by Rory Whelan, marketing manager for eReceptionist
Over four million Brits work from home, lured by the promise of a flexible and balanced lifestyle.
Benefits like removing the stressful commute, avoiding countless distractions from your co-workers and working on your terms make remote work a no brainer. This type of work should be easy, right?
But sometimes it’s not that simple.
Those that work from home will understand that it’s not so straightforward to roll out of bed in the morning and get stuck into the normal nine to five workday. In fact, one in ten of us who work from home confess to working from bed — not only removing the lengthy commute but also ditching the time that it takes to get dressed and step into society.
Working from your bed might seem like a desirable luxury to those who still have to drag themselves into an office five days a week. In reality, this habit isn’t good for you or your work.
In this blog post, we’ll tell you how to make your home office five times more productive with five must follow tips for remote work.
The key word in the last sentence being “office”, we’ll focus on showing you how to create a productive workspace at home. A type of workspace that doesn’t feel threatening — like an office cubicle does — yet manages to maintain a separation between your place of work and your place of rest.
1. When You’re at Work, Close the Door.
Choose any room in the house — big or small — and set up shop in it, as long as it has a door.
Being able to close the door when committing to work is important. This physical action acts as a psychological cue for work to begin, allowing all other home distractions to disappear and all other places that aren’t conducive to productive work (like your bed) to be closed off.
This step doesn’t just control your behaviour — it also signals to others in the home that when your door is closed, you are unavailable. It’s a privilege to work from home and be able to spend more time with your kids, for example. But for this to work, you need to set some boundaries. As Harvard Business Review calls it, you should work on controlling the controllables.
If you make a strict zone for your work environment, the rest of your life can afford to be a little less regulated.
The simple act of closing the door has been advocated by many, including bestselling writer, Stephen King. His advice for aspiring writers is to work on the first draft of a novel with the door closed, stressing the important correlation between a private work environment and positive results.
2. The Exception to the First Rule Is to Walk and Talk.
The only exception to the “close the door” rule is when you take a phone call.
Phone calls are prime opportunities to stretch your legs and get some much-needed exercise away from the home office. Avoiding the commute is great — it means huge savings on weekly transport tickets and precious time saved by not having to be sat on a stressful metro stuffed with disgruntled workers. But working from home is not an excuse to become lazy.
If you’re not careful, working from home can encourage you to lead a more sedentary lifestyle. Nobody is forcing you to walk to the tube station in the morning, climb three flights of stairs to reach your office or rush to Starbucks to get your boss a brew. But all of these things — although we resent them — give us the opportunity to stretch our legs and once the obligation is removed, we must find other ways of staying fit while working from home.
The easiest way to ensure you remain active is by taking phone calls outside your office space so that you can move around while you’re on them.
For this reason, you might want to consider investing in a virtual phone plan where a professional landline number links to your mobile device. Let’s face it, client calls demand your undivided attention (or at least they should if you’re doing your job properly), so there’s no need to be in the office, typing or reading when this happens.
In fact, research says that this approach to communication is beneficial — not just for your health but for the outcome of the conversation too.
Walking and talking can help to boost creativity, give you a laser focus on what the other person is saying — and they are natural human behaviours.
Changing the way that we think about incoming calls on our screen can help us to avoid stress when it comes to phone calls, prevent us from treating our clients like they are an inconvenience and protect our health from deteriorating.
3. Take on the Real Role of Being Your Own Boss.
When somebody is self-employed or even allowed by their employer to work from home for a few days a week, we tend to throw around the phrase “be your own boss.”
But what does that term really mean and how many of us can honestly say that we live up to it?
If you had a traditional boss, they certainly wouldn’t promote unproductive working, the thought of watching you conduct client work in your pyjamas would make them shudder and if you tried to overdo it and work more hours than you need to, well, you’d be unable to as the office building wouldn’t be open on the weekends. So, why do we promote behaviours that we know would be unacceptable in the “real” workplace?
To be your own boss, you must set yourself a few ground rules.
This isn’t to simulate a boring office environment that you’ve already tried so desperately to escape. Instead, it is an attempt to reap the real benefits of being a remote worker. As opposed to the office where you must abide by an entire rulebook of corporate guidelines, there are only two main instructions when it comes to remote work:
a) Stop Working in Your Pyjamas.
This is never a good sign that you’re about to do some amazing work.
