How to remain sane when working from home
How to series

How to remain sane when working from home

Working remotely is great when you get it right!

by Julia Scanlon read time 5 mins

Working from home is amazing. Best thing ever. Until your toddler needs the loo in the middle of your conference call. Here at Brightful, we’re strong believers in working remotely. It makes us more productive and provides a better work-life balance. So much so that we’ve built our entire creative consultancy concept on the idea of working remotely. We are loving it.

But the reality is that it’s not always easy or the magic pill everyone makes it out to be. Anyone who has ever worked from home for extended periods of time will tell you that it can be harder than you think.

With the unfortunate spread of the Coronvirus, many of us are being asked to or even forced to work from home or to self-isolate completely for two weeks or more. So, given that we’ve been doing this for years at Brightful, we thought it might be helpful to put together our honest guide on how to work remotely from home. Without losing your sanity. Because the truth is, some days you’ll probably feel like you are stuck at home for too long.

The benefits of working from home

Now the benefits of remote working are obvious to most of us, but it’s important to remind ourselves when you’re stuck at home and feeling a bit lonely. You cut out lengthy commutes that tend to be stressful and take a lot of your energy, time and money.

You’re also more flexible with your schedule.

Working from home allows you to be more in charge of your own schedule. You can work early in the morning, late at night or any time in between and still make your dentist appointment, do a load of washing and do the nursery run without having to run an Olympic sprint time to make the 6pm train.

You’re also less likely to pick up serious diseases or the latest flu whilst sharing train or tube carriages in close quarters.

In short, you can be a lot more productive and have a much better work-life balance. We highly recommend it, but there are a few things you may want to consider.

The downsides of remote working

The reality of remote working is that it’s easy to get distracted and lonely. Even the most introverted among us might feel quite down and blue after yet another day at home with no-one to talk to or interact with. It can be isolating. Reality is that we’re social animals, and as much as we hate rushing to and from work, being around peers and sharing the highs and lows of the day can give you a feeling of being part of a team. And not seeing your family members for a few hours can make you look forward to seeing them again at the end of the day and you have something new to share. So, how do you get this stimulus if you’re working remotely regularly, or are suddenly forced to work from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic?

How do you do work from home without fighting with your family, shouting at your children and feeling miserable at the end of the day? Especially if your internet stops working, your laptop is rubbish and your company conferencing system simply doesn’t work…

The do’s and don’ts of remote working

I’m going to spare you the usual advice of getting up in the morning, getting dressed as you would for work and use slack to talk to your colleagues. These things are obvious and help but from experience, they’re not the only things to do and aren’t even the most important ones. Now, everyone is different and circumstances vary, so we’re keen to hear what other tips you may have on our Twitter or Linkedin channel, but here’s what I’ve learned from years of working at home:

  1. Create a great environment
  2. Look after yourself
  3. Go for a walk
  4. Look after your relationships
  5. Choose the right tools
  6. Have some fun

Your home working environment

One of the things I read time and time again and absolutely hate is the notion or your dedicated workspace. The reality is unless you are fortunate to have lovely remote offices (as we do at Brightful) or live in a large mansion with space for a dedicated office you are most likely moving around the house during the day from your lounge to your dining table and back to your bedroom – even if it’s just to mix it up a bit or take that important call. You might end up shifting from one to room to another, sitting in different chairs, at different tables, taking phone calls from different rooms. This is especially the case if you’re in self-isolation with your family and your partner is working from home as well.

Anyone who has kids deciding to destroy your living room whilst you need to jump on an important conference call knows what I’m talking about.

Conference call anyone?

Create inviting spaces around the house

I find it useful to create nice inviting spaces around the house, giving you some variety throughout the day. We have a few small desks with nice chairs in different rooms, giving you a few options to choose from. Importantly, make sure you get lots of light. If your house is naturally dark the lack of lighting can get you down after a few hours. So make sure to spend time in brighter areas.

The Danish and Norwegians have a concept called ‘hygge’ which is all about creating a cozy nice home environment. Staying home should be fun and cosy. I couldn’t agree more.

This is the reality for many working from home: dealing with daily clutter and mess....

Dealing with the mess

How do you keep your house neat and tidy when working from home? This one is easier said than done. Photos of home working often depict beautiful show homes with no mess. Reality is if you’re stuck indoors for two weeks with your sick children, your house will quickly spiral out of control with tissues, toys and dishes everywhere. If you’re going to be working from home remotely regularly, now is the time to unclutter your house. Make it easy to dispose of or file away papers. Also, put away coffee cups and dishes straight away and train your family members to do the same. My advice is: have less but nice things that are a joy to use.

Try to stay on top of it during the day where possible picking up dishes as you go, but in reality, you’ll probably need to do a quick sweep around the house once kids are off to bed to give yourself a couple of hours to enjoy your lovely home before the madness kicks in again the next day. If you have little children some chocolate bribery at the end of the day can go a long way as a motivator for them to help you tidy up their toys. If you can afford it, investing in a weekly cleaner might change your life for the better.

