Top tips on how to work from home from people who already work from home

Working from home is the new norm. If you're having trouble adapting this advice from people who have already been doing it for ages will help.

Working from home is ‘the new norm’ now, with New Zealand and many parts of the world in full lockdown to stem the spread of Covid-19.

For those who have not done it before it is an adjustment.

Without the unwritten code of conduct that comes with being in a dedicated work space it is easy to become distracted by pretty much everything around you.

A quick break to hang out the washing turns into a full-scale cleaning session.

‘Just one quick episode’ of Netflix becomes an all-day binge.

An afternoon nap leaves you feeling so shattered you take the rest of the day off.

Add to the that the constant checking of your phone for news updates and developments, and you can find that your productivity is not what it was in the office.

The extroverts among us are also discovering that working from home can be lonely.

So how do you keep up your productivity as well as your spirit?

We asked those who already work from home for their top tips.

Look the part

Travel writers Lydia Vasko from Singapore and Kerry Heaney from Australia both agree that following your usual morning routine of showering and getting dressed is your first step to productivity.

You don’t have to put in as much effort as you would for a day in the office but you do need to get out of your pyjamas and make yourself presentable, they insist.

Says Lydia, “It’s a stressful world out there so I say wear whatever makes you feel good and safe and comfortable. I change into ‘house clothes’.”

Kerry has learned from experience that whatever you wear needs to be presentable enough to pass muster when your boss holds an impromptu Facetime or Skype call.

Seven Sharp host Hilary Barry took this one step further on Wednesday, donning a ball dress for her first day at home and inspiring dress-ups all over New Zealand.

Kiwi journalist Penny Lewis, who has freelanced in the past but currently works in an office, adds, “For me I’m ‘in the zone’ once I put on my red lipstick. So even though it sounds a bit flaky, that’s what I do every morning.

“I’m not in a job that requires me to wear a suit, but for people who are I can see why they would still put on a suit.

Stay away from the remote

Once you turn on the TV it’s a slippery slope to zero productivity, every person we interviewed for this story warned us.

“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT TURN ON THE TV OR NETFLIX AT ANY POINT,” says Lydia. “Take it from many hours/days lost down that rabbit hole – your days’ productivity will be shot.”

Penny would add to that, “Stay off social media.

“Anything you wouldn’t do at work you shouldn’t do when working from home. If you have a job that requires you to stay on top of social media, that’s fine. But if you don’t, save it for the end of the day.”

Make lists

Says Kerry, “I think it’s important to have a good list of what you want to achieve for the day and work through it just like when you are in an office.”

Lydia, too, works off a daily to-do list.

“I like to follow a loose structure.”

Look at ‘break times’ through a new lens

Break times, for Kerry, are when she hangs out the washing or takes the dog for a walk.

Adds Penny, “By all means put on the washing, but when you hear the beep that the machine has finished hang it out and make that your morning break time – or wait until you’d normally take a morning break to hang it. You wouldn’t down tools to hang the washing at work, would you?”

Try and keep to the hours you would at work too, so that you’re in sync with your colleagues.

Find new ways to share social interactions

Kerry says she uses grocery shopping as an opportunity to connect with other people. (We can still say ‘hi’ from two metres away.)

“I will often have lunch out, too,” she adds. (While we can’t have lunch ‘out’ we can go outside and enjoy lunch in the garden or on the deck.)

You can also take advantage of technology like Zoom to hold team meetings that give you ‘face-to-face’ contact. You could even have your Friday afternoon work drinks over Zoom, if you wanted to.

Email, Slack, Zoom and Facebook Messenger are all great tools to help you stay in regular contact with your colleagues.

Work in a dedicated space

Penny learned the hard way that she cannot work from a laptop in bed.

When she first began working as a freelance writer she tried it: “I used to fall asleep all the time,” she admits.

While she explains that she was pregnant at the time, she also learned that she was better to have a dedicated work space.

“Even if it’s the kitchen table or bench and you clear it away at the end of the day…”

She also advises, “Make sure you have everything you need. For example, I always use a mouse. It’s a good idea to also have a keyboard. Have everything that you’d normally have at work to do your job.”

Be extra vigilant about looking after your work equipment too, she adds, especially if you use a computer “because sourcing IT help from home is much more difficult than it is from the office”.

Add white noise if that is what you need

If you’re a person who is comforted and soothed by the sound of office chatter, then you will not work well in silence at home. In the absence of people around you, create low-level white noise by turning on the radio or running podcasts at low level.

“Depending on the work I’m doing I put on music,” says Lydia.

Kerry plays Spotify play lists to help her with her focus. She recommends the Deep Focus playlist on Spotify.

Eat like you’d eat at work

It’s tempting to spend all day helping yourself to whatever is in the fridge when it’s right there in the house with you, but Penny suggests taking breaks to eat in the same way you would at work. We will be doing our very best to follow this advice.

And last but not least, remember it’s all about discipline

Australian journalist Sarah Reid says, “I have a really strict structure.”

She’s up at 6am-ish for a run, swim, surf or yoga, then eats breakfast and is at her desk ready to start work for the day at 8am.

“Basically I don’t move until around 6pm unless I have to hang out the washing, make food, get wine, pop across the road for a cheeky swim or yell at my husband to stop distracting me.

“Wow, I am really boring…

“Not boring, productive…”

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