Getting distracted at home? There’s no doubt that many of us have been thrust into the working from home life with less than ideal home office setups and plenty of interruptions just waiting to catch you off guard.
Productivity, efficiency and wellbeing are central to a healthy and effective workplace. If you’re one of the thousands out there now dealing with cluttered spaces, achy joints, and increased procrastination when working from home, know that you are not alone. More than 65% of Australians work from home. Due to COVID-19, that statistic is probably much higher right now.
Self-isolation and social distancing mean more of us than ever are getting our work done behind closed doors. There’s never been a better time to improve productivity or improve your home office and habits.
It sounds great in theory. Comfy clothes. No commute time. And, your favourite snacks on hand. The issue is, sometimes it’s hard to actually get any work done. We’ve all been there. You spend more time prepping the ultimate breakfast than answering emails. You’re undecided on a Spotify playlist. You realise working from your sofa is less comfortable than you thought it would be. Suddenly… you’re missing your desk. Don’t stress. This guide will cover everything you need to know about working from home.
What is working from home?
Before we go any further let’s get one thing straight. ‘Remote working’ and ‘working from home’ are actually two different things. You might’ve heard the two terms bandied about interchangeably over the past few months but there’s a few important differences. You won’t meet remote workers in the office. Most people doing remote work are going to be found working externally. It’s a different lifestyle altogether and to work remotely requires a degree of discipline and different resources and skills to manage.
Working from home is when you might spend three days in the office and two days at home or it might be a one-off day when your sick child stays home from school, so you decide to work at home. Lots of employees might prefer to work from home permanently even if they’re in the same city as their work — they want to enjoy the flexibility. This is still different to remote workers which is a broader term that encapsulates workers who are in another city, out in the country or overseas.
What are the benefits of working from home?
Working from home has numerous benefits. Some might be direct benefits for yourself or your family while others benefit your community and even the planet.
1. Better work-life balance
Take advantage of the flexibility afforded to you. Need to attend a morning meeting but also want fit in a 30-minute walk? WFH lets you do both. Instead of building everything else in life around your work schedule you can fit work around parts of your life. Everything from running simple errands or being at home for a package to be delivered can be done easier.
2. Less commute stress
One study found that the average Australian in the city spends 66 minutes commuting. That’s an extra hour of sleep or an extra hour to do exercise, spend time with family members or friends. That’s just the average, some people might spend far longer commuting which means they might reclaim even more personal time.
In a survey of over 1,200 people by Employment Hero the majority of respondents (59%) rank the commute in their ‘top 3 things not missed about working in the office’. According to research from HILDA, the average Australian commute time rose 20% between 2002 to 2017. Sydney had the longest average daily commutes (71 minutes), followed by Brisbane (67 minutes), Melbourne (65 minutes), Perth (59 minutes) and Adelaide (56 minutes).
3. Money savings
That’s a great segue to our next point. WFH not only helps you save personal time it can help you save money. Between the costs of running a car, parking fees, public transport, eating out on your lunch break going to work can take a huge bite out of your wallet. WFH a few days a week might save you just enough to put towards something you really want.
4. Positive environmental impact
Not driving your car into work means one less car on the road contributing to carbon emissions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic global emissions have decreased an estimated 17% since the beginning of April to a level not seen since 2006. That’s a couple of months work undoing decades of damage.
As well as this people who WFH are generally more aware of their electricity use while at the office light and temperature settings are often automated. In your own home it might be simpler, cheaper and better for the environment to open in the window instead of turning on the air conditioner.
5. Impact on sustainability
WFH a few days a week has great impacts for sustainability. While the world is seeing a reduction in the amount of pollution and traffic, WFH is helping the world to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Initiative which include goals like sustainable cities and communities, gender equality, climate action.
