13 tips for productive homeworking

Working from home is great - in theory.

In theory it's a day of working in your own space in blissful, baggy-trousered peace without the pressure of dressing smartly, battling the commute, being called to impromptu meetings, or trying to focus through the relentless background buzz of printers, ringing phones and office chatter.

It's a day of getting things done but interspersing work tasks with chores and personal commitments to ease the stressful build-up of life admin. In theory, homeworking should be both pleasant and productive. But in reality? Homeworking often falls short of the expectations. This is because:

a) life is full of distractions
b) we're human.

Is everyone suited to homeworking?

Being able to work from home is often portrayed as the epitome of a happy, healthy working life, but this is not always the case. Some personality types are better suited to homeworking than others. Extroverted types who thrive off the company of others can quickly feel lost and isolated at home, which can lead to being distracted. Equally, some people thrive within the framework of office rule and policy; rules keep them on-track and motivated - so in a lawless home environment, productivity can quickly plummet.

Those who perform best working from home tend to be natural self-starters who thrive off the freedom of working autonomously. Introverts are typically better-suited to homeworking because they get their energy internally from spending time alone and often find office environments exhausting.

While some of us are better at working at home than others, there are lots of things we can all do to help improve productivity when we're homeworking. Here are just some of them:

1. Get ergonomic gear

We're not just saying this because we sell it. If you're using a computer all day, you need to have a suitable workstation adjusted to your body measurements and task types. If you're not comfortable, your productivity is going to suffer - and so will your health. Ask your manager to kit you out with:

Use our art of sitting resource to get yourself set up in a good working position, or check if your organisation uses our WorkRite e-learning. Our new WorkRite Agile e-learning course for agile workers will take you through setting yourself up comfortably at home in a range of scenarios.

2. Stake a space out for yourself

You don't have to stay here all day (in fact, don't) but staking out a specific space in your home dedicated only to doing work will help you get into the right mind zone. You could:

  • convert a spare room into an office
  • build a work shed or summerhouse in the garden
  • use an Opløft or other sit-stand platform on your dining table.

3. Clean your work space

Once you've staked out a space, tidy it up. Clutter has an amazing way of getting into our minds. Put some love into your environment. Make sure it's bright, clean and smelling good before you settle into your work tasks.

4. Get showered and dressed

Going through the motions of going to work can help you get into the right frame of mind. You don't necessarily have to wear a shirt or dress - something comfortable (but preferably fresh) will do. You don't have to be quite as self-critical as the late Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, who once said: "Sweatpants are a sign of defeat". If sweatpants make your working day a little happier, embrace it. If they make you feel slobby, by all means get suited up.

5. Start the day with a walk

A great way to start any day is with a walk. Even 10 minutes is enough, but aim for 20-40. Not only does it provide a psychological transition between waking up, getting out of bed and starting work, it also gives you all the health benefits that come with fresh air and exercise. Feeling energetic? Upgrade your walk to a jog or run.

You can see exactly what walking does to the body minute-by-minute in our walking infographic. 

6. Ask family or house-mates to respect your space and time

If family members or housemates are at home during the day, it's important that they understand you're at work and can't just drop everything to hang out with them. Even when you're at home, work must come first. This is why staking out your work space is important. Arrange childcare where necessary, and make sure other people in your house respect your work time.

7. Write a to-do-today list

Before you start, decide what you want to achieve today. This will keep you on track when inevitably the time comes for your mind to take a leisurely wander. If it helps, send your list to your manager and team members. It's the same theory behind telling everyone you're on a diet. It holds you accountable. While you won't exactly be told off if you don't cross everything off, it might help you stay motivated.

8. Keep in contact with colleagues

Don't be afraid to pick up the phone or initiate an online chat conversation with your team when you're working from home. Engaging in a little small talk and chatter is a great way to feel connected and involved with office life, even when you're not physically there.

9. Keep active throughout the day

If you've been following our blog for a while, you'll know we're passionate about active working - the practice of incorporating physical activity into daily life. Staying still all day is one of the worst things you can do for your health - even if you have a dedicated workout. Being physically active at home is often a challenge. In the office there's more space to roam, further to go - you're walking to the car park, to the toilets.

At home, unless you live in a mansion, everything is easily accessible. You don't have to go far. This is why you should make even more of an effort to keep active. Set an alarm to do 250 steps every hour. There are apps available that instruct you to do various different exercises at intervals throughout the day.

The good thing about being at home is that no-one's there to see how silly you look lunging across the room.

10. Don't have the telly on

Switching the TV on might be habitual for you, but you should try to resist it while you're working. Daytime telly can be surprisingly gripping.

11. Make plans for lunch

Make plans outside to avoid cabin fever. Go and meet a friend for coffee, walk the dog, take an exercise class, go to the gym, do your food shopping for the week, make a hair appointment. If your employer allows flexible working hours, you don't need to worry too much about rushing back within the hour. You can just make up the minutes another time.

12. Keep your personal phone in another room

It's hard to concentrate if your phone is constantly buzzing for your attention. A phone is a prone procrastinator's arch nemesis. If you have a lot to do, leave your phone in another room. Be strict with yourself.

13. Hands off unhealthy snacks

When our energy levels dip low it can be tempting to route through the cupboards looking for that old box of chocolates you got for Christmas. Sugary snacks boost you up momentarily but chances are you'll crash after a few minutes. With no-one to judge you for unhealthy eating at home, it's important to have self control or unhealthy habits will seep in, along with weight gain and an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.

We hope you enjoyed reading these tips and they make you think about how you can make working at home actually work for you. Our new e-learning course is an excellent tool for keeping homeworkers comfortable and productive. You can start a free trial here.