When the government announced back in March that, wherever possible, we should all work from home, I really thought it would be a temporary thing.
I thought that it would be a few weeks, then everyone would be back in their offices and official work places.
But we’re still here. And I’m not sure things will ever go back to quite the way they were before.
So many companies are planning for a future where working from home, at least for part of the week, will be the standard thing. And in so many ways I think it’s great. There’s so much flexibility with working at home, and it potentially saves a lot of people so much time and money now they don’t have to commute each day.
It’s not always easy though.
It’s been a big adjustment for me and Steve to have both of us at home working during the day.
I think we’re in this for the long haul though; so it’s about time to embrace it, make some changes, and set a few things up to make working from home work for us as best we can.
If you’re still adjusting to working from home, then hopefully some of the tips in this post will help you find ways to make it work for you and your family.
There’ll always be things that aren’t perfect and you might have to find a few workarounds, and some days accept that some things will just have to slide, but here are some things you can try to make it as stress-free as possible.
Set up your workspace
If you’re still working from the sofa or a makeshift spot at the kitchen table every day then it’s probably time to set up a more permanent workspace for yourself.
If you have room in your home for a desk then it’s worth getting one, especially if it looks like you will be working from home for a fair while.
Try and make your desk area as clutter-free as possible so you can focus on work.
I use the main family computer for most of my work and do find it frustrating when the desk is covered in children’s drawings (Rhys likes to doodle when he’s watching YouTube!), cookie crumbs and random small toys. So I try and clear everything off the desk before I go to bed so it’s at least clear for me to use in the morning once the children are at school.
You don’t have to go completely minimalist though.
Hang up some of your favourite family photos on the wall above your desk. Or get some happy, inspirational quote prints from Etsy and stick those up. I love these prints from BeguimaStudio on Etsy, but there are so many styles you could pick to make your work space somewhere you enjoy spending time.
If you don’t have room for a permanent desk set up in your home, then you need to get a bit more creative.
You can get a simple folding table and chair that you can put up in the morning and fold away again when you’ve finished work for the day. Or pick an end of the kitchen table that will be your workspace each day, and then tidied away again in the evenings.
With both of these options it’s worth getting a storage box or magazine file that you can put all your papers, notebooks, pens and so on into so they’re all kept together safely in one place.
Wherever you decide to create your main work space, it’s also worth picking out a few other options for spots in your house that you can work from if you need a change of scenery.
You might organise it so that the desk is your main work space, but some days you might choose to work from the breakfast bar in your kitchen or the comfort of your sofa.
If you’ll be working from the sofa you might want to get a lap tray or a little laptop desk that you can use instead of balancing your laptop on your knees.
Set some boundaries
When you’re working from home it can be really hard to maintain a good work/life balance, so it’s important to put some boundaries in place.
Here are some things you might want to do:
- Set a firm time that you’ll finish work for the day and make sure you stick to it. Set an alarm if you need to, to remind yourself to shut down your laptop.
- Make sure you take a proper lunch break and move away from your desk while you eat.
- Learn to say no. If you still have to work strict hours at home, then make it clear to family members that you’re not available for tasks that aren’t work related during the day.
- If you’re trying to work at home when your partner or children are around then let them when you’re going to be busy and can’t be disturbed. You could even go so far as putting a sign up or setting a timer to let children know when it’s ok to come to you again. I know this will only work with older children who can be left to entertain themselves though, so if you have younger children at home with you keep reading!
Find ways to work around your children
This has been one of the biggest struggles we’ve faced this year.
Working from home is one thing, but trying to do it with the children around is something completely different.
Whether you have school-age children at home due to a lockdown or them needing to isolate for a while, or you have younger children with you because your childcare arrangements have had to change, you need to find ways to work around them being there.
Here are some things that might help:
- Be flexible with your hours if you can. Speak to your boss and ask if you can work non-traditional hours while you’re all at home. You might be able to get up and fit in an hour’s work before your children wake up (depending on how old they are). Or you could do an hour or two in the evening.
- Work out a way to take childcare in turns with your partner. If you’re both working from home then you can set up a system where maybe you focus more on the childcare in the mornings so they can work undisturbed, and then swap for the afternoon.
- Set up activities that the children can do alongside you. Get a pile of sticker books, colouring books, and/or activity books and let your child do them while sitting next to you. This way they’re still close by, you can help them if they get stuck, but you can also get some work done.
- Use technology to your advantage. If you have to be away from your desk for a while, say to sit out in the kitchen while your child has a loooong lunch, then see what bits of work you can do from your phone. And don’t worry about using technology to keep the children entertained for a while. Sometimes you have to let them have a bit more screentime than you’d like so you can crack on with important tasks.
- Create a schedule. Work out what things need to be done each day and set up a simple schedule that everyone can follow. If everyone knows that 10-11 is work time for you and quiet reading time for children, and that lunch is at 12 each day, it can help things run more smoothly as everyone knows what to expect each day.
- Don’t create a schedule. On the other hand, a schedule might not work at all for your family. So don’t feel you need to recreate the school day at home, for example. You might find that your family is happier when everything is more flexible.
Take care of yourself
When you’re working from home, struggling to juggle your work life and your family life, you need to make sure you’re looking after yourself as well as you can.
You might find that you’re not getting as much exercise as you normally would, if you’re not walking around town on your lunchbreak, or heading to the gym for a class after you leave the office.
So find a way to start fitting some physical activity into your day.
You could go for a 20 minute walk in the morning before you sit down to start work, and again at the end of your working day. The great thing with doing this is that it acts like a commute substitute, in that it gets you away from your desk and can help you make the transition from home life to work life, and back again.
If you don’t fancy a walk then try doing a home workout during your lunchbreak, or as a way of burning off some steam in the evenings when you’ve finished work for the day.
Make sure you take care of your mental wellbeing as well as your physical health.
Working from home can be really isolating. Even if your partner and children are there with you it can still be strangely lonely.
So make a point of chatting with someone outside of your household every day.
Keep in touch with your colleagues throughout the day, but don’t just talk about work. Have a chat in the morning about how you all are, what you watched on tv the night before, and so on.
And try and have a quick video call or phone conversation with a friend or family member a few times a week, if you’re not able to get out and see them in person.
One of the best things you can do to make working from home work well, is get organised.
On a Sunday sit down and work out what needs to be done over the next week. Include everything from both your work life and your home life. You can then split the tasks into ‘work’ and ‘home’ to do lists.
Use these lists to make a simplified to do list each evening for the next day so when you sit down in the morning you know exactly what you need to tackle.
If you find that keeping a firm distinction between home and work life doesn’t really work for you, then try flipping some things to your advantage.
Being home during the day means that you can put a load of washing on at 10am. Rather than letting this disturb your working day, you can use the wash cycle as a sort of timer for getting a work task completed. Tell yourself that you’ll work on one work project until the washing machine cycle finishes, and then you can take a break to hang it to dry and scroll social media with a cuppa for ten minutes.
Working from home can have so many benefits, but when you’re trying to do it in these weird circumstances, potentially with children of various ages at home with you, it can be a real challenge.
Hopefully there’ve been some ideas and tips in this post that will help make the whole thing easier and more enjoyable.
Do you have any other tips for making working from home less of a challenge?