Wondering how these relate to WFH? Well to give just one example Kate Kendall, CEO and founder of CloudPeeps says in terms of starting a family “one person inevitably becomes the primary caregiver, and it’s usually the mother. Remote work eliminates some of the obstacles that tend to throw women off the traditional leadership course: inflexible schedules, long hours away from home, and long commutes.”
6. A customisable office
Is the A/C always set too low? Normally hot desking and you don’t always get your favourite chair? WFH cuts out those kinds of issues and lets you set up everything just the way you like.
7. Increased productivity and performance
WFH potentially means less interruptions, fewer unproductive meetings and less conflict between team members. Factor in the other benefits like not having to wake up at 6am to get into the office and not having to commute home then you can see the clear benefits, not just for employees but employers as well.
8. A happier, healthier work life
Combined all of these factors can help promote happiness and healthier living. The savings on time and money can be put to better use in other parts of your life and help you reconnect with your friends or family. Some people are able to return to hobbies they previously lost time for or spend more time each week improving their fitness. Ultimately the choice is up to you how you spend that extra time but WFH at least gives you plenty of options.
The workplace culture bundle
Do you have a working from home policy?
One of the big issues while working from home is trust. As an Employee you want to know if you’re being paid correctly, working within reasonable parameters and being treated with respect. Employers on the other hand want to know that they can trust their employees to be engaged in their work and deliver what the business requires of them.
Some of the easiest ways to ensure trust goes both ways are to establish clear OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to establish a really clear policy on working from home. You can download our free Flexible Work Policy template here.
Working from home allowances and tax deductions
Working from home means there are a few changes when it comes to tax. You can’t claim any for expenses you are reimbursed for, but you may be eligible to claim a number of deductions from things like the full cost of home office equipment, furniture and technology (up to $300) or some electricity and gas costs. You’ll find more information about this here.
Working from home productivity and tools
The pandemic has put productivity into the spotlight. As an employee, you’re likely scratching your head and trying to solve one major problem. How can you stay productive when working from home in the midst of all distractions?
Before answering this, we should first understand what productivity is. Some say that being productive means getting more work done. But does it really? To be productive is to be efficient. This tells us that less is more. In other words, it’s as much about the quality of your work as the quantity. You wouldn’t hammer a nail with a spoon would you? You can’t get the job done without the right equipment and the same is true when working outside of the office.
There are plenty of amazing productivity tools that you or your team might wish to explore to boost your productivity to new heights. Don’t know where to start? We’ve already found seven of the best, just for you.
How to work from home (a sample routine) and other tips
Get started early
Start your day right. The first hour of your day often determines your productivity levels. Start by getting dressed. Working in your PJs is never as good as it sounds.
Then, make your bed. There’s a reason your mother used to nag you about making your bed. According to productivity expert Charles Duhigg, making your bed is a ‘keystone skill’ of successful people. Why? Because it’s one small accomplishment right at the beginning of your day. This habit tells your brain, “Right, today is going to be productive. We’re going to get stuff done“. So, when the alarm goes off and your work from home day begins, make your day. There are other ways to inject productivity into your morning – and your day.
Exercise is key. If you’re stuck inside, find a workout video on YouTube. Get the whole household in on the action. Quarantine might keep you out of the gym, but it doesn’t mean you have to neglect your workout routine! It’s a well-established fact that exercise improves productivity. However, you start your day, do it thoughtfully. Rolling out of bed and straight onto social media isn’t likely to boost your ability to work well from home. A healthy routine is essential.
Pretend like you are going into the office
While commuting to the office may be dull, it’s a consistent ritual that puts you in the mindset to work. Recreate that working mindset while working remotely by spending some time at the start of the day clearing anything unnecessary from your work area. Other morning rituals can include making a cup of tea or coffee, spending some time stretching or closing any non-work documents on your computer before beginning your day.
Structure your day like you would in the office
This structure also applies to the rest of the day. Taking breaks at regular and consistent intervals can help keep your productivity in check. If you’re not going to work from home full time, then it’s important to follow the same routine as you have when in the office.
