Working from home: Optimise your work experience
If like most of us, you have now been working from home for the past year, you might want to optimise your “working from home” situation to make it more motivating and inspiring.
One of the major risks that a prolonged period of working from home presents is the blurred boundaries between work and home life. This is all the more exacerbated when you can’t even leave your house. Blurred boundaries between work and home can harm both your work dynamics as well as your personal dynamics. This applies no matter what your home situation is, whether you have a family and children, are part of a couple or even if you are single.
To preserve your sanity, make sure the separation between work and home dynamics is clear and no matter how hard it may be, make sure you stick to your boundaries. Let’s look at what you can do at three levels: yourself, your space and your mentality.
Starting with yourself
Let's start with ourselves!
1. Get dressed
Now that you don’t have to be somewhere for work, you need to mark the start of the workday in a different way. Make sure you get “ready for work” every day, for example, by getting dressed as you normally would.
2. Go to work… mentally
Since most of us can’t go to the office, or even a cafe or a client’s location, we need to find a way to “go to work” in our own homes. This includes creating an office set up at home, but more importantly, you need to be able to do that mentally.
3. Say good morning
A very good way of marking the start of the day is to do so socially. Start your workday with a morning call with a colleague every workday. Even better, consider scheduling a daily huddle meeting for your team every morning. This could be a 15-minute recap and planning of the day. You can even have it at the start and the end of every workday. This is not only beneficial for your work performance, your mental health and your social needs, it is also good for team bonding.
Your space: Let’s get physical
We all remember the discussions about the drawbacks of bringing work home. Well now, we have no choice - our work has invaded our homes and it might be here for a while. How can you remain a gracious host to this house guest, even when it starts to overstay its welcome? To transform your work-from-home situation into a successful cohabitation, you need to train your brain to separate your work-world from your home-world. To do that successfully, you need to create anchors.
The more of your five senses you can engage, the more powerful those anchors will be. This will result in a clear separation between your two worlds, a clear separation that you can transition in and out of, intentionally and proactively. The largest anchor you can create is a spatial one. Within the spatial anchor, you can create sub-anchors that are designed to specifically engage each of your five senses.
A spatial anchor can be achieved by dedicating a specific area of your home to being your home office. It would be easier if this dedication is permanent, meaning the space is not multipurpose and is only used for work. However, this is a luxury of space many of us do not have. In that case, your home office can be a collection of items you can easily deploy to turn one corner of your dining table into your home office for a few hours.
It is important, however, that you pick different items for your work hours than for your home time (think of your coffee mug for example), and that you stay consistent with deploying the entire collection for work and not using the items outside your work world.
What can those items be, beyond the obvious laptop, notebook, and coffee mug? Use the following five tips to create anchors that engage each of your senses.
1. Engage your visual sense
When you sit to work, even in your familiar kitchen, see if you can sit on the other end of the table, in a new direction to get a new “view”. It may not be a view of the ocean, but even a view of your familiar kitchen or well-known bookcase can create a powerful anchor if you are looking at it from a new perspective.
2. Engage your auditory sense
Just as you sit down to start working, try to play the same album every day. While you don’t have to listen to the same album all day, it is quite powerful to start the day with the same album, before moving on. Whatever you play in your work world, avoid playing it in your home-world.
3. Engage your olfactory sense
Do you have a scent diffuser, a scented candle or room perfume you can spray around? Smelling the same scent every time you sit to work helps your brain kick into work mode easily and you’ll find yourself warming up to it or “getting into it”, as they say, in a much smoother way.
4. Engage your tactile sense
What are the textures, surfaces and other tactile items you can have around you during your work time only? Is there a specific chair with a particularly smooth or rough texture that you can sit on only while working? Much of this is about creating contrast so that your senses, system and mind perceives a “different world” and can easily click into and, equally importantly, out of that world. Think of the chair, table, a blanket, the temperature of the room, maybe even what you are wearing, as textures and tactile triggers.
5. Engage your gustatory sense
Last but not least, let’s talk about the sense of taste. Could your breakfast be different on working days rather than off-days? Can you make your coffee differently during work time or maybe use a specific flavour of tea? For a successful transition, the most important moment is when you first “enter” the world of work, and when you first enter the world of home. So, your first coffee “at work” will create a more powerful trigger to your brain than the subsequent coffees during the day.
While the more anchors you create, the stronger the trigger, you obviously do not need all of the ones above. Find what works best for you. Often three to five anchors are more than enough, even better if they engage different senses.
Your mentality: It’s all in your head
The routine tips and the anchors discussed earlier are all helpful. Though not ends in themselves, they are means designed to support your mentality. At the end of the day, it is your mentality, your psychology and your emotional fortitude that are the goal as well as the key to not only surviving this period but indeed thriving in it. Follow these three steps to take full control of your mind.
Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique that consists of proactively viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives. Here’s a simple example: instead of viewing this situation as “being stuck at home”, choose to view it as the staycation you’ve always talked about but never did, or the downtime you knew you needed but never took.
Granted, if you have young kids at home, the staycation framing may be difficult to believe. In that case, you might want to frame this time as quality time and the bonding opportunity of a lifetime. Whatever frame you choose, make sure it is one you can believe and get behind.
Even though this situation is, in most cases, imposed on us, make the effort to see this time as a choice. You may have not chosen to stay home, but there are endless choices you can make within the restrictions imposed by the situation. Focus on what you can control and what you can choose. You are still the director here. Ask not what will happen to us, but rather, what do we want to happen. Take back control and create choices, even within the imposed restrictions.
You can live through this time or you can actually live it. After you reframe and redirect, it’s time to repurpose. Give this period a meaning, an intention, a purpose. A purpose can be anything that has meaning to you, from learning something new to reinventing your work. No ideas what your purpose could be? Ask yourself this: what can you do right now to help your community? When this is all over, what will the world need? No matter how small or large your ideas are, giving your time at home a purpose will prove immensely valuable to you, and maybe even others.
Most of us have been working from home for a couple of months now. As the honeymoon period comes to an end, the novelty of the situation is starting to wear off and you may be feeling less excited about not having to commute and more nervous about facing another day in this now blurred work home-world of yours. Before the novelty transforms into a burden, take a moment to optimise your "working from home" situation.
Through this article, we have looked at what you can put in place right now to optimise your experience, enhance your wellbeing and preserve your mental health during this unprecedented period by securing shelter, establishing healthy routines and creating a purpose for yourself. If we all did that, we just might be able to turn this global affliction into a worldwide opportunity to create a better future.