Working in your pyjamas not only reduces the quality of your work but it can lead to poor mental health, negative projections and bad habits.
While you might not choose to wear a suit and tie if you don’t have to, getting dressed is essential. When you feel that you look presentable, you’re bound to present your work better, have more confidence when chatting with clients and structure your day like a productive person.
b) Learn How to Discipline and Reward Yourself.
Teaching yourself how to achieve and then how to recognise that you’ve made an achievement is not just a handy lesson for home workers, it’s an important life lesson.
First, you must learn to discipline yourself.
As you work from home and have the bonus of setting your own work hours, it’s up to you to figure out what schedule works best.
If you’re a morning person, carve out an early bird schedule that gives you the rest of the day to unwind. If you enjoy the fact that you don’t have to live by an alarm clock, make sure that your afternoon is packed with appointments. Make this personal schedule and stick to it.
Second, don’t forget to reward yourself.
An integral part of training yourself to be productive (which is what it means to be your own boss) is to reward yourself when you’ve done something right. Often we focus on the discipline part of this rule, beat ourselves up when we don’t live up to an unrealistic expectation and forget to reward ourselves for the small part that we got right.
If you managed to start work on time, reward yourself with a coffee at your designated break time. If you stuck to your schedule for the entire month, it might be time to book a well deserved holiday. Positive reinforcement (which you would willingly employ with a child or an animal) is a powerful tool for building better behaviour.
4. Work in Short Bursts.
Before you rush off to create your perfect day planner, remember to add in frequent breaks.
There’s plenty of science behind this rule. Staring too long at the same screen can quickly become unproductive which is why we suggest working in short bursts of no longer than two hours at a time.
This doesn’t mean that you should work for two hours and then take another two hours for a Netflix binge — a five-minute walk or coffee will do the trick. Again, this relates to the ability to discipline and reward yourself by being able to recognise when your brain isn’t functioning optimally and make the decision to call it quits (for five minutes).
Approaching work in short bursts is also why working from your bed will never work. Sitting under the duvet in your pyjamas is ineffective because the whole thing feels like one big break and one big long shift at work at the same time. It can be a real struggle, when working this way, to differentiate the two.
The real sticking point here is, no matter how idealistic you try to make your job, work is always going to feel like doing work. So, if the issue is that you don’t want to work, you need to tackle that first and increase your motivation.
This philosophy also works when it comes to physical exercise and can act as a good example for us when it comes to our workday. If your main fitness goal is to shed some pounds, you’re better off ditching the long endurance workout and spending less time at the gym.
This is often called High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) where short bursts of activity are present. Running at a steady pace on the treadmill for thirty minutes is less effective than sprinting on the treadmill for five minutes with thirty-second breaks in between each minute. In short, you must withstand a brief period of pain to get results. The good news is, this means that you can have some more time off (and in the case of working out, spend less time in the gym).
5. Don’t Work from Home, but Don’t Go Back to the Office.
After all of this, we could conclude that working from home isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Even more so, “tricking the world” and working in your pyjamas will only make you the subject of your own cruel joke.
So, the answer might be to not work from home at all.
Don’t panic — this doesn’t mean rejoining the masses to live in the corporate world either. Finding a happy medium between these two extremes is the way forward.
Amongst the main issue of productivity and the other remote work concerns that we have touched on such as physical health and work-life balance, the threat to your mental health is also apparent. It’s vital to fight social isolation when you work from home and be aware of this possibility before it even happens.
Most people find that coworking — attending a subscription-based workspace with other freelancers — is a preventative measure.
The biggest motivator for those who decide to work from home is being able to escape a negative work environment and cease having to deal with a toxic company culture. If this is true for you, make sure that sitting on your own doesn’t become your own personal version of hell.
The truth is, the traditional office, no matter how much we knock it, does have its benefits.
As social creatures, it’s important to make use of an environment where there are other people to reference from and share creative ideas with. Not to mention the overlooked support you get from an employer like training, development and the ability to work with a talented team that is taken for granted until you go it alone.
Signing up to a coworking space can give you all of this without the trapped feeling we often associate with mundane work. These open spaces offer training sessions, guest talks and themed activities all as part of the package. That’s a whole lot of useful stuff that you certainly can’t get from your bedside.
Rory Whelan is a communications expert with over twenty years experience in consultancy, television, media and telecoms. Since 2012 he has held the role of marketing manager for eReceptionist, leading the product to become the favourite call management company for UK SMEs.