Choose a dedicated workspace
Some of you may already have a private office set up in your home. If so, then you’re already one step closer to being more productive. Unfortunately, some of you may have a home layout that doesn’t allow for this level of privacy. If this is the case, then some rearranging of your home layout may be required.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean renovating your house to accommodate a study room. There are already enough distractions at home, let alone the sound of construction! All you will need is some muscle to manoeuvre furniture around, or a few extra dollars to purchase a suitable ergonomic work system. If the only suitable room in your home is an open living area, then you could consider purchasing a partition to insulate yourself from other household members.
FYI, your bed is not the best environment for productive work. You will get uncomfortable. You will get sleepy. So, get out of bed. So, where should you work? Here’s our review of top work-from-home spaces:
- Desk – Ideally, you want to work at a desk. Productivity is maximised when your posture is comfortable and alert. A desk with an ergonomically sound chair is perfect. Your back will thank you.
- Kitchen table – If you don’t have a home office, your dining room table is the next best option. The issue is, kitchen chairs are not designed to be sat in for hours at a time. After a while, you might begin to feel uncomfortable. Find a cushion to sit on, to relieve some of the pressure.
- Sofa – Can you work from your sofa? Well, it depends on the sofa. If you can sit upright, with your laptop positioned far enough away from you, then your sofa may be an okay place to work. Productivity may be impacted if your sofa requires you to hunch over or recline.
Whichever way you choose to set up your workspace, remember three things: one, make sure your office space is quiet and free of distractions, two, make sure it’s ergonomically comfortable and safe; three make sure you’re in range of the wi-fi!
Finally, to remain positive during the day, choose an area to work that has enough space to not feel cramped, has natural light and is visually appealing. Spend some time thinking about what makes you happy and involve those things in your home office. Whether it’s a window view, art on the wall, music in the background or plants in the room can all make a world of difference. Plants in particular have a positive impact on your productivity at work. They can also help increase your attentiveness, satisfaction and wellbeing. They can even lower your diastolic blood pressure levels, which simply put, is pressure while your heart is relaxing and taking blood back in.
Check your posture
While using a high-quality ergonomic chair goes without saying, not all of us can access or afford to spend our months savings on a fancy new throne. However, that doesn’t mean we should get complacent with the same old chair we have always used. If you ever find yourself slouching or feeling tight in your muscles and joints after a long workday, you may need a different seat.
Many experts such as Caitlyn Reid, physiotherapist at Aprive Wellness, suggest options such as exercise ball chairs. These slightly work your muscles just by repositioning on the ball over the course of the day. Reid does however specify that exercise ball chairs should only be used for short amounts of time in tandem with a desk chair, and only if it is the correct size.
Additionally, you can use a standing desk to prevent slouching and improve circulation. Like exercise balls, standing desks should only be used temporarily to stretch fatigued muscles, and not as a permanent system. Both options cost as little as $100 and can significantly improve your physical health.
Don’t stay at home
Ironically, you should leave your new ergonomic space at least once a day. Stretching your legs and getting some natural light can help decrease fatigue and distraction. This also helps simultaneously improve your mood and physical wellbeing.
Grab lunch down the road, do yoga in the garden, water the plants or walk the dog around the block. Whatever it is, a little cardio exercise and fresh air will stop you from getting bogged down while working. Another simple productivity hack is simply: move around. Spend an hour at your kitchen table and then half an hour on your sofa. Move to your desk for a few hours. If you’ve got phone calls to take, stand up and walk around your home to clock up some steps.
Sometimes, a change of environment keeps our brain alert and boosts productivity. Give it a try.
Make it harder for yourself to mess around on social media
Remove your phone from your workspace: Make sure your phone is out of sight. This means you can’t see it or hear it. This will ensure that you experience no temptation to check your phone, you don’t want to end up doom scrolling.
Use an app blocker: If you still can’t resist the urge to check social media on your phone or computer, there is a saving grace. App blockers such as Stay Focused and Cold Turkey will ensure you no longer need to tire yourself out using self-control.
