Things that I’ve learned during my 8 years of working from home

I’m sorry to anyone who has seen this on my personal blog, but I decided to post it here as well because I thought it may be relevant to some of my readers here too.

Many people are finding themselves working from home at the moment. As a result, my feed is full of tips about how to work from home. The only problem is that some of them have clearly been written by someone who has never worked a day from home in their life, and others seem a bit generic – like a cut and paste job of random tips from the internet. So because of this, I wasn’t going to write anything on the subject – but then I thought “no! You’ve been working from home for eight years now! Maybe some of the things that you’ve learned will help others too!”

My business has always been an online business, so I chose to work at home. When I was still working in my Communications Manager role, I was occasionally able to get agreement for some time at home. I didn’t like the 3 hour commute. I didn’t like our big open-plan office with 100 people in each room. I was already convinced of the benefits. Still, I know this was a choice, whereas for many people who are now working from home as a response to current events, it is not their choice at all and some parts of the job may be a lot harder. Still, maybe some of these tips will help you.

I’ve intentionally made it about what I do, not because I think I have all the answers, but I can only tell you what works for me. You may hate some of these ideas and that’s ok. Sharing my experiences felt better than me writing one of those “10 things that you must do” posts – because I value our differences too much for that.

1. I have a set place to work

I know this will be harder for some people. I’ve worked from a desk crammed in the corner of my bedroom before and it really wasn’t great to be working and sleeping in the same place.It’s nice to have that physical separation between where you work and where you relax.

If I get an idea at the weekend, I might still curl up to write a blog on the sofa or do a bit of website maintenance, but most of the time, work goes on at my desk. Everything I need is there. The room where I work is mostly used as my office.

Apart from having better posture when I’m sitting at my desk properly, it helps me to get into the right mindset for work.

This might not be so easy if there’s a bunch of people in your home trying to work, study, or children who want somewhere to play – but it will be easier for you if you can find a dedicated place to work, rather than having stuff strewn all over the house. It may also be a way to limit distractions.

2. I look the same as I would if I were going to the office

I’ve seen all kinds of things this week about what people are planning to wear (or hnot wear) now that they are working from home. Of course it depends on what you do and how much customer contact you have, but I try to look pretty much the same as I would if I were going into the office, especially on days when I’ll be on video.

I don’t wear a formal suit or anything like that. If you have a very early meeting with me, you probably won’t see a full face of make-up either. But neither do I wear my gym clothes or slob around in my pyjamas when I’m meeting with customers.

It’s for two reasons really – impressions count, and if customers don’t think you can be bothered to make an effort to look your best for them, they may not see you as very professional. Secondly, it makes me feel good to have a shower, put on fresh clothes, spray some perfume, put on my make-up, and face the day feeling clean and fresh.

Everyone has their own personal style and that’s one of the good things about working from home – you can choose what to wear.I just get a bit concerned about the way some people see working from home as just dossing around. If you start to let self-care and personal hygiene go, it can be a slippery slope in other areas too.

3. I manage expectations

This covers all kinds of things.

Firstly, other people’s expectations. Being at home is not the same as being available all the time. I might schedule in an extended lunch with my mum or a shopping trip on a Tuesday in december to finish off my Christmas shopping because I know it’ll be better than trying to do the same thing on a Saturday. But I’m not available for people to pop in when they feel like it – I hate that anyway – or drop everything to have a chat. I have a schedule, and it has meetings in it, as well as other things that need to get done. I just happen to be doing these things from my own home rather than an office.

It means managing customer expectations too. If I see an email out of hours, I may answer it – but there isn’t the expectation that I will because people know I work Monday to Friday from around 9 till 6 – unless something has been booked in an out-of-hours slot. I don’t put up with people getting stroppy with me because I didn’t answer their email on a Sunday morning, even though they followed it up with a tweet and a Skype message. It’s not how I work!

It also means manageing my own expectations of myself and what I can realistically achieve. I’m a bit better at this now that I have a partner. When I lived on my own, I could often be found at my laptop way into the small hours. In some ways that was ok, because this is when I get a lot of my best creative work done, but everything does need to have a balance and tomorrow is always another day.

If you don’t usually work from home or you find yourself with additional caring responsibilities, part of the managing expectations aspect might just be looking at what you can realistically do right now and being honest with yourself and others so that you or they don’t expect too much.

