Working from Home Survival and Success Guide: Top 5 Tips

Working from Home Survival and Success Guide: Top 5 Tips

David Imrie (L) loves working from home and has set up a comfortable home office in Sydney's Northern Beaches.


My office shares a floor with a law firm. On Wednesday afternoon I noticed their people exiting with boxes, duffle bags, even suitcases and a shopping trolley. Files, desktop computers, monitors, that’s what they were removing. Lights off, doors locked. Everyone, the entire firm, now working from home until further notice. We’re living in interesting times for sure. Potentially we may almost all be working from home shortly.

The resilience, adaptability and agility being displayed across the world is impressive, despite the idiocy displayed at Bondi Beach on recent days. Here in my own small corner, many of my clients, friends and family members have closed their offices and started working from home. Business as UNusual is the slogan du jour.

Working from home can be a fabulous experience... right up until the kids start to brawl and bawl, the cat throws up on your computer, and your neighbour fires up a chainsaw. I live in an apartment building and have experienced that last one, it’s very disconcerting.

So with all of this in mind, this week I’ve canvassed colleagues, clients, friends and associates and collate this compilation of the Top 20 Tips for BAUNusual Working from Home.

Rise and Shine! Get started early.

Set your alarm at the usual time. Even earlier – kick start your day with gusto! When working in an office, your morning commute can help you wake up and feel ready to work by the time you get to your desk. At home, however, the transition from your pillow to your computer can be much more jarring.

Believe it or not, one way to work from home productively is to dive into your to-do list as soon as you wake up. Simply getting a project started first thing in the morning can be the key to making progress on it gradually throughout the day. Otherwise, you'll prolong breakfast and let the morning sluggishness wear away your motivation.

Most people will have some extra spare time in lieu of the morning commute. This is well replaced with a morning walk. Get the mind and body active. If you normally buy a coffee on the way into the office, pick one up on your walk. The more we can all turn BAUNusual into BAUsual, the better.

Do exactly what you would as if you were going into the office.

The mental association you make between work and an office can make you more productive, and there's no reason that feeling should be lost when telecommuting.

Do all the things you'd do to prepare for an office day: After the rise and shine, walk and coffee, dress in proper work clothes – not necessarily a suit, think “casual Friday”. I dropped in to visit a client at home this week for a morning meeting and there he was, barefoot, t-shirt and shorts. First time I’d ever seen him sans suit and tie. It felt a little strange, particularly the hibiscus print shorts! Reminiscent of the first time I saw my grade 3 teacher in the supermarket and realised she was a human being.

My beach-dressed client confessed that he’d been entirely unproductive so far that day and I suspect that this was largely due to not putting himself in work mode.

Structure your day like you would in the office.

When working from home, you're your own personal manager. Without things like an in-person meeting schedule to break up your day, you can be quick to lose focus or burn out.

To stay on schedule, segment what you'll do and when over the course of the day. If you have an online calendar, create personal events and reminders that tell you when to shift gears and start on new tasks. 

If mornings are for writing while you're in the office, use the same schedule at home. While you probably will get tasks done faster at home than at work, this structure will help keep you focused and productive.

Similarly, if you usually have a Tuesday morning WIP meeting with colleagues, then keep that appointment. There are so many options available for web based meetings, my current favourite is Zoom. A client who has been working from home for the last couple of weeks said she’s actually scheduled more meetings than usual with her team, to keep them engaged and feeling less isolated. She tells me that her new 10.30am live coffee catch up is working well for everyone.

And plan ahead. Spending time working out what you'll do today can take away from actually doing those things. And, you'll have planned your task list so recently that you can be tempted to change your schedule on the fly. It's important to let your agenda change if you need it to, but it's equally as important to commit to an agenda that outlines every assignment before you begin. Try solidifying your schedule the day before, making it feel more official when you wake up the next day to get started on it.

Create a dedicated work space not a prison.

Just because you're not working at an office doesn't mean you can't, well, have an office. Rather than cooping yourself up in your room or on the couch -- spaces that are associated with leisure time -- dedicate a specific room or surface in your home to work.

A friend who lives in New York in a typical small lower Manhattan studio apartment has even set himself up with the ironing board as his desk, under window overlooking Gramercy Park. He started at the table, sharing with his partner, but they both found that too distracting. One coin-toss later, and he’s at the ironing board – and loving it.

The key is to designate your workspace, and keep it as just that. This way, you’ll create your productive work mode mindset when there. Even if it’s the repurposed ironing board.

Having said that, it’s a workspace not a prison! You are allowed to leave whenever you like. The phrases social distancing and self-isolation have entered our everyday language become the norm. The agoraphobics are possibly quietly celebrating the new stay-home culture.

For our own we need to consciously counteract imposed isolation and venture out. Just as you would pop out for a coffee or lunch at work, do so too when working from home. This morning I Facetimed with an associate who said that on Saturday he realised that he hadn’t left his house since Tuesday. Hopefully he’s out going for a walk right now. He’ll feel much better physically, mentally and emotionally. And this afternoon will be more productive for it.

Remember, you're working from home, not the moon! Interacting with other people during the day is allowed, even if they're not your clients or colleagues. Go outside and find a human to interact with - It keeps you sane.

Manage your Social Media activity and take breaks.

Social media is designed to make it easy for you to open and browse quickly. At work, though, this convenience can be the detriment of your productivity.

It’s easy and tempting enough to take too many social media breaks during the day when you’re at the office. The temptation grows exponentially when you’re working from home. To counteract your social networks' ease of use during work hours, a friend at Boston Consulting advised, “Remove them from your browser shortcuts and log out of every account!”

Even if we don't intend to browse Instagram or Facebook, it’s as if some uncontrollable impulse subconsciously clicks on them when we experience downtime. It’s so easy to get sucked in without realising it. Removing the gateway to those networks will help keep you on track and productive.

It can be so easy to get so absorbed in your work that you avoid breaks altogether. Don't let the guilt of working in the building you sleep in prevent you from taking five to relax. Schedule your breaks and use them to engage with social media, go for a walk, put the washing on, phone a friend. But remember, when the break is over it’s over. Back to your workspace and back into it.

The bizarre reality of productivity is that the busier you are, the more you'll actually do. It's like Newton's law of inertia: If you're in motion, you'll stay in motion. If you're at rest, you'll stay at rest. And busy people are in fast-enough motion that they have the momentum to complete anything that comes across their desk.

One last thing – Video Conference Happy Hour is the new thing. I participated in one on Friday afternoon. 10 of us. All in different locations. Catching up over a drink via the web. Fabulous.

Stay home and stay connected!

David Imrie

Principal, Paramount People

A recruitment and resourcing consultancy firm in Sydney, Australia