The Ultimate Guide to Working from Home
34 hacks, tools and ideas to make working from home great.
Mental health & wellbeing, how to become a great communicator on video calls, managing distractions, keeping motivated and setting up your workspace.
Chapter 1: Setting up your work space.
1. Sit comfortably
Did you know that your posture can directly affect your mood? This is why it is important to have the right posture for work. Be serious about your workspace when you are working from home – sitting on a sofa or bed is a no-no.
2. Check the advice on how to set up your space.
Advice from occupational therapists and physiotherapists generally states that you should have your screen at eye level and your feet touching the floor. Here’s access to a free UK government checklist on how to set up your work area – https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ck1.htm
3. Adjust your position at least every 30 minutes
Take regular breaks. This is important for your physical and mental health.
Chapter 2: Tools to keep you focused and motivated.
4. Work regular hours
Have a routine of getting up early and working within set hours. After work, tidy your work things away, preferably out of sight. Don’t be tempted to check back in with emails or continue working once the official work day is over.
5. Don’t multitask
It is much better to focus on one piece of work at a time. Have a time set aside for answering emails. Turn off email notifications (you can set a ‘Rule’ in MS Outlook to permit notifications from specific people if you have something important coming through) and set a time aside for emails.
6. Work in short bursts
Fifteen minutes of fully focused work is better than an hour of un-focused work. Once you’ve done your fifteen minutes, have a short break and refocus again for the next fifteen to thirty minutes.
7. Focus on outputs, not hours worked
Set out what you want to achieve at the beginning of each day. Don’t feel guilty about having less time in front of your computer if you have achieved all that you needed to.
8. Celebrate achievements
When you have finished a stressful or large piece of work, plan a celebration for yourself. This could be cooking your favourite meal, taking a bike ride to your favourite place or having a hot bath.
9. Control your smartphone use
- Your energy and attention are valuable. Be discerning about what you assign your attention to. Delete useless videos people send you before you watch them.
- Use an app like Social Fever to analyse how much time you spend on social media. Assess the results and make changes to your habits.
- Turn off notifications.
- Set a time aside for responding to personal messages and do it all in one go.
- Leave your phone in another room for an hour or two a day.
10. Use prioritizing tools
- The ABC – write a ‘to-do’ list and categorize each item as A (must be done today), B (to be done in the next few days, possibly today) and C (everything else).
- The Slimdown – draw two large circles on your page. Imagine a typical day and all the activities and jobs that you need to do. In the first circle, write down your highest priorities, and in the second circle, write in your lowest priorities. Sit back and reflect on how you could be most efficient about your time. For example, are there any activities that could be done at the same time, by someone else, or cut out altogether?
- Plot your ‘to-do’ tasks on an Urgency-Importance Grid
Chapter 3: How to be a great communicator by video.
Online, you can miss the subtle body language and tonal clues that allow a more accurate communication. Working from home is a great time to work on improving your communication skills. Here are some tips and ideas.
11. Observe the four ‘R’s of effective listening
(Jones & Gorrell, 2009)
Read more about how to become a great listener in our previous blog post on active listening.
- Respect – have no prejudgment.
- Real time – apply your focus to listening only, stop yourself from forming questions.
- Relate – show the other person that you understand by using phrases such as “I understand”, “I imagine that was difficult” etc. Use the same language as the other person has used.
- Reflect – summarise what the person has said: “So you are happy with the outcome of that meeting.” Again, use the language that they have used.
12. Try to get eye contact.
Here are some hacks from the BBC’s Emily Kasriel with input from Prof. Jeremy Bailenson, of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab:
- Ensure your screen is at eye level.
- Hide your self-view so you are not distracted by it.
- Put a sticker on the camera to encourage you to look at it.
13. Make a shared background between everyone on the call.
Most video software will allow you to customize your background. Choosing something fun that is shared between you fosters a sense of being in the same place.
14. Embrace silence.
Allowing silence to happen occasionally shows that you are relaxed with the other person. You don’t need to jump to respond straight away.
15. Ask the right questions.
Don’t only focus on “why?”. Use how, when, where, who and what questions. Summarise your understanding frequently.
Chapter 4: Managing family and distractions.
When everyone is working from home, family relationships can get tested. Here are some hacks for working from a busy household:
16. It’s ok to take time alone.
Allocate a time and place for yourself and other family members to get some alone time each day. This might be daily exercise alone, or a quiet space that will be available for each person at specific times.
17. Devise an activity list with your children.
Work with children to devise a list of activities that are available to them and that they can do at any time on their own when you are not available.
18. Be clear with children about when you are and are not available to them.
Give children the chance to develop their own problem-solving abilities and levels of independence. Give them firm guidelines about when you will and will not be available for them.
19. Tag-team with your partner.
If you have very young children, you might need to tag-team so that you and your partner share periods when you are working and looking after the children at the same time, so that the other one can be fully focused on their work.
20. Accept that you will be less productive.
If you have young children around, it is ok to be less productive than usual. Be open with your workplace about this and agree a level of output or a change in working hours.
