Published: 22 March 2021. Written by: Jo Usmar
It’s 12 months since offices closed and work Zooms became ‘a thing’ – and we’re in dire need of a WFH refresh. Here are 10 ways of keeping productivity and pep levels up from your kitchen table.
Remember the days when we used to beg our bosses to let us work from home, expounding the benefits of fewer distractions, fewer endless meetings and less commuting stress? We promised we’d be fresher, brighter and more creative.
A year into lockdown and, for many of us, ‘work’ consists of a laptop balanced precariously on a kitchen table while shushing children, partners, housemates and pets and declaring ‘You’re on mute’ several times a day. Despite that, when lockdown lifts, 74% of UK businesses say WFH is here to stay.
This means making the whole process more positive for ourselves, our cohabitants and our colleagues is essential. Here are 10 ways to do just that.
1. Stick to your official working hours
UK employees have increased their working hours by 25% a week (the equivalent of having an additional part-time job) since WFH during the pandemic. Overwork is one of the main contributors to burnout, but it’s easy to see why it happens when the lines between work and leisure are blurred and an uncertain job market scares people into thinking they always have to be ‘on’.
Being strict with your time will make you feel more in control and less resentful. Activate your out of office (yes, even if just for the evening), put your laptop ‘away’ (ie, in a drawer) so you’re less likely to log on on autopilot, take Slack off your phone and book online classes that start at 6pm. Be unapologetic about being strict – you are not slacking off by working the hours you’re paid for.
2. Stop multitasking unnecessarily
A survey by a Californian-based company tracked a 47% increase in employees’ productivity when working from home. Obviously there were caveats in place – everyone’s home ‘office’ situation is different – but one of the key things reported by the successful WFHers was sticking to a separate work-life schedule with no crossover. That meant: no household chores during the day.
It’s a myth that humans are good at multitasking, so stacking the dishwasher while on the phone to your boss or folding laundry in your tea break could spread you too thin. Remember, just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean home is your work. Agreeing on a Do Not Disturb signal with family or housemates is also wise, eg, closing your office door or, if you’re working in a communal space, having your headphones on to show you’re not available is a good strategy.
3. Embrace power dressing
A study by Professor Karen Pine at the University of Hertfordshire found that people who wore a Superman T-shirt rated themselves as more likeable and even physically stronger as a result. Clothes genuinely do affect our sense of self and, as such, can make us feel more productive.
The novelty of wearing sweats to work has well and truly worn off, so choosing to ‘power dress’ in whatever form that takes – be it a Superman tee or crisp white shirt – will put you in a better frame of mind to nail your work day.
4. Create a fake commute
A commute isn’t just about getting from A to B, it’s time to yourself and to get into a work mindset. A study carried out by Vitality revealed that 42% of respondents said that their lack of commute was having a detrimental effect on their physical and mental health.
Creating a fake commute for 20 minutes every morning will not only help your mental and physical health (‘active commuting’, ie, cycling or walking, has been attributed to an 11% reduction in cardiovascular risk), but will help separate your work life from your home life. Work starts upon arriving at your front door and ends when you ‘walk home’ again.
5. Don’t succumb to presenteeism
A 2019 study by Vitality found that 13.4% of lost productivity during working hours is attributable to ‘presenteeism’: when employees show up but feel unengaged and work below usual levels, for physical or mental health reasons.
This is even more likely to happen when WFH, as you feel there are fewer reasons not to show up, even if you feel awful – there’s no tiring commute and you don’t even have to see anyone if you turn your Zoom camera off. Even getting dressed is optional. You can, to all intents and purposes, spend the whole day on your sofa – just as you would if you called in sick.
However, if you continue to plough on, you won’t be productive and will just wear yourself out further. Take time off when necessary and have regular breaks – you and your work will benefit in the long run.
6. Fight Zoom fatigue
Zoom fatigue is real. ‘There’s a lot of research that shows we actually really struggle with this,’ says Andrew Franklin, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University. ‘For somebody who’s really dependent on non-verbal cues, it can be a big drain not to have them.’
Also, ‘Gallery View’ challenges the brain’s central vision, forcing it to try to decode lots of people at once, which is why many of us default to just looking at ourselves.
Fight Zoom gloom by ‘pinning’ one main speaker or turning off your own camera. When asked why, answer ‘because I’m reducing carbon emissions’. Who can argue with that?
7. Say no to unnecessary ‘this could have been an email’ meetings
WFH has highlighted how many unnecessary meetings we’re all subjected to. Meetings that interrupt states of ‘deep work’ lead to resentment and often overtime.
Get into the habit of politely declining, either by saying you’ll catch up later, delegating it to someone else, or by flagging up that you’re not needed. Blocking out ‘buffer times’ in your calendar helps, as does raising how your company will be better off embracing a ‘no-meeting day’ policy each week (we bet that everyone will be on board).
8. Make yourself a dedicated work space (and stick to it)
Plants have been proven to boost productivity, so create your own little green haven wherever you are (they also act as an effective space divider in a communal room). Need some inspiration on which houseplants to buy? Then take a look at our guide here.
Try not to work in bed as that can blur the line between rest and stimulation, making it hard to sleep. But, if you have nowhere else, an ‘overbed table’ is a neat solution.
You can find more tips on creating effective WFH work spaces here.
9. Reclaim your lunch hour
Did you know that 41% of Brits say they’re more likely to work through their lunch hour while WFH? Like a lot of our ingrained work habits, this is actually counterproductive: a lack of breaks is proven to reduce concentration, productivity and creativity.
Mark yourself as ‘Away’ on Slack or Teams, make a pact with a colleague to each take the full hour, or book in a class during that time, so you won’t be tempted to work through. And remember to eat lunch away from your screen.
10. Know you’re not alone in feeling alone
One of the biggest hurdles to successful WFH is feeling isolated. We’ve lost the casual conversations and easy camaraderie that made office life supportive, fun and inspiring.
Things that can help: keeping an ‘open’ Zoom connection running in the background – you don’t have to talk but it’s as if you’re all working in the same room. ‘Commute’ with a workmate (chatting on the phone during your 20-minute walk) and suggesting more interactive sessions (such as a ‘bring your kid, pet or housemate to work day’ where everyone introduces those they’re sharing their space with).
Most importantly, tell others if you’re feeling lonely and need more support. You definitely won’t be alone.
Need more WFH ideas? Take a look at our feature on how to break unhealthy working from habits here.
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