a little and helps to have a straighter posture.

The NHS has a really useful guide on the best way to sit in an office chair.

Let’s get to work!

So you’ve had your breakfast, drank and coffee and brushed your teeth (we hope). Now it’s time to crack open the laptop and get going.

You might find though that working from home makes it harder than usual to stay motivated or to organise your work tasks well. Just being in a different environment is going to throw your work world upside-down, trust me.

So here are a few tools and tips you might find useful in staying motivated and focused.

Office hours

If you work in a team it’s highly likely you’ll need to talk to each other during the course of the day. But having constant distractions in the form of texts or phone calls is going to quickly turn into a nightmare. Therefore one tip is to keep ‘office hours’ and to tell your team, within reason, that you’ll only be available for communications during a set time each day. Obviously this won’t work for everyone but for many people, it might be a game-changer. This technique helps make team members more focused on asking the important questions and not wasting your time with things they can easily find out themselves. It will also free up the rest of your day to really focus on your tasks without those unnecessary distractions.

Staying in touch

If you’re in a team that needs to collaborate remotely for the first time then you’ll need a chat room tool and there’s a few to choose from out there.

Slack is probably the most popular and it’s particularly useful if you’re part of a few teams or a single team working on several projects. This is because you can create multiple ‘channels’ which are essentially chat rooms that you can join and converse in. As you’d probably expect, you can also share files plus it connects to other tools such as Google Docs, Trello and many others. Also, the great news is it’s totally free! Hurray!!

Organising projects and tasks

One of the most popular project management tools out there is Basecamp. It’s been around for a while now and is packed full of really useful tools such as schedulers, todo lists, various different file and message systems, chatrooms and lot’s more. It’s extremely user-friendly and intuitive giving you lot’s of ways for you to work better, individually or as part of a team. They also recently made it free to use for individuals or very small teams. The free version is limited to 3 projects, 20 users and 1GB of storage space which is plenty for many uses.

At The Loft Boys we’ve been using Basecamp for many years and it’s an invaluable tool for us.

The founders of Basecamp, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, are also very strong advocates for remote working. They literally wrote the book on it!

Another amazing and free tool that I commonly use to manage projects is the all-powerful Trello. As they say, “Trello lets you work more collaboratively and get more done.” And that’s exactly what it does. You create a bunch of lists and in each list you put cards that can contain various types of information and a discussion area. Each card can represent a task you need to do and as you complete it you move that card over to another list that might be called ‘Done’. It’s infinitely customisable and offers many different ways of working.

Managing your time more effectively

Again, this can be harder when you’re at home with potentially more to distract you so staying focused on the task at hand is essential. Something I came across a few years ago is called the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a method of reducing tasks down into smaller bite-sized chunks that are easier to manage and complete. Wikipedia describes it as:

“a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.”

If you’re interested to find out more, we found this article that goes much deeper into how to use this technique.

Time for lunch

Okay, here’s one of the best parts of working from home… you don’t need to eat a cold, limp, supermarket sandwich for lunch. Instead, you can satisfy yourself with something much more filling and not to mention healthier too!

There are tons of well-documented health benefits to eating a larger lunch and a smaller dinner. The fact is though, a hearty, healthy lunch will set you up well for the rest of your working day. Just don’t overdo it and try to avoid rich desserts or you’ll have to fight against the dreaded afternoon sugar slump.

What we often do in our house is to cook more the night before then keep the leftovers for our lunch. That means you just need to heat it up and you save precious break time.

A nap or a walk?

Lot’s of very successful people including Winston Churchill swore by their afternoon nap. In our hectic lifestyles, hitting the sack for an hour during the day seems very decadent but you’d be surprised by how beneficial it is to your mind and body. The secret to having a decent quality afternoon nap is to get comfortable (don’t sleep in your outdoor clothes), turn your phone to ‘do not disturb’ mode, and make the room quite dark.

going for a walk

Personally, I’m not quite at the stage of being to justify a nap to myself but going on a walk is essential to me. Walking for at least twenty minutes after lunch, whether it’s to a local park and back, or just around your neighbourhood, is a great way of resetting your mind ready for the afternoon shift! Walking has lots of mental health benefits and the secret to being able to sustain working from home is keeping your mind and body as healthy as possible.

What about physical exercise?

Here’s another massive advantage of working from home. The fact that you’re not needing to commute back and forth from the office means you just got back valuable time you can use however you please. If you ever found yourself using the excuse that you don’t have time for proper exercise due to work, now that excuse is well and truly out the window! So, use the time gained to go for a run or do some weights or whatever it is you’ve been putting off. Keeping your body healthy will help you be able to work better and you’ll be happier too. It’s a win-win.

Yay, I’m finished for the day

Well done, you made it! Now give yourself a small reward. Whether it’s a cup of tea and a few chocolate Hobnobs (other delicious biscuits are available) or taking the dog for a walk. It’s important to officially end your working day with some kind of ritual, however small. It can be easy to let your work and home life merge into one soupy mixture but this will just make most people miserable. So have a proper cut-off point and stick to it.

Also, now listen carefully, DON’T CHECK YOUR WORK EMAILS AFTER WORK!!! If it’s an emergency they will text or call you. Otherwise, it can wait until tomorrow morning!

Go easy on yourself

One very important thing when doing any kind of work/life transition is to ease into it and not beat yourself up if it takes longer to adjust than you thought it would. Plus, since we’re currently going through what could be described as one of the largest healthy crises of the modern age, anxiety levels will be high for everyone. So all the more reason to take it easy and gradually get to grips with your new environment. Good luck and as we said at the start, we’d love to hear what keeps you sane while working from home.

Other Resources

I got an email from LinkedIn talking about how they will be supporting people during this crisis. One of the things they mentioned was opening up their Learning portal for everyone and they linked to this course: Remote Working: Setting Yourself and Your Teams Up for Success

LinkedIn Learning Working from home

I haven’t checked it out properly yet but the description sounds good: “Optimize working remotely, whether you’re new to remote work or not, and whether you’re leading a team or part of a team involving distributed team members. Discover how to be productive and stay connected when working from home or other remote environments.” Plus, the format is all video by the looks of it so it should be very accessible for all.