Rules of survival for working from home

Newsroom's Suzanne McFadden has worked at home for the better part of 20 years. She offers some advice to those suddenly having to set up a home office. 

So, you're stuck working at home and you're suddenly wondering, how do I cope with this?

Sure, being at home means escaping the jungle of office politics, but it still has its dangers and traps.

Having worked from home - through choice - for just shy of two decades now, I thought I'd offer up some tips of survival to the newbies who now find themselves setting up office in the spare room or the kitchen table.

Set work times:

Make sure you determine what time you'll start each day and what time you'll finish. This is a tough one, because work life and home life can begin to meld into each other, and you can find yourself at the keyboard well into the evening. You don't want that. You might forget to watch The Great Australian Bake Off.

There are time-tracking apps that let you know if you’re getting the balance right, if you want to be really regimented with it. And don’t feel bad about taking a full hour for lunch – just remember to go back to work afterwards.

Get dressed up: 

This is one I often forget (you'll catch me still in my 'activewear' at 2pm some days). But you feel much better if you get dressed in semi-formal clothes, as if a work client might pop in (highly unlikely right now, I know). Mentally, it gives you a boost, and reminds you – and everyone else in the house – that you're in work mode.

Don't eat all the food: 

It's so much easier to snack when the fridge is a few metres away and it's full of all your own food (not a coconut yoghurt pottle with 'Jess' written on it). Try to stick to a regular lunch hour - it's always 1pm at this office - and morning and afternoon tea breaks if you're so inclined. It’s all about self-discipline.

And if you’re making yourself a coffee, offer to make one for any other office refugees in the house. You don’t need the extra tension in a confined space.

Make a good work-space: 

Balancing your laptop on your knees while you lie in bed or on the couch isn't going to be good for your back and neck, and you may not be able to visit a physio or a massage therapist for a little while. Don’t claim every clear space in the house with your work paraphernalia – try to keep it all in one area so a) you can find it, and b) others in the house don’t get annoyed with you.

The kitchen table/desk is fine, if you're okay with being interrupted by hungry/bored housemates, or someone slopping their pizza on your notebook.

Keep in touch:

Check in with workmates/bosses to let them know when you’re on duty, or when you’re clocking out for the day (just so they know you’re not really watching a movie). If you receive an email or text to do with work, make sure you take the time to reply, and let them know you’ve received it.

A simple “Thanks, got it” message goes such a long way to keeping up morale. Otherwise you can feel like you’re working in a vacuum.

Call people:

Just because you're working in isolation doesn't mean you can't recreate your daily water cooler conversations. It’s going to get lonely. Use FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangouts to get face-to-face contact with people you’re working with (we all know how the tone of emails can sometimes be misinterpreted).

Keep in touch with people - we'll all be needing human connection, just in a different way.

Limit social media time: 

I refer to Facebook as my water cooler, but it’s also a dangerous place to hang around. It can be a horrible distraction and time-waster. Ask yourself would you really walk over to get a glass of water that often if you were at work? Don’t leave that Twitter tab open while you’re working.

Move around:

Get up, stand up, walk around every half an hour. Go outside and get some fresh air, hang out the washing, pull out a few weeds. Bake a loaf of bread (it’s the new gold). Talk to your neighbours - but through the fence.

Set boundaries for kids:

It’s going to be harder if you also have children at your new office. Parents, you may have to tag-team playing snakes and ladders. 

I stole this ‘traffic light’ system from John of Florida: if you’re on a call or you don’t want to be interrupted, stick something red on the outside of your door. An orange sticker means check first before entering, and green means its okay to come in.

Take sick days: 

If you’re feeling unwell, make sure you take time off to rest and recover. Don’t feel obliged to keep working, just because you’re already at home, and your bed is in the next room (and you'll get by with a 15-minute lie-down now and again). You’ll be more productive if you’re well and rested.

Be kind to your work-mates: 

If you're used to working at home for years in silence, and then have someone else in the house, who likes to play National Radio in the background while they work, be patient and understanding. Remember, it's not forever...

Buy plenty of toilet paper:

Just kidding.

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