Top tips for working from home

I now work from home.  There I have said it. The last 6 weeks or so have been an interesting change in my working life because, after over 30 years of leaving home and going to work each morning, I now don’t, I work at home.

Change is good and I embrace it, knowing what the change is helps me accelerate through the change curve at a fair pace, it is unexpected change which takes me time to get used to.

This change though was planned, thought through and delivered in relatively short order, so that helped.  I did what most people would do when this became a real possibility I googled the subject.  More than once.

I also asked around and whilst I found some information this is inevitably a subject that is intensely personal and so it’s variable and in fact what I found was not very practically informed, a lot of theory in fact.

I haven’t posted on my blog in a while – apologies to avid readers – work and family have been all-consuming with new homes, new jobs and changes in my family too.  All positive but they occupy the mind and the body a little.

This is an ideal topic to share as it becomes an increasing reality for more workers in the UK.  In fact a year ago it was reported that 1.5m people work from home – a rise of 250,000 in a year.  I hope my tips below help anyone embarking on the same journey:

01.  I still commute to work

Ok, that sounds counter intuitive, but I do; my commute happens to be quite different though.  In some blogs I read it recommended this and I do find it works.  I choose to leave my house and go to the gym for an early morning workout.  If I can’t do that for any reason, I walk out of my house and down the lane to the fields near my house.  The reason? To change my mind-set and to recognise that for 30 odd years I have been doing a commute that in some way prepares me for a day’s work.  I would also recommend in the same vein making sure you dress for work, maybe lose the tie, but you are at work after all.

02.  Prepare your physical workspace

This is not quite as simple as it sounds.  My study at home is now my place of work.  My wife and I agreed not to refer to it as my ‘Office’ as this is a shared space.  We still have our own iMac etc on the desk next to me. This is where my wife and I edit photo’s use the web and so on.  Thus, I have to keep my ‘work’ element neat and tidy and organised and, crucially, separate.  It is important I follow the same clear desk policy at home as I did in the office.  This both helps security and keeps work life running smoothly alongside home life.  I did buy a larger desk and that has worked a treat in fact as I chose a bench style deliberately i.e. no drawers to fill to over flowing!

03.  Get the right equipment

This was out of my control to a certain extent, but I had great support from my company.  I used two screens in the office and have a powerful laptop but, and bearing in mind my tip above, I don’t have room for that at home, nor would I want to fill my home with work equipment.  The solution for me in my role, and thinking about using the design software we use, is a slightly larger screen and having a clear enough desk to use the laptop screen as an email view alongside it if I need to.  The use of a Bluetooth headset with our Skype for Business solution adds kit to my desk and uses another plug socket, so I use a simple USB headset now.  My team and I have also chosen to embrace a paperless strategy, more on that in my next post, so no printer – another reason the 24 inch screen has been a tremendous choice.  Collaboration software, to support team working, is next on my list to crack.

04.  Use the technology to its fullest extent

In the same vein challenge the status quo, see what can help you.  At the most simple level what I am trying to say is: treat remote working as an opportunity to use the best of what you have.  Try and use video rather than just audio calling and definitely try not to hide behind email.  That’s a very easy trap to fall into and if you are used to working at home every now and again it is often to complete a specific piece of work, meaning the phone may be turned off and email checked infrequently.  This is different, guard against being an email warrior!  When working at home you are likely to have many fewer interruptions so it’s easy to respond instantly to emails, but it will break your efficiency.  In fact it is one reason I like the single big screen and I’m not currently double screening my email, as I used to in the office, to help me manage this. I am looking at how I might use chat rooms in Skype or SharePoint to help collaboration.

