How to work from home effectively (& juggle everything else)

How to work from home effectively (& juggle everything else) image

Who’s loving lockdown? Probably not many of you - but it’s necessary to keep the country on track and protect those who are vulnerable. For many of us, we’re entering our seventh week under lockdown restrictions. While we can venture outside of our homes for daily exercise and other necessities - it can be tough to sustain motivation.

If you have children, you’ve now had to trust in your abilities to impart wisdom through homeschooling - which in itself poses a challenge. How can you operate a business, juggle homeschooling and keep fit all while holding onto your sanity?

In this blog post, we’re sharing some best practice tips on home working, from best software to office setup essentials.

Video call at home with work colleague

Let’s start with your working environment

If you’ve historically worked from your office premises, adjusting to remote working can be tricky. Firstly, where are you going to work from? If you don’t have space or the luxury of a separate home office, you’re going to have to get creative - whether you decide to work from your dining room table or your child’s desk - find somewhere you can call your ‘office’ for the foreseeable.

Locating a suitable workspace is essential. You need to feel that once you’re in situ, you’re in work mode.

Investing in adequate office furniture is also important. From a good task chair offering lumbar support to footrests, monitor arms and a keyboard. If you’re working from your laptop the trackpad can slow down your daily tasks - so you could think about purchasing a separate mouse, too.

Sitting down for 6-8 hours a day can take its toll on your neck, shoulders and back. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t invest in an ergonomic chair. Many retailers are offering free delivery on office essentials - you can pick up a good task chair for less than £100.

A monitor and monitor arm or a laptop stand ensures you aren’t hunching over your laptop. The top of your screen should be at eye level, and unless you’re sitting on a very low chair - your laptop is undoubtedly encouraging you to look down at your screen.

Specsavers suggest looking away from your laptop often - looking out the window or far away helps your focusing muscles in your eye relax, which can reduce eye strain. Eye strain brings with it itchy eyes, headaches, blurred vision and more.

Build as much structure as possible

It’s easy to say the words but harder to put it into practice. Finding a structure that works for you will take time, so don’t worry about getting it sorted straight away. You’ll start to get into a routine - that might mean starting work earlier in the day or tackling tasks in the evening.

Your structure could mean getting dressed and showered each morning - just as you would on an average workday. Once you’re up and dressed, you’re alert and ready to start your day.

If you’ve got children, keeping their day structured is just as important. They’ll start to learn when is playtime and when is work time - this might help you build an idea of when you can fit your work in.

Getting a system in place is key to becoming more productive - but it’s also important to stay realistic. You shouldn’t expect to be able to put in eight hours of work a day - it’s simply impossible to fit in hours of homeschooling and work.

Cut yourself some slack and try and find a new normal.

Stay focused and productive with this technique

If you’re struggling to stay focused at home, the Pomodoro Technique could work well for you. The technique, developed in the 1980s, is a time-management method that can help you keep your tasks focused and your productivity high.

The technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo, who used a tomato-shaped timer to track his work as a student.

The time-management method helps you work within 25-minute intervals - ensuring you stay focused on the task at hand with the promise of a short five-minute break after each interval.

If you find that each time an email lands inside your inbox, you break away from the task you were completing, only to spiral onto other tasks, this technique is for you. It allows you to truly focus on completing a task at a time - great for those working on projects - creatives, engineers, writers, designers, but it can work for anyone.

For example, the seemingly never-ending task of business administration - although a job no business owner wants to do, it can be spread out unnecessarily for hours and even days. Using the Pomodoro Technique means you get it completed quickly and efficiently.

Cirillo used a tomato-shaped timer, but you can use any timer - on your phone, an egg timer - whatever you have to hand. Some apps count down and plan the intervals for you. If you have a smartwatch - Apple Watch, FitBit, etc., you can add the app to your watch and have it vibrate when your 25-minute session is over.

After four ‘Pomodoros’ reward yourself with a 30-minute break, breaks are important to sustain productivity - lack of breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion .

Best software when working from home

When you’re working from home, you don’t have the luxury of face-to-face meetings; you can’t read nonverbal cues - which means communication can be easily misinterpreted. Lack of communication can also lead to the disintegration of teamwork and productive working relationships.

You’ll quickly realise that a phone call doesn’t quite offer the same ease as wandering over to someone’s desk to ask for their help, clarification or guidance. So what software can you use?

Firstly, for video conferencing, there are many apps that we’re sure you’re aware of by now. They include Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams.

Zoom only offers 40-minute free group calls, but you can have up to 100 people on the call - whereas Skype merely enables you to video chat with 50 people. As a UK business owner - it’s your call on which software you use, but both are pretty self-explanatory.

When it comes to effectively managing your team remotely, there are all kinds of tools available. Budget dependent Slack and Monday.com have great reviews. It depends on what your business needs out of the tools. If you’re treading carefully financially and don’t want to spend a penny, you could trial Trello’s free platform - Trello lets you work collaboratively with your team members and helps you track work progress for each team member.

Although a remote team management software like this can seem an ‘unnecessary’ cost- it can help you build an online community with your employees. The ability to problem-solve and keep in touch with their colleagues quickly can help make working from home much more straightforward.

After lockdown restrictions ease, the world of work and how your business operates might change. That means staff might require more flexibility with their working patterns, with some choosing to work from home - that’s where a good employee management system will come into play.

If you’ve already established a way of connecting employees online and tracking work progress, your business will become more fluid. It will be able to embrace a digital transformation you might not have otherwise had.

Exercising when working from home

Although your employees turn up for eight hours a day - they nearly always won’t be working the full day. From lunch and coffee breaks to general chit-chat. This is the same when they’re working from home - yet they probably feel they have to be attached to their laptop just in case an email comes their way, almost proving they’re working.

You must help your employees build a balance between work, exercise and downtime.

With many UK employees now working from home due to COVID-19, the line between our personal and work lives have blurred.

How do we unblur and start making a new normal for ourselves?

Exercise is important. We all know it can help with stress and anxiety - so we should be whole-heartedly embracing exercising from our homes - or outside for our daily hour. Whether you’re going to start running, yoga, HIIT training, cycling - whatever it is. You should encourage yourself and your employees to a mini exercise challenge.

You could ask (and pay!) a local personal trainer to conduct fitness sessions via Zoom/Skype each week or host step counter challenges amongst the workforce. Think of implementing a friendly challenge that encourages staff to take a break from work and helps them to build a healthy lockdown routine.

Free homeschooling resources for children

We understand that working from home is a big adjustment for anyone, particularly if you have children who rely on you to teach them through homeschooling techniques. And although teachers across the country have been fantastic, adapting so quickly to digital learning - as a parent, it can be tough to juggle homeschooling and running a business.

So before we wrap this post up, we thought we’d share some of the best resources we’ve come across to keep your children entertained!

DuoLingo - free language learning subscription (Spanish, Germany, French - all kinds)

Audible - an entire library filled with free audiobooks (Frankenstein, Peter Rabbit and more)

Headspace - free meditation exercises

Khan Academy - access free courses across all kinds of subjects (maths, history, biology, grammar)

If you’re not sure what financial support is available for your business, read our blog post: What financial support can your SME expect amid coronavirus?