Working from home: A very rough guide

By Sarah Bayliss, Nurse, Case Manager and Expert Witness

Try to avoid working in different rooms / places.  Try to find yourself a base in the house and claim it as yours. I’ve shoved everything in my box room to one side (mostly boxes aptly!), and have my desk, printer and shelves on the other side.   If you can, don’t do any work in your bedroom or lounge; keep them work free.

When choosing your work / office at home, try to find a very dull corner.  For example; not by a window (unless you want to just spend the time bird watching, guessing the names of all the dogs being walked by,  and trying to work out what on earth your neighbour has ordered in that massive box just delivered rather than getting some work done.  Just me?).  I learned the hard, but very pleasant, way and have turned my desk 90 degrees so I have a wall in front of me.  Much higher productivity achieved.

As well as having somewhere that you can treat as being ‘at work’, having one area that you use the little home office means you can have everything that you need to hand rather than having to spend 10- 15 minutes trying to find where you left everything every day.

One of my great, and very wise, aunts advised me always to spend as much money as I can afford when buying a pair of shoes or a mattress.  Her rationale (apart from a sales pitch as she worked in a shoe making factory) was because; “if you’re not spending time on one, you will be on the other”. The modern equivalent should add seating!  When you start working from home the only thing you really need to spend money on is getting yourself a really good, fully adjustable office chair. Your neck, back and shoulders will thank you for it.  Unless you live alone, I highly recommend imposing severe consequences for anyone who alters your seating settings!

Routine. Getting your head into work mode when you’re at home can be really difficult. I found that only working in my office space, and not doing anything else like personal emails, shopping, social media etc, helpful in keeping my focus on work. I know other people who find going out for a walk first, and then coming back to start work to sort of imitate their previous commute.  I tried this however, and soon realised that for me one of the great joys of working from home is actually not having to go out in the morning, but I do make sure I go out for a walk at lunch time which is what I always try and do at work if I can.

What to wear for work? Some people I have spoken to like to wear what they would be wearing if they were going out to work so they are in ‘the zone’.  Others enjoy working in their pyjamas! Unless I’ve got a video call, I tend to be in between the two ideas, casual and comfy (but never in my pyjamas).

Trying to avoid all distractions is a big thing for me.  I’m very nosy and easily side-tracked.  I’ve mentioned before my main distractions are looking at the window. I can happily spend hours just doing that. It might be social media, emails, text, snapface, whatsagram, things like that that disrupt you. Switching off notifications, email pop ups and that sort of thing, having your phone on silent, and even shutting the curtain can help.

Other distractions are not so easy to manage. Fellow members of the household are a whole other ball game. Bribery helps! When it comes to pets, they do tend to get used to you if you’re working from home quite a lot and the novelty will wear off (actually that’s not strictly true I’m just hoping it will one day). If you need to settle down and get a lot of work done, plan ahead.  Take the dog out for a long tiring walk before and give the cats a bit of fuss.  Most importantly; never ever schedule important calls, get stuck into writing up a complex report etc at a time when the animals (and people) think you should be feeding them. Cats especially can be a proper nightmare, and not just when they are demanding food.   I found sticking a box in the corner with a blanket in it quite helpful. Every time the cat jumps on me or the desk I put it straight in the box. The cat now tends to just go straight to the box, curls up and has a little sleep when I work.

Working from home can be a bit isolating. It’s quite a good idea to schedule a chat, email, WhatsApp or whatever with a friend or colleague when you are having a coffee break to make it a bit more like you actually are at work and gossiping with a chum.

If you need to have video meetings it is essential to plan ahead. Make sure you choose your background very carefully, and learn all about whatever system you are using.  It is invaluable to know how to mute!  Having a dry run with a friend is a good idea. They can tell you what is a good angle, what’s a bad angle, and what they can see behind you that possibly doesn’t look very professional…. As much as you try to keep children and pets out of the way of video conferencing you know there will be times where they just have to join in! My first ever video conference was with very high up and important people.  My old deaf and very, VERY loud cat kept throwing himself at the door and howling.  The only way to shut him up was to let him in and let him assume his favourite position.  I ended up just having to apologise, and try to style out having a cat sat on my shoulder for the rest of the meeting.  Memorable!

Organisation is key to working anywhere. Finding the best way of keeping all your job to-do lists etc is really important. I’m still working on it, and need to find the best way for me! I’m a big one for writing lists on random bits of paper, backs of envelopes, my hand, and crossing things off when sorted. This isn’t ideal. I found out with too many bits of paper here, there and everywhere, and I end up not carrying things forward to the next to-do list – oops!  If you’ve got room whiteboards are brilliant, especially ones that are magnetic so you can stick things all over it.  I love to colour code, it’s the only thing that keeps me vaguely organised.  I’ve always got a range of different coloured pens, highlighters, different coloured post-it notes and page markers.  Electronic post-it notes, note aps, OneNote etc are really good as well if you try to do the whole paperless office thing (much as I love tech, the thought of not having a pencil and paper gives me nightmares). The notes that you may need to keep can be stored in different ways. I tend to tear them out of my notebook, date and staple them together and put them in a folder. Having a separate note book for each client can also be useful.  You can get small, lockable filing cabinets and lockable file boxes.  I use a lockable cash box to store my memory sticks.

I’m trialling a system called ‘index listing’ at the moment, but have to say I’m still not very good at remembering to look in my list book or on my phone app.  I’ve learnt the hard way that if I can’t see it it’s not there are (hence three white boards and a pin board on my wall!)  Index listing is really good for a lot of people. You get a nice notebook and spend a bit of time numbering the pages.  Then put an index at the front with all the different categories.  I’m trialling it for the household; my categories include DIY jobs for me to do, work I need a proper human to carry out, ideas for decorating, wish list for plants, garden tasks, gifts that need buying and that sort of thing. Make sure to start each category several pages apart.  I can go through adding new ideas and tasks, and ticking things off as needed. Great to have everything in one place.   My main problem with it is I’m not entirely sure which place I left the notebook in!

When working at a desk and sitting around it’s really important to get yourself moving. I know a lot of people have alarms on their magic phone-watch contraptions, or set phone reminders about getting up and moving.   I just try to make sure I get up and have a walk around every 15 minutes or so, as a lifelong fidget I find it harder not doing this.  A physio chum recommended some desk-a-cises for me. Seated squats, basically stand up and sit down a few times whilst engaging your core (obviously please be careful if you’re on wheels!!). The stretchy resistance bands are great for upper body exercise, and are really good if you’re on hold for ages.  You can also put them round your knees or ankles and do some leg work with them.

Make the most of working at home. Less travelling with stinky people on public transport, fewer traffic jams, reduction in trying to find a parking space and change for a machine.  Stick the washing on whilst the kettle’s boiling, nip to the shop during the day. If you get lots of little jobs done while you wait for the printer to finish, for someone to call you back, whilst the kettle boils etc.  all adds up to give you more free time and a better work-life balance.