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Yesterday the Dutch government asked people to work from home whenever possible until the end of the month, in the battle against the Corona virus. Many other countries already have such a measure in place, or will do soon.
Most people have worked from home for one or a few days, but working from home for a longer period of time can be challenging.
Since the team at Egeniq is used to working from home, I asked my team if they have any lessons or tips and tricks to share that might help others work more comfortably in the next few weeks.
When you’re working from home, you might be inclined to work all day long: nobody to interrupt you, no canteen or coffee bar to go to, no coffee machine nearby.. Still it’s important to take a break. Walk away from your desk every once in a while. Set your mind to something else and take some distance. Read a book, watch some TV, play a game but even better, take a walk outside and get a breath of fresh air.
Going outside is helpful to take your mind off work for a bit. But having a daily routine, such as bringing a kid to school or walking the dog at specific moments in the day, also helps establish a rhythm. “It helps me avoid working in my pyjamas”, as Johan puts it.
It’s tempting to just sit down on the sofa with a laptop, and while that works if you need to work for a couple of hours, it’s not a healthy work environment if you need to work from home for a couple of weeks. At Egeniq we make sure everybody gets a desk and a monitor to help create a dedicated work environment, but given the temporary nature of working from home in the current situation, that might not be feasible for everybody. If you don’t have a desk and a proper office chair, try to at least pay attention to your seat and table. It’s better to sit on a chair at a dining table than to hang on the sofa. On a sofa, you’re looking down at your laptop even more than on a dining table, and this could lead to pain in your neck.
Spend some time finding the ideal workplace within your home. Don’t just look at the table and chair you’re going to use, but also ensure that you have a place that is as free from distraction as possible. If you sit in the same room where the kids play, your productivity might suffer.
One of the benefits of working from home is that it’s YOUR environment. If you’re in an office, especially in those horrendous open office environments, there isn’t much freedom on how you make your workplace a nice place. Sure you can put on headphones, but there’s nothing more relaxed than working in a room where the lighting is tuned to YOUR mood, YOUR music plays, as loud as YOU want. Enjoy that freedom! (But be mindful of your ears ;-)
When you work from home, it’s easy to lose the separation between work and private life. When you wake up and can start working directly in your pajamas, or eat lunch over a debugging session, you might experience problems with work-life balance. Lineke’s advice to use a separate room where you work helps, but it can also help to clearly separate work from other things. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are private moments where you can take some distance from work (and luckily that’s easier at home than in the company cafeteria), so try to keep these moments to yourself.
Another lesson that Lineke learned is that while working from home offers a lot of flexibility in terms of when you work, it can help to still create some structure. Lineke for example tries to match her working schedule to that of an office. This helps organize the work and encourages the discipline to get work done. Working an hour before breakfast, 2 hours before lunch and another hour before bed can work great for some people, but if you’re used to working in an office, try to not throw all structure overboard but ease yourself into a proper rhythm for working from home.
‘Mommy can you fix my bike?’ – If mom or dad works from home, it’s tempting for the family to make use of your presence and interrupt you all day. If you make it clear when you’re working and not able to help out, your family can take this into account and leave you working. Of course, working from home is ideal in the case where there really is a family emergency and you’re around, but those incidents should be rare; just like when you’re in the office, they’ll have to learn that their everyday, common questions will have to wait until work is done.
It’s easy to do the laundry during work; you’re at home anyway right? And sure, many of us mix these typical chores with work at home. If you have self-discipline and know when it’s time to go back to work, there’s nothing wrong with this. But if you’re not used to it, try to not fall into the trap of letting your work get distracted by the household chores. If you feel that is the case, try to do the chores before or after work.
Yes, we have an office manager even though we don’t work in an office – virtual offices require management too, you know! Marita has a good point. If you’re working from home for a while, ensure that your internet connection is up for it. Maybe your company can help upgrade it for the time that you’re working from home. And get a headset. You need to stay in touch with your coworkers, and Slack, Google Hangout etc. are great ways to do just that. Your virtual office will feel more ‘connected’ if you have easy access to coworkers. Calling by phone feels distant and less personal. Having a group video chat with colleagues, just like you would have a chat in a real office, makes the company feel more connected and keeps the team together.
These were just a few of the tips our team members have learned while working remotely. If the Corona situation gets extended, maybe we’ll add some more tips, but hopefully, the above tips will already help you be more effective while working at home.