At first we loved the novelty of taking our monitors and IT equipment home, setting up our workspace in the corner of the living room or bedroom, the lack of commute, the ability to roll out of bed that little bit later, having lunch in the garden instead of at your desk. And more varied lunches, not just the standard office sandwich but a whole fridge of options. Avoiding those long trips to other cities for meetings around a table that seemed to last forever; we are social distancing, you know, and our people are all working from home.
But then eating Ben & Jerry’s at lunchtime no longer seemed so appealing, having been caught unawares by a sly spotting of the size of your (now giant) ass in the mirror. Whilst it was definitely appealing having had some otherwise face to face meetings with colleagues by Zoom (and with camera switched off so you could browse your social media on the quiet), the sociable chat over a cup of tea with work friends, who had held you up when times were tough and agreed with you wholeheartedly that your boss was a total nob, left a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon in your day.
Despite those downsides, it’s clear that working from home will be the reality for many of us for a while yet. Even when COVID-19 is done (will that ever happen?!) attitudes to full time office working have changed forever; many people want the option to work from home at least some of the time, and employers have realised the benefit of having fewer people in the office at any given time means the need to rent less office space – and the obvious cost saving as a result. And who doesn’t want the option to use saved time to listen to the kids read or – but for a global pandemic – watch their starring role in the Nativity. Or even save a little in the cost of commuting too?
Having worked from home pretty much exclusively since March (and my new job meaning I will be doing so going forward) I have established a few rules for myself to make sure my sanity remains intact and to avoid ‘home working burnout’ and these are the ones I have found most helpful.
- Welcome to my (bedroom) office Mr Bond
Not always possible but if you can set up your home office in any room other than your bedroom, then do it. Trying to sleep whilst your home office is winking at you from the corner of the room is a recipe for disaster. If you do have to have your workspace in your bedroom then do close the laptop, shut it down and switch off any monitors at the end of the day. Add a plant or two to make it look less workspace and more home.
- Away. From. The. Desk
Without colleagues and friends to distract, a coffee machine to gather around and meetings to attend, it becomes all too easy to remain glued to your desk, to drink every cup of tea and eat every meal staring at your monitor. Don’t. At the very least get up and walk around every hour or so. Eat your lunch away from your desk, even if it’s only at the other side of the room.
- A saved commute does not mean more opportunity to flog yourself at your desk
I have never had a fixed time for leaving the office but when WFH it became even easier to justify another half hour of work as my commute was a short walk downstairs and not a drive or train journey home. I soon realised that the drive home was my wind down time and that I needed to do the same at home too. The office being in touching distance all the time doesn’t mean you have to be working all the time; make sure you build that wind down time into your evening routine
- Your mother was right – you need to get out for a run around in the fresh air
If you can get out at some point in the day for some fresh air then do it. I appreciate in winter that sometimes a walk in bitterly cold wind and rain is far from appealing (in which case feel free to stay inside instead – just not at your desk) but do make a conscious effort to step outside your front door every day for something other than a trip to the supermarket.
- Make the space your own
Adding a candle and a nice print, maybe even a plant (faux is allowed if, like me, you forget to water them) can help your workspace more integrated into your home and less an area symbolising misery, loneliness and stress. Many of us are not allowed to bring personal items to work or have a clear desk policy; if working from home offers you the opportunity to 'prettify' and personalise your workspace, go for it.
- Your workmates and friends are still there
It’s so easy when you’re passing someone’s desk to pop over for a quick catch up. Not so easy when they’re sitting at home, you can’t see if they’re busy and you don’t want to disturb them. But social interaction is crucial. Schedule regular catch up calls. It doesn’t need to be for long and it should be agreed that if there’s something more pressing happening then no one will be offended by taking a rain check. And if you can use your camera, so much the better (and an excuse to brush your hair if nothing else). My last firm had a departmental quiz once a fortnight on Friday afternoon (great for a catch up and some banter - although I’m still waiting for my wine prize from my win one week, Rachel, if you’re reading this!) and my current workplace has a virtual Thursday night pub.
So reap the benefits of working from home, make it more winner than WTF and banish the burnout. Happy home working!