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Illustration: Felicity Case-Mejia

Working from home 101: the essential tips, tricks and life hacks

If you're wondering WTF is WFH, we've got all the answers you seek

Maxim Boon
Written by
Maxim Boon

It’s likely that a few short weeks ago, you’d never heard the term ‘physical distancing.’ But as this frontline viral containment measure has gradually upended the rhythm of everyday life, it's fast become the most dominant topic on everyone's mind.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has spread across the world, an increasing number of Australian businesses are taking the advice of government health bodies by sending their employees home to work remotely. Avoiding the various daily interactions that might expose us to the threat of infection makes a lot of sense, but transplanting the nine-to-five into your home-sweet-home is not so straightforward.

Unlimited freedom with few immediate consequences, surrounded by tantalising distractions without management types to keep you in check: it’s all too easy to let a lack of motivation and other bad habits take hold. The good news is there are some simple hacks you can apply to your at-home working situation to ensure you remain in tip-top professional condition. Give these hints and tips for creating the best WFH environment a try.

RECOMMENDED: How to maintain your mental wellbeing during lockdown.

Create a dedicated area for working...

There’s a saying: dress for the job you want. The same applies to your workspace at home. If you have a dedicated home office, you’re one of the lucky ones. Many of us will have to take over an already functioning room. When selecting exactly which room that should be, ensure it’s an area that’s clean, has good natural light, and that you enjoy being in. Don’t underestimate the influence of your working environment: somewhere cluttered, dark, and generally un-office-like will make your day feel like a slog.

… and no, your bed doesn’t count

The first rule of working from home is: get up ya lazy slob! Of course, it would be great if you could veg all day under a doona while somehow also being super productive, but the two things are generally incompatible. It’s also not great sleep hygiene to work from your bed, so for the benefit of both your waking hours and your shut-eye, it’s better by far to face the day from a verticle position.

Find a comfortable chair

You could go HAM on the office furniture and splash some serious cash on all manner of professional supplies. But if you invest in just one piece of kit, make it a decent office chair. It’s not just immediate comfort you’re looking for. Spending hours in a chair that doesn’t support your back or pelvis can lead to musculoskeletal pain, so finding just the right throne for your home office should be a carefully considered priority.

Make sure your family or flatmates respect your working zone

Sure, having your mates and loved ones hanging out at your office would probably make your daily hustle a lot more fun, but ultimately, these distractions will get in the way of you focusing and getting into work mode. At the present time, ejecting them from your house or apartment altogether isn’t the best idea. However, make sure they understand boundaries, your working hours, and when you need to just keep your head down.

Keep your daily routine intact…

While your commute may have shrunk from several kilometres to just a few short steps, set your alarm clock for the usual time all the same. Get out of bed, get showered and dress for your day – casual Friday kit is fine, your jammies, not so much. If you cycle to work, go for a cycle. If you read on the train, take time to read. If you catch up on Candy Crush, play a few rounds. Whatever it is you usually do to get your game face on as you head to the office is a ritual that is unconsciously hitched to how you mentally prepare for the day, so preserve it as best you can.

…including when you leave work

Balance in life is key, and just because your job is literally close to home doesn’t mean it should take over. When the day is done, clock off. Shut down your computer. Wash up your coffee mug. Put away your stationery and enjoy your free time. Strangely, this might well be the aspect of working from home that the majority of people find hardest; it’s tough to switch off when you can fire off just one more email or file just one last report. But if you don’t protect your free time, you could find yourself resenting your job.

Stay connected to your colleagues, for both professional and personal purposes

Humans are social creatures, and as much as we rely on our colleagues for professional reasons, they’re also people we spend a huge amount of time with. You might not even realise just how important your work fam is to your general wellbeing until you no longer have daily access to them, so make sure the channels of communication remain open, for both work correspondence and watercooler banter.

Find a time management structure that works for you

Being your own taskmaster is easier said than done. Even if you follow these guidelines to the letter, it’s very likely that you will have days when you’re just not feeling it and you just can’t muster that motivation on your own. One way to navigate these stumbles is to have rigid time management rules to follow, which can steer you back onto the path to productivity. One of the most popular is the Pomodoro technique, which breaks the day down into 30-minute chunks: 25 minutes of work followed by five-minutes breaks. There are plenty of other methods out there so shop around, do some research and give a few a try to see which is right for you.

Resist the urge to stream

Listen carefully, can you hear it? That's the sound of all your favourite shows calling. With your living room just metres away – in fact, you may well be working in your living room – the temptation to watch just one more episode of whatever series your currently binging will be strong. But resist this siren song – it's a slippery slope and one teeny tiny TV break can easy snowball into a whole day down the drain. The rule of thumb should be, if it wouldn't fly at the office, then it shouldn't become the status quo at home. Fear not, all that telly gold will still be waiting for you once the working day is done. 

Go outside, even if you don’t need to

Social distancing is not the same as self-isolation, although the two have been seemingly interchangeable in some reporting. Stepping out of your front door will not immediately expose you to COVID-19, so as long as you maintain a 1.5-metre distance from others, it’s fine to get out of the house. And more than that, leaving your house every day gives your mind stimulation in a way that is vitally important to your wellbeing. In ways both big and small, the mental health of many people is likely to suffer as the impact of the pandemic unfolds in the coming months. So a simple act like taking a walk to enjoy the tail end of summer in this beautiful city of ours can truly be a tonic for a worried mind.

Keep entertained outside of work hours

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