The truth about working from home and how to be successful at it

A blog about the pros and cons of working from home: why it’s great and also sucks, and how to be productive while avoiding distractions.

A timely post

I’ve been thinking about sharing my tips for home-working for a while, but it felt a bit niche. That was BC – Before Coronavirus. Remember those carefree days?

As I write this, Italy is in lockdown, the orange baby-man in Washington has banned flights to the USA from Europe, and the UK government is still scratching its chin, debating its next move.

A few businesses in London’s Canary Wharf have closed their offices and advised staff to work from home. I’ve had a couple of client meetings this week, where we bumped fists rather than shaking hands. The streets are becoming quieter. I assume more and more people are being told to work from home.

If you are among that number or are expecting the decree soon, here is the reality, warts and all, of working from home. It’s mostly good, and also a bit crap, but I will help you get through it with my tips for success.

Why working from home is great

No commute

This is the biggie for me. For 20 years, my commute involved standing on a stuffy, rush hour tube with my face in a stranger’s armpit. There is nothing positive about a London commute.

The pros and cons of working from home: why it's great and also sucks, and how to be productive while avoiding distractions.

These days, I take two flights of stairs and I have arrived.

No water cooler chat

As the last company I worked for grew, so did the gossip. Teams became tribal and cliquey. Conversations stopped abruptly when colleagues walked into a room. I hate gossip intensely. It sucks the positivity out of an office and should have no place in a business environment. If I want to hear gossip, I’ll switch on Loose Women.

I don’t.

You don’t have to listen to other people’s music

To cater for all tastes, we usually had a commercial radio station playing, with its incessant adverts and the same five songs on repeat. Have fun blocking out your colleague’s humming. At home, I play a calming playlist (current favourite is Cinematic Chillout on Spotify), or just enjoy the silence.

No one is going to steal your sandwich

Remember this episode of Friends?

It’s funny because it’s true (although the reaction was a bit much).

Get shit done

Does the phrase “can you spare five minutes?” fill you with dread? I worked for the same boss for 11 years. She could rely on me to get things done quickly because I’d done them so many times before. She frequently took me away from the task at hand to join a meeting, without warning. If you’re not physically present in the office, you’re less likely to be asked to do someone a ‘quick favour’ unexpectedly.

You can get a dog

I had cats for years. But only because I wasn’t at home to look after a dog. Dog ownership is essential for my wellbeing in so many ways. She is my reason to leave the house twice a day, and it’s very comforting to have another living presence in the house. Cuddles are a big part of our routine.

The pros and cons of working from home: why it's great and also sucks, and how to be productive while avoiding distractions.

Why working from home sucks

No water cooler chat

I can easily spend a whole working day sitting at my computer, leaving voicemails for people and not interacting with a single human being. Most of the time this suits my introverted personality – I have the dog for company after all. But if I’ve spent the day in solitary silence, I will have to verbally download to a loved one at the end of the day, to use up my daily allocation of words.

It’s difficult to build new relationships

The office is where I built strong working relationships, met my future husband and made lifelong friendships. It takes effort to establish new ones when you’re in your home-working cocoon. Having a strong network of other self-employed or home-based workers is essential.

Get shit done, they said

Ha! How am I supposed to get anything done with all the responsibilities of running a house? Because I’m always here, I have to manage any household projects, do the grocery shopping, laundry, schlep the kids to their various activities etc. And don’t get me started on being a parcel hub for all our neighbours.

How to be a productive home-working ninja

Here are my tips for making working from home a more productive experience.

Create a dedicated space for work

I have a lovely home office, which overlooks our garden. But I prefer working in the kitchen, which is a much lighter space and gives me quick access to the kettle. Both areas are organised spaces with little clutter. Each has a strong wifi signal, a speaker for music and a comfortable desk and chair to support my back. Decent, reliable technology is key to a productive day.

The pros and cons of working from home: why it's great and also sucks, and how to be productive while avoiding distractions.

Turn up for work

By which I mean get dressed; put makeup on – or have a shave – or both; be ready to start work at the same time each day. Dragging yourself reluctantly to your desk in your pyjamas isn’t going to set the right atmosphere for productivity. The only sartorial nod to home working I will allow is the comfort of slippers.

Turn off notifications

Turn on ‘do not disturb’ mode on your phone, or turn off all those bleeps and pop-ups. Don’t take personal calls. Focus on one task at a time. Allocate specific times to check social media if those channels are important to you. I binge during lunch, and also on the toilet – sorry folks, but it’s a good use of dead time. Please wash your hands.

Write a schedule

Each morning I write a fresh to-do list, which will include household chores, as well as work-related projects.

A schedule takes this to the next level. Big projects are blocked out in my diary as meetings. So I’ll allocate a couple of hours to work on a recruitment search, during which my phone is set to automatically turn on ‘do not disturb’ mode. If I have a blog post to promote, I’ll create a diary event for an hour’s social media activity, usually late afternoon, when I’m at my lowest level of productivity and it doesn’t matter quite so much if I fall into an Instagram rabbit hole.

Plan your lunch in advance

Decide at the beginning of the day what you’re going to have for lunch, and when you’re going to eat it. Knowing that I have a delicious lunch waiting for me is a reward for a productive morning. Uncertainty about what to eat will have me daydreaming about all my options.

Get some fresh air

It would be easy to become a hermit on those days I don’t have meetings. And with clients cancelling appointments because of the Coronavirus, it could be a week before I have to leave the house again. I walk the dog twice a day, whatever the weather. It keeps me sane and creates space to think.

The pros and cons of working from home: why it's great and also sucks, and how to be productive while avoiding distractions.

Do your chores outside of office hours

I will put the washing on before breakfast, and sort the laundry in the evening. Discipline yourself to think of your working day as if you were in an office.

Give yourself an occasional day off

If you’re self-employed you will know that time is money. However, you do need to take care of yourself and take a break every now and then. Schedule days off well ahead of time, as you would if you were employed. It will give you something to look forward to and set a target for finishing projects. Turn on your out of office reply on email, let calls go to voicemail and take a rejuvenating day off.

Do you work from home? What are the pros and cons for you? Let me know if you have any tips for home-working productivity I may have missed.

Much love, Vx

[Disclosure: nothing to disclose.]