 

Ahh dishes... and no cleaning lady to leave notes or take care of them...

Look after yourself

It’s amazing how much we rely on our cantines, prets, eats and pods of the world when working in an office environment. If it’s an intense busy day a quick 10 minute break to grab a sandwich or curry usually does the trick and provides a fairly varied nutritious diet. Working from home usually means that you’re living somewhere in a small town or village with no prets or eats to speak of, so you need to become self-sufficient and make your own food. So make sure your fridge is well stocked with healthy options that are easy to make.

A ham and cheese sandwich is ok once in a while, but if that’s your only diet every day you will have deficiencies very soon.

Then there’s the snack drawer. It’s easy to start snacking on chocolate, chips and whatever else you couldn’t resist at the supermarket when your cupboards are full of them.

Hello sunshine, hello Vitamin D

You’re no longer running 10 minutes every day to catch your train, so your daily exercise might have suddenly reduced to zero.

It’s very easy to start piling on the kilos and turning into a couch potato is not helping your mental health either. This is where your Apple Watches and Fitbits of the world become useful. Make sure to go out for at least a 10 minute walk outdoors each day if you can (obviously not if you’re in self-isolation with Covid-19). Some fresh air and some sunny Vitamin D helps to clear your head and helps overcome writer or other creative blocks and will give you a fresh perspective on old problems. Walking has been well proven as an effective method through research.

 “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1889)

If you’re confined to the indoors due to the Coronavirus there are tons of YouTube exercises from inspirational coaches, like Jo Wicks, for your home. Not quite the same, but drastic times require drastic measures. Try to get the whole family involved if you have the space.

A minimum 10 minute walk each day can do wonders when working from home

Look after your relationships

This is important for both work and personal life. You will notice that working from home will mean you crave more social interactions. Make sure to stay connected with your friends and organise things in advance. You don’t want to hang out at home all weekend when you’ve just spent all week at home. So be proactive and organise things. If you’re not in self-isolation try to work from cafes and be friendly with the owners. After all, you’re probably becoming a regular familiar face and these small friendly interactions can make your day and substitute some of the watercooler kitchen chats you might have had with colleagues. Stay connected with your team members and meet up face to face whenever possible. Here at Brightful, we tend to meet up once or twice a month with a clear plan and agenda. And a nice lunch.

Beware of written bad moods

Whatever tool you use (Slack, Google Hangouts, email, Skype…) be sure to stay in touch and be friendly. Your bad mood is going to be more noticeable in writing than you think, so at Brightful we’ve learnt to jump on a call or face-to-face video whenever possible. Be kind and forgiving to your family members too. They are probably the most exposed to your ups and downs throughout the day. Most importantly keep your sense of humour, especially if you’re going to be under house arrest for at least two weeks.

Take some time out for a meal together, a coffee or play a game with your kids for a while. 24/7 Netflix isn’t healthy for anyone.

To tool or not to tool is the question…

I still remember when we first started Brightful we had a few weeks of toolvaganza. It was mad, I was checking  Slack, Trello, email, Google Hangouts, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin on an almost hourly basis and still missed messages. The reality is, you can’t work effectively that way. If you’re working for a large company you probably have set tools you use, but if you’re a start-up or working with a small team be careful about how many channels and tools you decide to use. To work effectively focus and productivity is the goal, so if you feel there are too many tools to consider causing too much disruption, simply reduce the number of tools you need to check regularly.

Choosing the right tools

For us, WhatsApp, email, and Google Drive are the main tools of choice but those might not be the right ones for you. Be selective, do your due diligence and try something new once in a while, but whatever you do invest in a decent internet provider (personally I’ve had good experiences with Sky and Virgin and terrible ones with others, but that could vary of course), a mobile provider with good coverage in your home and a good phone conferencing tool. Mural.co is a great online collaboration tool if you need to run workshops or design sprints remotely. Slack is also great to support rapid collaboration but not so great if deep focussed work is needed. If you want to see what other tools are available have a read of our creative tools how-to article.

Have some fun

The main thing to remember is to have some fun when working from home. The good news is, if working in pyjamas is your thing, you can. Remember, you get to choose the Spotify list and you get to spend much more time with your family. So make the most of it, embrace your new homely life but make sure to get into a healthy routine (if that’s a struggle here’s a link to our how to build better habits article). By being happier and creating more structure in your day, I’ve found the Brightful team consistently produce better work for our clients, have a better work-life balance and enjoy our work more. It’s miles better than struggling with lengthy commutes working in sweat-shop agencies with relentless deadlines.

What’s working for you?

Have you been working remotely regularly and do you have some practical ideas on how to work better remotely? Then please share them with us on LinkedIn or Twitter with the hashtag #saneremoteworking . We can’t wait to hear what practical suggestions you have for working better from home! I’m sure we can all benefit from them now.

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