Commit to doing more
Make sure you’re not just doing the bare minimum. Accountability accelerates productivity. We all work harder when we know someone is checking in. That’s why people pay for personal trainers! The watchful eye of someone we respect is often excellent motivation for working hard.
In the office, there is natural accountability. Your colleagues will notice if you’re scrolling through Instagram instead of your inbox. Your boss will notice if you take a three-hour lunch break. That’s not the case when you work from home. That can impact our productivity. One way around this issue is to put your hand up and ask for accountability.
- Send an email to your colleagues outlining your schedule for the day. If you tell people what you’re hoping to get done, you’re more likely to get it done!
- Call your manager when you clock-on. Call them when you’re taking your lunch break and when you come back to the desk. And one last call at the end of the day. Force yourself to check in with them. It’ll keep you on task.
- Download some productivity programs on your laptop. Freedom is an app which blocks social media sites and other distractions.
- Ask those around you to keep you accountable. ‘I’m working on this project today and I need to get it done by lunchtime. Can you check in on me and see how I’m going?’
Work when you’re at your most productive
It’s natural that your energy and motivation levels might dip and rise during the day. No one is expecting you to charge through your data entry job from 9-5. That would be ridiculous. It depends on the flexibility of your regular office work hours but you might find it fits your WFH schedule to do the bulk of your work in the morning and evening; leaving the middle of the day for catching up on other tasks.
The important thing is to acknowledge when you work best are most motivated, and do you work then. It’s not easy to stay motivated especially during the pandemic and the team at Employment Hero has been frank about that. You can watch Chief People Officer, Alex Hattingh and Marketing Operations Manager, Samantha Myers discuss productivity and motivation here.
Save calls for the afternoon
Further to this, lots of people aren’t “morning people” and that’s okay. One thing that works really well for those still yawning at 10 am is to schedule your calls for the afternoon when you’ve really woken up. This way you can focus on your individual tasks in the morning and work better with others later in the day. You don’t want to be yawning on that call with a team member or client, do you?
Plan out what you’ll be working on ahead of time
Working remotely means more flexibility. To improve productivity, we should use that flexibility well. When planning your day, ask yourself these questions:
- How many hours of work do I need to get done today?
- What time do I usually clock on for work?
- What do I need to get done before that time?
- When do I want to take my breaks through the day?
- What time do I want to clock off this evening?
- What home jobs can I get done in between work?
Then, write yourself a schedule. Even better, give your colleagues a heads-up about that schedule. Want to get some work done early in the morning so you can clock off earlier? Let people know, so they can work productively too. You can’t just assume productivity will happen. You need to set yourself up for a win. And the best way to do that is to use your time well. Set your work hours and write your to-do list accordingly.
Better yet upgrade your to-do list to something more effective. There are a tonne of productivity methods out there and finding the one that works best for you is the first step to improving your productivity and the quality of your work.
Use technology to stay connected
That little wi-fi symbol isn’t there for you to stare at while you ponder life. It means you have a connection to the world through the internet. When you work from home it can sometimes be harder to get into work mode. But once you’re there don’t forget to socialise a little too! It’s important to not be isolated and flex those communication skills every now and again.
There are heaps of ways to stay connected with your co-workers while you work at home, you might schedule daily google hangouts or skype calls to check-in socially with your team at the end of the day. Use all the affordances tech provides you these days. Normally speak with your team over conference calls? Try video conferencing instead, see other people’s faces! You’ll feel better for it.
Match your music to the task at hand
Depending on the individual, listening to music while you work can also help with productivity and focus. It can even have an effect on your memory. Who knew? On the other hand some studies have shown that music can also be distracting. Listening to music without lyrics like classical baroque might be just what you’re looking for to help you get super-focused.