4. I don’t work in bed

I think I did once – to cancel all my appointments because I had food poisoning. I do all kinds of other things in bed – reading, watching videos, shopping, researching – but apart from the problem of the overheating laptop, I feel it’s not good for me to have work follow me into the one place where I should feel rested and get away from all of life’s questions and problems.

5. I don’t reduce my prices because my services are online

I’ve seen this in a few of the education groups. I know it’s hard for some people who are now in the process of transforming all of their offerings into online offerings. Some things are substancially different, and if you’re not offering access to materials or a venue with definit benefits of being there, I can understand that the pricing structure is different. If you add in travel time, this obviously will reduce the price slightly. But if you’re offering the same teaching, with the same materials, and the same level of expertise from you, there’s no reason why it should be cheaper just because the training happens to be online. You’re doing the customer a favour by saving them travel time, travel expenses, parking fees, and letting them participate from wherever they happen to be. You’re still adding the same value, so there’s no need to apply a hefty online discount. It undervalues what you offer, and annoys people who were already working in the online space!

6. I schedule fitness time into my diary

This is harder, particularly if you’re doing the kind of self-isolation where you don’t leave the house at all, but it’s really important to get up, walk around, and if you can, get some kind of physical exercise during the day.
I started doing it because I no longer needed to do a 45 minute walk each way – home to the train station, then train station to the office, and then the whole thing in reverse. I knew I’d been getting unintentional exercise from this and I’d have to replace it with something.

I have some fitness equipment at home – a crosstrainer and a bike, but it could be anything. There are loads of YouTube videos out there with workouts that don’t need you to have any equipment.

7. I don’t allow myself to become isolated

This was the mistake I made when I first set up my business. I took the dog out every day, but I realised I hadn’t seen any of my friends in about three months because I’d been so busy working all the time. I realised it was neither sustainable nor healthy.

We have so many ways to keep in touch with others online – whether it’s other people doing the same kind of thing as you, other people in your team at work, or other people running small businesses.

Even if we can’t go out to meet friends and relatives right now, we have Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp, Facebook or whatever you want to use. Staying at home is important right now, but it doesn’t mean you have to cut yourself off from others who will listen, make you smile, or just give you a different perspective! It’s also a chance to check in with people who might be on their own.

8. I have figured out the best environment for me to get work done

For me it’s somewhere quiet – very quiet – as in not with music playing! Some people work absolutely fine like that. My fiancé is one of them. I am not!

It’s somewhere with access to plenty of coffee.

It’s somewhere with fresh air to clean my head, but it’s not too cold, like some of the places I’ve worked in.

It’s somewhere I won’t be distracted.

9. I look after my basic needs

This means not working through lunch. I don’t take a long lunch break unless I have something specific to do, but I do go and sit somewhere else
for a bit and I don’t eat at my desk. If my fiancé’s working from home, we try to have lunch together. If not, I listen to a podcast or something.

I try to drink enough water. I find putting a big glass of water on my desk helps. If it’s there, I’ll probably drink it. If it isn’t, I’ll probably forget and just make more coffee.

I put a bowl of fruit on the table near my desk, so I have easy access to healthy snacks.

10. I have a comfortable chair

I wrote about chairs in more detail in my is your chair right for you? post, but if you’re going to spend a large part of the day sitting on it, try to find a chair where you will be comfortable. I know if you don’t know how long you’ll be working from home, it might not be top of your list of new investments, but at least consider your options and try to pick the most comfortable one.

11. I make a point of shutting off before bedtime

There’s nothing worse than seeing an email that makes you reeeeeally angry or stressed out just before you’re going to try to get to sleep!

I don’t always manage this. I sometimes check my emails in bed or when I’m winding down for the day. But I do try not to think about work for the last couple of hours in the day. Work life balance can be harder if you have a work email address that you also use for other things, work contacts on your social media account, or easy access to emails on your phone. But sometimes your brain just needs a break so you can have time to unwind.

12. If I really don’t feel well, I stop working!

I’m possibly a hypocrite with this one, but I do try. I have pushed through when, if I’d had to drag myself into the office, I would have decided against it. I’ve gone to meetings when I could barely keep my head up, because after all, I couldn’t infect anyone on a video call. But we don’t do our best work when we’re ill, and it can take twice as long to recover if we push ourselves too hard. I’m guilty of this too, but this year I’ve been trying to do a lot better because I realised last year that if something happens to your health, everything else has to take a back seat for a while.

So, especially in the time of coronavirus, please be kind to yourselves, and don’t push yourself too hard if you really don’t feel up to it.

What other tips would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!

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Kirsty working with students