21. Be extra forgiving.
Try to work on your tolerance of the little actions that others do in your household that make you frustrated. Work at seeing things from others’ perspectives and take a few deep breaths before speaking when you are getting angry. In the Feel Great e-learning courses for employee mental health and wellbeing, we teach a technique called the Meta Mirror which can be really helpful for this.
Chapter 5: Mental health & wellbeing, engaging with others, and having fun.
22. Have twenty minutes of quiet time after work
Breaks and quiet time are really important for interrupting the stress response and activating your ‘rest and digest’ relaxation response. After work, find a quiet place to sit down for twenty minutes with absolutely no distractions: no screens, no reading, no music, no tv. Nothing. You might need to force yourself at first, but you will be surprised at home much you enjoy that time once you get used to doing it regularly.
23. Start a new self-care/wellbeing activity.
I would recommend mindfulness, starting with the HeadSpace app and/or expressive writing. Studies have shown that expressive writing improves immunity and reduces stress. These are core tools in building resilience and treating built-up stress. If you have ever had chronic health problems that have been difficult to diagnose, I strongly recommend you taking a look at the Curable app which uses brain training, expressive writing, mindfulness and education about the mind-body connection to treat chronic pain and other chronic health conditions.
24. Sleep more.
Did you know that men who sleep less than five hours a night have smaller testicles that men who sleep for over seven hours? According to Prof. Matt Walker, Professor of Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, even just an hour less sleep on one night is correlated with an increase in heart attacks.
A chronic lack of sleep is a factor in many of the most common serious health problems such as cancer, diabetes, depression and stroke. Sleep deprivation also lowers immunity and can cause fertility problems. The World Health Organization classifies a chronic lack of sleep as a carcinogen.
Take the opportunity of not having a commute to go to bed half an hour to ninety minutes earlier. Watch Prof. Matt Walker’s TED talk on the importance of sleep.
25. Have better quality sleep.
- Get off your phone at least thirty minutes before bed
- Make a routine of doing mindfulness or expressive writing at least three times a week at some point during the day. This helps ensure that problems are not intruding in your thoughts before bedtime or during the night.
- Spend the first 15-30 minutes of bedtime reading, doing mindfulness or having focused time with your partner.
26. Get outdoors in the sun
Be proactive about getting the maximum benefit from your breaks: do something you enjoy away from a screen and preferably get outdoors, in nature and in the sun.
27. Practise positive psychology
Try some positive psychology exercises while you go about your daily routine. Here’s a one minute video with three short exercises:
28. Get social – spice up your coffee break with a discussion topic.
Organise a regular ‘coffee break’ where the team can get together and take a break over Zoom, Teams or whatever platform you are using. Spice it up with a non-work-related topic of discussion that will get everyone involved.
29. Do a fun quiz using Kahoot.
This is an absolutely excellent website where in just a few minutes, you can build your own quiz (be sure to make questions fun and inclusive). You’ll then give the quiz code to your team and each one of them will join the quiz in a couple of clicks (no sign-in necessary) on their device of choice. Each person then plays for themselves with a leader board visible and points awarded for correctness and speed. It’s great for bringing out people’s competitive side and gets everyone involved.
30. Have a ‘Show and Tell’.
This is where a person elects to spend 5 minutes showing the rest of the team something that’s happening at home or something that is of interest to them. This could be a pet, a song someone has learnt on their musical instrument, a new garden, a hobby or literally anything.
31. Host a virtual happy hour.
Encourage everyone to bring their beverage of choice to the table, and jazz it up with a great sound-track, costumes and games such as Kahoot or a Show and Tell (above).
32. Organise an exercise challenge with your workmates using the Strava app.
Just because you are confined to your home or must stay close to home, exercise is still a must. Set a challenge of covering the distance from London to New York, Sydney to Singapore, South Pole to North Pole or somewhere appropriate for your team size and location. Set up a club on Strava and ask your team to join the club. Any exercise they do will be automatically recorded in the club, and you can therefore add up the distance covered. Keep it alive with regular updates of how far you’ve got and showcase people who have achieved particularly well.
33. Join Remote Workmates.
Recommend to your team members that they sign up to Remote Workmates – a new SLACK community, aimed at sharing advice, tips and resources about working from home. You can even get people to buddy up with another remote worker from another organisation – great for networking.
34. Make a playlist.
Ask your team to suggest two or three songs for a playlist and then allocate a day when you will all play it.
Written by Sarah Morris, performance coach and director of Brain Happy. Their new course, Feel Great @ Working From Home builds skills in resilience and stress-reduction through positive psychology, performance coaching and NLP techniques. The course is heavily discounted to help organisations during the coronavirus crisis.
Employee e-learning for mental health & wellbeing:
Building positive coping strategies
Helping individuals work on personal stress triggers
Tackling the causes of workplace stress
References and Further Reading
Ackerman, C. (2020) 83 Benefits of Journaling for Anxiety, Benefits and Stress; https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/
Jones, G. & Gorell, R. (2015) 50 Top Tools for Coaching: A Complete Toolkit for Developing and Empowering People
Kasriel, E (2020) Coronavirus Tips: How to Build Better Relationships Remotely; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52196670?fbclid=IwAR0J8MDq9iMcPNRBudwnQLPdP9uz2BjunzqcaW9iCu8I32UFfWN_-aHTCJQ