Home Office Guide: 8 Home Office Survival Tips
COVID-19 not only caused a global health crisis but managed to upend our lives dramatically. Over night, many employees found themselves torn out of their familiar work environment and are now doing their best to remain productive while working from home. In addition to technical challenges caused by having to quickly establish a home office and the daily encounters with distractions to one’s discipline and motivation we should not forget to maintain and care about our mental health. As someone who has been working from home day in and day out for the past 12 years in several countries and environments, some spacious and some tiny, I am very familiar with the situation many employees are facing so unexpectedly. Here is my personal list of proven survival tips accumulated over many years to help you stay not only productive but most importantly healthy and sane.
If you happen to be one of the lucky ones able to work from home, make sure to stop by some of our other resources on this suddenly up-and-coming trend as well:
For most home office busy bees, the biggest challenge will be remaining focused on the tasks at hand while surrounded by a plethora of potential distractions at home. Clearing the table, emptying the dishwasher, folding the laundry in order to start the next load while you’re working (and forgetting that the washing machine is too loud and inevitably going to be majorly distracting), vacuuming, watering the plants, cleaning out the closet – this list goes on and on. Granted, it sounds very tempting, but it is also massively counterproductive. In the end it will only lead to one of two things: a) you will either not be as productive as you were hoping to be, or b) you will have to work longer than you were planning to. Ideally, you want to minimize all external distractions as much as possible. What helped me to achieve this is to use a dedicated room as my office during the day instead of clearing the dining table every morning after breakfast in order to set up shop. Dirty dishes from last night’s dinner are simply too much to cope with, and I found myself doing the dishes or emptying the dishwasher way too often. If you have the possibility you should definitely try and use a dedicated room as office space. If you don’t have a spare room maybe you can find one that is not used during the day and set up your office in there. A dedicated room also offers the added benefit of being able to shut the door if you need some quiet time.
If you don’t have that possibility at all and have to work from your dining table try this: before you start working make sure to clear the table of absolutely everything unrelated to your work, and make sure to store it somewhere out of sight. Set up your dining table exclusively as office space in order to avoid getting constantly reminded of household chores or your current whereabouts. Make sure to face either the wall or a window instead of your living room, kitchen, dining area, etc. Otherwise you will get distracted very easily by things happening inside your own home.
Put Away and Mute Your Smartphone
Smartphones are the number one distracting factor both in the office and at home. I keep mine right next to my display but always make sure the display is facing down. Unless I am waiting for an important phone call, I will also mute it in the morning before I sit down at my desk. This helps me to minimize the potential of distraction by incoming messages or notifications. Personally, the constant flashing, beeping and buzzing drove me crazy after a while, but I found this solution to be a healthy compromise.
De-Clutter Your Office Space
Nothing is more distracting than a chaotic and messy work environment. Except of course for smartphones, but we have already dealt with those. While it is true that some people draw inspiration from chaos and disarray most of us will inevitably get distracted by it one way or another and will have a much easier time to focus on the tasks at hand in a tidy, clean, and clutter-free environment. If you happen to have the same amount of space in your home office as you do in your regular office than congratulations, because most of us will have to make do with much less space than before. Therefore, it is of upmost importance to keep your immediate surroundings clear and free of clutter. Let’s face it – your home is distracting enough as it is, be it because of the constant reminder of unfinished chores or kids romping around the living room. Add to that piles of unnecessary paper, dozens of pens, yesterday’s coffee mug, and empty water bottles and the distractions will take over. Taking a mere ten minutes each morning before you start working or in the evening when you are done for the day will go a long way and make a huge difference for your mental well-being.
When at work you tend to move around more often than you think. Walking to the printer, grabbing a coffee from the kitchen, walking from the partking lot to your desk in the morning, grabbing lunch or a snack from the fridge, walking across the main office space to talk to your colleagues, etc. When you are working from home most of those short walks will cease to exist. That is why I try to use time spent on the phone to walk around my office or, if possible, the entire house. Just cruising back and forth without any sense of direction or purpose following the tile patterns on my floor. I try to keep moving around every time I do not have to sit in front of my computer or at my desk while on the phone. Your neck, lower back, and shoulders will thank you later.
Don’t Eat at your Desk
Yes, I admit it: grabbing a quick bite at your desk while continuing to work is incredibly tempting. We tell ourselves that by eating breakfast or lunch at our desks we will be able to finish up earlier. Unfortunately, in my personal experience the exact opposite is actually happening. By eating at your desk while continuing to work you’re depriving your brain of a short albeit much needed break. As a result, you end up being less productive in the afternoon and are going to spend more time at your desk than expected. Make sure to take those 20 or 30 minutes a day and try not to think about work while at lunch. Your ability to focus in the afternoon will improve significantly.
Habits and Routines
Human beings are creatures of habit. Under the current circumstances it is more important than ever to maintain a set of habits and routines. Make sure to get up at the same time every morning instead of sleeping in every time you don’t have an early conference call. In order to get an early start, I have been getting up at 5:45 AM every single day for years. I take my lunch break around noon every day and make myself another cup of coffee at 2 PM. This may seem pedantic, but after a very short while your brain and body will get used to the routine and schedule and become more productive in-between. It helps fighting fatigue in the afternoon and avoiding the notorious “I have so much to do, I don’t even know where to start” pitfall. Maintaining certain routines and habits has been shown to help reduce mental stress that you might otherwise expose yourself to.
Maintaining social relations with your friends and colleagues is going to remain an essential part of your day, and it will improve your mental well-being dramatically. By isolating yourself from the outside world you are inevitably going to go to a very dark place that will be very hard to escape from. You are not alone, and your colleagues are all in the same boat. Make sure to include chit chat in your phone conversations or talk about personal stuff in order to get some much-needed social distraction. Your colleagues will thank you for it. Unless of course they are desperately trying to feed their children when you called or are about to take a walk with their family and/or their dog. Communication and mutual respect are key here.
Make Sure to Call it a Day
Last but not least here is the most important tip: make sure to call it a day when you are done. Shutdown your computer, close your laptop, and, if possible, shut the door to your (temporary) office. Studies have shown that even mere visual exposure to your work environment in the evenings will cause unnecessary mental stress. Most people will have a much harder time to relax and enjoy their evenings with their families if they are constantly reminded of work. Personally, my early evening routine when I am done for the day is to put my computer to sleep, clear my desk of all clutter that may have accumulated during the day, and then walk out of the office and shut my door. If I am not quite done yet and expect to put in some extra time after dinner I still make sure to shut the door as to avoid accidentally seeing my desk. If you cannot shut the door due to lack of a door in your makeshift office, then either put everything away or make sure to cover it. Out of sight, out of mind.