How to optimise productivity when working from home

With the recent announcement of ‘Plan B’ restrictions in England to help control the spread of coronavirus, many of us are now beginning (or returning to) working from home. For some people, this is an ideal working set-up, for reasons such as having more free time for their hobbies and with their loved ones. However, for others, working from home can cause (or worsen) a range of problems in their working life.

One example of this is how remote work can affect productivity. Research from Stanford University has found that remote workers often have to deal with issues such as distractions from other household members, and feeling disconnected from their company and colleagues. This can lead employees to feel less creative and innovative, which in turn can cause an overall decline in productivity.

Fortunately, there are several solutions to help optimise productivity for you and your team if you’re working from home. Read on for some of our simple but effective tips to make the most of remote working:

1. Create an effective workspace

It can be tempting to set up your workspace on your sofa or in bed, where you’re most comfortable. However, doing this can blur the lines between your ‘work space’ and your ‘relaxing space’. This can lead you to becoming distracted and unmotivated during working hours, and unable to properly relax in your off time. Therefore, you should try to set up your workspace in a comfortable, distraction-free area of your home.

If you don’t have the space for a home office, a desk or a table in the corner of a quiet, well-lit area can be just as useful. Take the time before the beginning of your working day to arrange your required materials for the day so they’re close to hand, and complete your set up with a suitable chair that supports your posture. You may need to experiment a little to figure out what works best for you, but having an effective workspace will help you maintain your concentration and productivity over the course of the work day.

2. Stick to your morning routine

Now you don’t need to rush out of the house to catch the bus or drive through rush-hour traffic, you might want to skip your usual morning routine in favour of an extra hour or two in bed. However, if your morning begins with you crawling out of bed and logging onto your laptop a few minutes before 9AM, you might be sabotaging your productivity efforts before the day’s even begun.

Try to stick to your routine as much as possible, whether this includes making a healthy breakfast or going for an early morning run. Even if you’re not going to the office, this will still help you get into the right mindset for the day ahead, and improve your chances of having a productive day. If you find yourself with some spare time now that you’re not commuting, you could even try a new activity such as meditating or journaling to start your day – the possibilities are endless!

3. Try to limit distractions

For some people, it’s inevitable that some distractions will come up when working from home. You might have children to look after, or you might be interrupted by the postman ringing on the doorbell. While some of these distractions are unavoidable, you should try to limit these as much as possible in order to preserve your productivity and workflow.

If you don’t rely on your mobile phone for work, put it on silent or turn it off completely while you’re working, unless you’re expecting an important call. You might also want to consider installing a website blocker on your computer, so you aren’t tempted to waste time doing some online shopping or scrolling through your social media feeds during working hours. Many of these blockers can be set to only be active during certain hours of the day, which can go a long way in helping you stay focused and productive.

4. Set boundaries with your household

Remember back in 2017 when Professor Robert Kelly’s interview with BBC News was famously interrupted by his children entering his office? Parents around the world sympathised with him, with many sharing their own stories of their children interrupting their work day and other important meetings. If you live with other people, whether they’re family members or housemates, you should communicate clear expectations to them about your time and space when working from home.

Have an open conversation with them and explain when you need quiet time, and how important this is for your job. Some might have misconceptions that working from home is far more casual than working in the office, and that you’ll have plenty of time in the day to spend on other activities. You should be prepared to explain the importance of having your own work space and schedule, and to show them the same respect and understanding if they are also working from home.

Working from home might give you more time to spend with your loved ones, but make sure your household members know when you can’t be disturbed.

5. Maintain set working hours

Some people can’t do the average 9 to 5 routine when working from home. They might have caregiving responsibilities, or they might not have access to a comfortable workspace during these hours. If you think you need flexible working hours, make sure to discuss this with your manager to agree upon a schedule that aligns with both your needs and with company expectations.

When working from home, it can be difficult to make sure your lunch hour doesn’t overrun, or you might be tempted to work past your finishing time. Whatever hours you decide to work, make sure you stick to them as much as possible.  As we discussed previously, following a set routine when working from home will help you keep your working time and your relaxing time separate from each other, which will help you maintain productivity in the long run. 

6. Take regular breaks

When you’re concentrating on a task, it’s easy to lose track of time and get lost in your work. This is especially true when working from home, since you don’t have your colleagues nearby to take your focus away. However, you should make sure to schedule regular breaks into your working day. Just because you’re at home, that doesn’t mean your eyes don’t need a break from your computer screen every now and then!

Having regular breaks actually helps you to maintain focus over a longer period of time, and will prevent you from becoming burned out. If you struggle with managing your time, you might want to try a technique such as the Pomodoro method to stay on track.

To use the Pomodoro method, break your workday into 25 minute chunks, with a 5 minute break in between each of these. These 30 minute intervals are called pomodoros. After completing four pomodoros, take a longer break of around 15 to 20 minutes. You might want to tailor the exact timings to account for any meetings or appointments, or even try coming up with your own time management system. Try out different styles to learn what works best for you and your schedule. 

7. Make time for exercise and being active

According to Forbes, the average roundtrip commute takes about 54 minutes. By working from home, you can take advantage of this spare time to get active!

You might be wondering how exercise can help productivity. In fact, a 2019 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that exercising in the morning can help improve concentration, visual learning, and decision making. Additionally, the hormone cortisol, which helps keep you awake and alert, tends to peak at around 8AM. By doing something active first thing in the morning, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of it throughout the day.

You don’t need to do a full work out, but even just a stroll around your neighbourhood can help you get into the right mindset for the working day. Whether you make time for exercise before or after work, it’s important to try to make a regular habit out of it when working from home, especially if you spend the majority of your day sitting down by a desk. The NHS recommends exercising at least 4 or 5 days a week, so take the time to learn what exercise regime works best for you and your schedule. 

8. Keep in touch with your team

Working by yourself for multiple days a week, and not seeing your colleagues face-to-face, can contribute to feeling isolated and disconnected from work. Research shows that at least 20% of remote workers report feeling lonely, which shows that this is a real problem that workers have to deal with when working from home.

However, there are several easy solutions for this. Making sure your team regularly connects with each other, even if only over a video call, can help your employees stay focused on their work and feel more like a part of the group. Even though they aren’t in the office, you should provide them with opportunities to stay up to date with company culture. For some more ideas on how to build and connect with your team, check out our article on the importance of team building here

Final thoughts

Working from home has its challenges, but with preparation and a willingness to adapt, you could find yourself achieving a great level of productivity. We hope this article has given you a few ideas on how to make remote working work best for you and your team, and that you now feel prepared to make the most of working from home.

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