5 tips for Working From Home

Photo by Jeffery Erhunse on Unsplash

A few tips for productivity, health, and work-life balance that I would like to share from my experiences of Working From Home.

I have worked in a few roles where I worked from home whenever I felt it would be productive. I optimised what works for me as a developer so, during the current restrictions when more people than ever are isolated and working from home, I thought I’d share what I learned:

1) Create a separate work space

Create an area where you are comfortable working that you can also mentally leave when you stop. Being able to delineate between states of “I’m at work” or “I’m at home” helps feeling active and in the moment in each area.

The ideal is a separate room where you can close the door but if that’s not available, something as simple as routinely packing away your equipment or covering your work with a blanket can symbolically achieve this separation.

2) Keep a daily log

Super simple: open up a new text file or email to yourself and record your activities throughout the day with the time spent on each in decimal hours e.g.

Standup with x feature team 0.33h
Prototyping x feature display of API data widget demo. 1h
Zoom call with Alice and Bob to clarify x feature’s y requirement for z users. Action: Alice confirming with client on email. 0.5h

I formed this habit when it was a requirement at one workplace and found that this informal data was very useful to me even if I was using time tracking software or keeping a journal. I can find out exactly what I was working on in any given day, monitor how I spent time, check disruptions, and recall quick notes on decisions. A daily log works as a quick summary, memory aid, and offers peace of mind.

3) Invest in ergonomics

Being comfortable while working is important but understanding and maintaining good posture is even more important and that requires some basic but essential equipment:

A dedicated chair that is adjustable so you can use your keyboard and mouse with your forearms straight and level with the floor, with your feet flat on the floor.

Headphones, especially noise-cancelling, can help you “get in the flow” if you are in a noisy environment and act as a sign to others, perhaps in your home, that you are concentrating.

At least one external screen, directly in front of you, at eye level. I’m a firm believer in the productivity boost for using two screens, the more the better! The prices for good quality displays has dropped so much in recent years that I think they are an essential purchase.

4) Find and maintain your balance

Decide on soft and hard limit times of the day for when you will finish work and write them down or set alarms as an agreement with yourself. I often find I want to work later from home because I’m enjoying making progress without the usual workplace schedules (commuting, or distractions) and want to “just finish that one last thing”.

Choosing to ignore the soft limit time is fine but it serves as a notification to start winding down my velocity to leave my work in the best state for resuming next time. I know, respect, and accept that if I push past the hard limit time I agreed with myself it will be for diminishing returns. It’s often better to restart something feeling fresh and rested.

5) Make the most of a different situation

Accepting that working from home is not the same as being at work we can look for advantages of the new environment. It should be quieter and easier to get work done from home so if it’s not then try to discover anything essential that is missing and optimise your environment.

Being “less available” in the sense of it requiring more effort to interrupt someone can allow that person to focus better. However, the need to work together, ask questions, and confirm everyone is pulling in the same direction means maintaining good communication is essential. A morning catch-up video or phone call first thing starts the day on track. Establishing a protocol for how anyone should get in touch e.g. Slack / messenger app then mobile phone promotes efficient communication.

Zero commuting time is a benefit but that can also mean less exercise and less steps counted walking during the day so consider allocating that time back to your health. If you’re at home for lunch, is it possible to go for a quick walk or bike ride? Is there an opportunity to discover a new route or place outside to get some fresh air?

Finally, I think it’s important to recognise when you, or others on your team, may be missing social interaction. Sometimes simply, genuinely, asking how someone is doing and inviting a quick chat helps bridge the physical distance. When working remotely, it’s worth everyone taking extra care to maintain relationships and to include each other.

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