Homeworking – trick or treat?

By Marta Tranter, SFM, HR Manager, July 2020

Homeworking – a treat or a constraint? And how to cope?

Working from home may have always seemed like a luxury for most people, yet today working from the office may be seen as a luxury for most of us. The current pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped the way companies across the world work today and has created the biggest and quickest change in homeworking we could have ever imagined.

Past and present

According to ONS 2019 figures, only 8.7 million out of 36.5 million of employees were privileged to work from home at some point in that year and 1.7 million were lucky to do it permanently [1].

In comparison, in April 2020 almost 50% of the workforce was working from home due to the COVID-19, lockdown and social distancing rules. That is a massive increase and even though a lot of businesses were worried about a decrease in their productivity, the opposite has been noted [2].

There was a lot of research in the last few years that demonstrated the benefits of homeworking: from increased productivity, employee retention and diversity within organisations to less days taken off sick, lower costs for the organisations and lower stress levels among employees [3].

Allowing employees to work from home can be very motivating, engaging and help build trust between employees and employers. However, this would usually be the case if homeworking were treated as a benefit and employees were able to prepare for homeworking, namely plan how it would work in practice. Since March 2020, half of the UK workforce has been made to work from home, with many employees also made to simultaneously look after their children due to school closures. Is that still an engaging benefit? I bet many will no longer consider it to be.

How to efficiently work from home?

It looks like home working will be the way of working for many of employees for the foreseeable future. So how can you make sure you make the best of it and stay focused, motivated, engaged, and productive?

  1. Simply, get dressed!

Not having to go to the office and therefore dress for work may be very convenient and might even encourage you to stay in your PJs all day long. That may be one of the best things about working from home, isn’t it? But leaving your PJs in bed, getting washed and dressed will psychologically make you ready to start working [4]. Some research suggests that getting dressed in your normal office attire will affect your behaviour even more. The research carried out among people who wore their lab coats proved that their attention was better than those who did not [5].

  1. Working routine

You may have to abide by your contractual working hours or maybe the core hours, even when you work from home. Pandemic and individual circumstances mean that there may be a level of flexibility but sticking to the same routine is very important.  Go to bed at your normal time, get up as you always do and start working at the time you would normally get to the office [4].

Finish working at the same time you would normally do too. People working from home often feel guilty or anxious about it and want to overcompensate by working additional hours. They want to make sure they are seen as working by others. There is no need for that though, stick to your tasks and keep yourself in check. It is easy to work extra but try and use the time wisely [4]. Do some exercise during the time you would spend on commute or make yourself healthy lunch for later [5].

  1. Create your workstation

72% out of over 2,000 people surveyed during the lockdown admitted that they have been working from their sofa and 56% admitted to working from their bed too [6]. It is all up to you where you work but trying to set up a proper workstation may be a better option for your back, posture, and wellbeing.  Find a quiet workspace where you will not be disturbed by other members of the household. Get your workstation ready, including stationary, and lock the door if possible [7]. Get comfortable and start working!

  1. Have a break

Working from home can make us work more, forget about the breaks, and feel like we need to be available all the time. But breaks are important for our health, help us decrease stress levels and they are good for our eyes that need a rest from the screens! Stretch and exercise, if possible, go out for a social distanced walk or a run [7]. Fresh air will help you clear your brain and have a fresh view on what you may have just struggled with [4].

More frequent but shorter breaks may be better than one longer one too. You need to find what works best for you. But working without stopping means you are less productive, more tired and less motivated [4].

  1. Stay connected wisely

Feelings of isolation are very common now, therefore staying in touch with colleagues, family and friends will help boost your mental health. Working from home, limits the social interaction you would normally have at work. But remember others are in the same boat, so speak to them virtually, e.g. have a digital coffee break or a lunchtime get together [7].

Remember to set the boundaries though. Social media are very easily accessible, and you can lose the track of time you spend on it, which may be detrimental to your productivity. Log out of your social media accounts while you are working and remove them from your browser shortcuts to avoid temptations [8].

How to work from home when kids are around?

  1. Create a routine

Routine and structure are important not only for adults but for the kids too. Create a plan for the day, allocate some time for studying, reading and free play. If you have a garden, use it! Enjoying some fresh air is beneficial [9]. Do not make your schedule too rigid and detailed, be realistic about it and if you can achieve more than planned then it is a massive success [9]! Be flexible as well and remember there will be days when things just do not go as planned. Do not worry about it, you cannot do everything, so just prioritise as much as you can [10].

  1. Work as a team if you can

If you live in a two-parent household, use it and work as a team. It may be very daunting for both of you to work full time and try to look after the kids, but teamwork could make it easier. Work together and plan your schedules, mark out important meetings, conference call etc., so that one of you can be with the kids when the other one has got those critical tasks to perform. What if there is a time when both of you need to be working? Well use the technology to your advantage or just let the kids have movie time with popcorn and blankets [9].

  1. Assess your productivity

Be aware of when you are the most productive and use this time to the maximum. If you are an early bird and focus best in the mornings, get up before your children and do the tasks that need most focus and attention [11]. If you work better in the afternoon, utilise the nap times if you can [9].

  1. Set out the boundaries

It is not always possible but try and set up your own separate workstation and close the door when you are working. That will really help you stay focused and productive and will let others know when you cannot be disturbed [9]. No door, no problem! Just make a sticker and put it close to workstation, it will work the same way and encourage your kids to stop and have a think if they really need to disturb you right now [11].

Having own space and ‘at work’ signs is really good because when you finish working for the day and open the door or take the sign off, it means it is the family time and your kids will know it!

  1. Be creative

Working while kids are at home is challenging and requires parents being very creative. Some of the ideas you may want to try are building a den or making pom-poms, cooking together or just laughing [12]! Your kids may enjoy indoor camping, ring tossing, or tin can bowling [13]. Whatever it is, just try to enjoy it and make sure you have some fun together as a family!