05.  Move about a bit!

This has been important to my well-being, in the office I always tried to have face to face conversations, go and see people, rather than email them.  This is no longer an easy option, so I have had to adapt a little and take a five-minute break every now and again to get away from my screen and change my state.  However this has led to an interesting learning … see my next tip

06.  Don’t be paranoid, be organised

Big Brother is not watching you!  One of the helpful things about our software choice of ‘Skype for Business’ is that it shows your availability.  It also shows if you are ‘INACTIVE’! This is my equivalent of the ‘big red button’.  Finagle’s Law means every time I nip to the kitchen to make a coffee or go for a 5 minute break … I know my phone will ring, I know my boss will email me and he will see I’m inactive having checked my diary, he will think I am bunking off watching the TV.  Clearly none of these things is actually happening but I think it is.  This is a factor of working alone and in isolation and is a perfectly human reaction. My only advice is to recognise it, and try to manage it and, well … try not to be paranoid.  My team and I have talked about this in our weekly team meetings.  I will address managing a remote team in a future post, but in the meantime we have agreed a simple but effective solution; diary notes.

Ok it’s not that elegant but it does work.  I simply add to my diary what I am doing if I think it’s going to be helpful to others e.g. if I’m taking an early lunch to nip to the local shop I diarise it,  If I’m going to be writing a paper, I put it into my diary as an appointment, and I have an open diary.  See, I said it was simple.

07.  Don’t expect it to be easy to start with

Even if you have worked at home intermittently, don’t expect this to be the same, it is not, it requires a mind-set change just as much as a physical change.  It can be lonely undoubtedly and for a creative role like mine the lack of conversation / someone to bounce ideas about with is hard.  My advice is to simply be open and talk about how it feels not just with your boss but with colleagues, try not to bore them though!  My post on team working will look at this in more detail.

So those are my tips, I hope they help you or are at the very least of interest, you’ve got this far after all!

The obvious question you, my reader, may be left with is simply: am I enjoying it? Honestly, I’m not sure, I do know it’s harder than I thought and I am having to change how I work more basically than I expected, I need to set more short-term goals I find and work in short 30 minute bursts, but overall it’s been a good experience so far.

I am indebted to one of my colleagues who gave me some sage advice having been a home worker himself by the way, a reminder that in the words of the late Bob Hoskins “It’s good to talk”.

If you have a few moments please share your thoughts on my post.  Thanks.

Paul Hemingway
24 April 2017

PS here’s my space – see I told you it was neat!


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8 thoughts on “Top tips for working from home

  1. Mary McGuigan says:

    Sounds like you’ve got it cracked Paul. Have you tried Trello and Slack for collaborating and communicating remotely? I’ve found it works with some teams but not for everyone. Good luck! I’m looking forward to hearing how you are getting on.

    • Oh – not tried either of those Mary – thanks for the tips. It is a harder thing to get used than I thought – but I have a full week ahead without trips and with my model week so I’m looking forward to that immensely !! P

  2. Gloria Barker says:

    Good advice Paul. Hopefully you are achieving a better work life balance now too….so not sitting in your workspace at 6.30am!!
    I find Bluetooth keyboard and mouse as well as bluetooth headset are great too. I Love not having to use a phone handset, so I now type notes whilst on important calls rather than jot notes in a book. Helps with the paperless office.

  3. Dave Wright says:

    I really enjoyed this article Paul. Well considered and articulated. Glad it’s working for you.

  4. Laura Martin says:

    Hi Paul – long-time no speak, I do hope you are well! I really enjoyed your piece – I too started WFH last year & it took me a long time to adjust to working from home fulltime… I wish I’d come across your tips back then, it’s great advice! I have found taking yourself off to a coffee shop for an hour or two just for background noise worked well for me, you also get a chance to get to know other home workers & have a bit of face to face interaction. Good luck with it all & impressive, tidy work space!

    • Thanks Laura – one of my team is Northampton based and his local coffee shop is now set up for just such a networking and home worker approach – fascinating how the world is adapting ! I hope you and yours are all well Laura. Paul

  5. […] you will know from my last post on this blog, I now work from home. This gave me a fresh opportunity to see if I could work in a way […]

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