Seven Tips for Working from Home

So, you’re working from home. Good on you for taking the leap! It will be a fantastic thing. Trust me, I’ve been doing it since 2008. But there are some things people should know that will make work, and home life easier.

1. Set your workstation up safely: As someone who suffers from back, shoulder, and neck pain, an ergonomic workstation was essential from the start. And it was not until I set at some desks for long periods that I realised form, and function were not necessarily in alignment. I purchased a lovely desk as a gift to myself for starting my own business. Turns out, it was nearly impossible to set it up correctly and thus align back, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists etc. for typing. I now know what is required from a desk. Invariably that means something with a thinner tabletop so I can get the seat relatively close to the top of the table and thus have good elbow and wrist position (you might know that I’m short). If working from home might be a more regular thing, I’d encourage you to invest in a stand-up desk. Something you can put on top of a normal desk or table will be the most cost effective way to enter that market. And second hand will definitely suffice. If it’s a short term thing, and you still want to stand, and work try using an ironing board. I have also found that a music stand serves as a useful holder for a tablet and allows easier creation of an ergonomic workspace (see my Instagram account for a picture).

2. Have a separate workstation: Ideally, set your work area up separately from other parts of the house. Just like cooking is done in the kitchen, eating at the dining table, and sleeping in the bedroom, work should be done in a study. Even if it is just a corner of an existing room. Setting work up at the dining table will create unnecessary blurred lines between work and home. And, if you’re working from home with the rest of the family present (see below), they’ll need that space and you’ll be constantly interrupted.

3. Set your hours: When work and home are the same place it is very easy to wander off and do home stuff (washing, cooking, and gardening) when you should be working. Similarly, it is easy to do work stuff (blogs, calls, and emails) when you should be doing home stuff. So, set some work hours. Given most work is 9-5, that’d be where I’d suggest people start. But you might prefer starting earlier or finishing later. Whatever it is, have a schedule.

Working from home? Make sure

you set your workspace up

as ergonomically as possible.

4. Work with your housemates: So, if you’re working from home because of some sort of societal lockdown (e.g. COVID-19) there’ll be others doing the same thing within your household. And that might also mean kids around too. So, I’d suggest working in shifts. You, and your housemates can work out what those shifts are. But, having worked from home with kids (newborn through to primary school), having another person to entertain, and answer questions makes working a whole lot easier. And, if you are able to set up a dedicated space for work it is very easy to set and enforce rules about interrupting while you’re in that space.

5. Dress for work: This is not something to do with looking the part, or dressing a certain way impacting your productivity. It is more about the change in mental state that you go through as you get ready for work. So, in the absence of that routine, you should create one. Hence, the separate workspace (mentioned above) and the need to dress appropriately. It is awesome to be able to wear PJs, and slippers (or crocs in my case) to work. But, remaining in those bed or comfortable clothes can deny your body and mind of the mental shift that occurs as you get dressed for work. James Clear talks about this in his book – Atomic Habits – and the value pre-game routines played in being ready to compete. The same is also true for work. So, when working from home try to stick to your same preparation routine. Wake-up at the same time, eat at the same time, and wear the right clothes.

6. Take breaks: Depending on the nature of your work, working from home might be entirely different to what you do day-to-day. For example, a field researcher might be out interviewing or collecting samples all day. That could mean walking and standing up for long periods. If you’re now working from home, that probably means it’s mostly computer work. In which case your body will not be used to the extended sitting or hunched over posture or eyestrain. So, prevent these things by scheduling breaks that involve changing your focus (eye relaxation); stretching shoulders and neck (posture correction); and standing.

7. Keep good records: I’m not an accountant and this is not financial advice. But keeping good records, and receipts of your working from home will make it easier for you and your accountant to determine and ultimately claim relevant working from home expenses. This includes costs of new purchases (such as monitors, keyboards, mice, seats, and desks) as well as things such as costs of maintaining the workspace (such as cleaning, heating, and cooling). Don’t forget software purchases or subscriptions too (such as MS Office, Skype credits, and Zoom subscription).

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

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