Use laundry as a work timer
This one sounds odd but hear us out. You work at home so why not involve your home jobs in helping make you more productive? While you run a load of washing, find something on your task list that you can get done before the washing is ready to dry or hang on the line. If you’re using a dryer, that’s another revolution in which to complete another task. Hanging it on the line? That’s a few minutes to go outside and get some fresh air. It’s the perfect way to bring some balance between work and life.
Communicate expectations with anyone who will be home with you
You can also set some ground rules with household members. This could mean setting rules around keeping sound to a minimum (e.g. no taking calls in the living room), and when not to disturb you. If you have children, one creative way of doing this is to implement the traffic light system. A green light (or sign) on the door gives permission to come in, yellow means to knock first, and red means ‘do not disturb’. It’s important to have clear boundaries when you work from home.
Take clear breaks
When there’s no-one around to remind you, it can be easy to sit at your laptop all day. This doesn’t equal good productivity. Taking regular breaks can increase employee productivity and wellbeing. Why is this the case? Often, we think that more time spent on work equates to more output. In fact, this is not likely the case (unless you are a robot!).
Sadly, many of us are working longer at the expense of taking breaks. This includes lunch breaks! If you ever feel like words, ideas or solutions are hard to come by, taking a break may be your most productive decision when working from home.
A break doesn’t necessarily mean taking a 20-minute nap every hour. Aim to have your biggest break half to three-quarters of the way through your workday. That way, you’ll have the energy you need to finish the day well. Treat your brain to the break it deserves. Choose to do something that’s refreshing during your breaks. Regardless of what you choose, the aim is to come back ready to work.
Interact with other humans
We said it before, we’ll say it again. When you work from home it doesn’t mean you should shun contact with other humans. Take some time across the day to speak with your family or housemates. Go for that walk and grab a coffee and say hi to your local barista. Remember you might work remotely but you don’t have to live remotely.
Prepare your meals the night before
Without a doubt one of the best things to do while you work from home is to spend more time preparing your own meals. Eating right is just one of the important ways to stay healthy and being at home lets you have full control over what you eat. If you’re feeling time poor during the day one easy way to still enjoy home cooking is to prepare your meals the night before. If you find it relaxing, cooking can be a great time to unwind from work in the evening and then ta-da, you’ve got your lunch made for tomorrow!
Pick a definitive finishing time each day
At the end of the day, routine is key. You want to make sure you don’t spend your whole day working for your company. It’s important to switch off at the end of the day and unwind for some you time.
Your routine could include the sweet satisfaction of closing all of your internet tabs and clearing your work area. Or even just going for a walk, cooking, or getting some face-to-face time with family or friends IRL. Whatever it may be, having a small symbolic activity to do after you “leave” the home office lets you switch off from work and alleviate stress. This is significant in reducing emotional exhaustion according to the University of Konstanz and Bowling Green University.
Practice makes productive
You’re not looking for perfection. You’re just aiming for progress to improve productivity. Working from home presents particular challenges. However, with a little bit of thought and creativity, you can overcome them and work just as productively at home as in the office.
Take some time to prepare and plan. Think about your daily schedule and time-management. Set yourself up for success by choosing an environment that will improve productivity. These small habits can make a world of difference, especially with the power of accountability on your side. With so many of us working from home at the moment, let’s support each other and encourage healthy productivity.
Maintain an organised work system
Whether you are working with hard or soft copy documents, be sure to arrange them in a systematic manner. It’s important that you make multiple folders that are clearly labelled. Doing so will enable you to save documents in their respective folder. This will allow you to look up and access documents more efficiently.
It’s also a good idea to back-up your documents on a tangible hard drive like a USB or using cloud-based storage platforms like Google Drive. But what can traditionalists or hard copy enthusiasts do to stay organised? One option is using a filing folder with distinct sections. For example, if you are a marketer, one section could be for campaign planning, and another could be for market research. You could also recycle any documents that you no longer need. This will help reduce filing clutter and keep your workspace neat and tidy.