Working from home is a real art. Lots of people think it's all daytime TV and curling up on the sofa with your laptop, but in many ways it's much harder than working from an office. You need discipline, motivation and you have to be very happy in your own company!
But, the benefits of working from home are obvious. If you're a regular employee: you skip the commute and there are no office distractions for the day. If you're an entrepreneur: reduced overheads, no commuting and a congenial working environment. It takes a bit of planning and work to get the perfect home office, though. And - everyone is different.
Look, there's a reason that Google spends a fortune on its offices: a well-constructed work environment can have a dramatic effect on employees’ creativity and motivation. Organisational behaviourist Monica Parker maintains that a well-designed office is the key to ‘ensuring you have a healthy, happy workforce'.
- Separate phones. You need a phone that you can switch off when you stop work. Although I have two landlines, I use an Skype phone more and more. It integrates with my PC better than a regular phone, I get free calls in the UK and a central London phone number for people to call me on. I use a Plantronics CS60-USB handsfree headset so I can talk and type.
- Keep work and home separate. Ideally, you need a separate room or outbuilding for work. It's good to shut the door on work at the end of the day. It also shuts out distractions. I also use Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones with noise-cancelling (but no music) to shut out sounds from outside.
- Stay green. I got the local council to give us a couple of recycling bins for our block of flats. I get my electricity from Good Energy, which supplies 100% renewable electricity (unlike many so-called 'green' tariffs from other suppliers). Finally, I used Carbon Neutral to offset my car, gas and flying. Our whole company is carbon neutral, too!
- Office stuff. Just because you're not in the office doesn't mean you don't need office stuff. Get a stationery cupboard, a shredder, a filing cabinet and even a water cooler. A good filing system is vital. I don't use it but friends swear by Paper Tiger filing software. Have dedicated files and spaces for work documents and stick to them. Even if the rest of the house disintegrates into madness, keep your office as though your boss could see it.
- Business class IT. Get Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox, RingCentral and Basecamp. You'll get enterprise-class software that even ten years ago would have required on-premises hardware and a very geeky friend to set up.
- Everywhere is your office. I use a local club for interviews and meetings. Starbucks or Cafe Nero are just as good. Other people rent meeting rooms from local serviced offices, such as Regus.
- Be businesslike. Just because you work from home doesn't mean you have to be amateur about the way you run your business. How I do my marketing is probably another post but invoicing on time and chasing payment needs to be done in a professional way. (I really like MoneyClaim.gov.uk for collecting very late debts - it's an online court service from the UK government. Very efficient. Very effective.)
- Be like a small big business. Much of our work is for large companies and I spend a lot of time thinking about whether there is anything they have that I can replicate. This has been the inspiration for Articulate's intern program and other innovations.
- Insurance and tax. In the UK, you need public and employer's liability insurance and you need to figure out how to treat your home office from a tax perspective. It's different for different people so I won't give advice here.
Seems pretty sound so far, right? How about we get some other perspectives. Here's a collection of tips from the Articulate team. We'll start with the big concepts:
- Trust. Your boss has to trust you, you have to trust your colleagues and most importantly, it's imperative that you trust yourself. If you enjoy your job and you are a responsible and decent human being then you will do the work, you will put in the hours and any doubt will only lead to unnecessary stress and overworking.
- Hours. Working from home means fantastic flexibility, but you don't want to find yourself working when all your office-based friends are down the pub just because you had a lie in. Try to set regular working hours and stick to them. This also ensures you don't slip into excessive overtime without realising, which is a big risk when work is always right there.
- The rule of yes. 'Fancy a coffee?' 'Want to grab a pint tonight?' 'Orange Wednesday?' No matter the offer, as a home worker, you say yes. It's difficult sitting alone for eight hours a day without the natural banter of the office, so you have to put that extra bit of effort into your social life to balance it out. Don't sink into a nightly sofa slump - say yes and get out of the house.
- Colour. If your office looks lifeless and drab, your work probably will be too. Psychologist Dr. Chris Knight says; ‘If you are working in an environment where there's something to get you psychologically engaged you are happier and you work better’. And in an interview, colour psychologist Angela Wright highlights the power that different wavelengths of light (aka colours) have on our psychology. Blue stimulates logic and productivity, yellow heightens creativity and red encourages physical action. Your senses affect you mood, so make your space a happy one and the benefits will follow.
Now, some quirky additions that can make your home-working life just that little bit better:
- A laptop. As soon as you're able, get a good laptop so that on those days where the walls start closing in you can get out and work from a coffee shop, or a library. Working from home doesn't mean you are chained to your house. Take advantage of the perks of being an anywhere worker and don't fall victim to cabin fever.
- A bloody good chair. It's not cheap. Whether you ask your boss or save super hard, it should be a priority. Your posture and body are important yet so many home-workers make do with dining room chairs or worse. Do your research, and don't settle for less than you need. Being comfortable makes life so much better.
- A handheld hoover. There’s nothing worse than trying to type on an unkempt desk strewn with scraps of paper and biscuit crumbs (and let’s face it, biscuits are a writer’s best friend). That’s why the handheld hoover might just become your favourite household tool. No procrasti-cleaning here, folks.
- A back-to-basics calendar. What’s quicker: clicking through to Outlook and waiting for your calendar panel to load, or taking a swift glance at an old-fashioned calendar? When multiple deadlines are creeping up on you, you rarely know what year you’re in let alone what day it is. So when a client says, ‘can I have that by tomorrow?’, you’ll be thankful for the delay-free access to your schedule. And, you can use it to prettify your wall space.
- The all-powerful pin-board. Didn't everyone have one of these on their wall when they were a kid? There’s no reason why you shouldn’t revive that childhood space saver. A pin board is a perfect place for quickly sticking up your to-do’s, ideas or even inspirational quotes, turning your wall into a reviewable visualisation of your thoughts.
- Poster, art or something daft. One of the best parts of working from home is that you can make your workspace your own. There’s nothing blander than a blank wall. Fill it with some personality: you know better than anyone what motivates and inspires you but make sure it reminds you that your job is more than just replying to emails and completing tasks. Build a shrine to creativity.
- Wall-hung newspaper rack. You’ve finally managed to contain your sprawling mass of papers into a bunch of files. Problem: your desk is covered in files. Solution: make use of that empty wall space by buying and fitting a wall newspaper rack. Or better yet, try to go paper-free.
Get a plant. If you’re not fortunate enough to have an office with a river-side view, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the outside world. Growing yourself a house plant is very low-maintenance, but provides a remarkably soothing influence on a busy work space. In fact, Dr. Knight’s 2014 research project suggests that the introduction of plants into a ‘lean’ workspace can increase productivity by 15 percent. That's a big ROI for a few plants. If you fancy a challenge, maybe it’s time to try your hand at grooming a bonsai tree. Whatever you choose, transform your barren grey box into a leafy green refuge.
When it comes to a home office, (outdated cultural reference imminent) why not indulge in the Pimp-My-Ride approach? It’s easy to neglect your work space, but spending the extra time and money on perfecting it will make a huge difference to your productivity, creativity and - most importantly – your happiness.
A handful of small changes can revolutionise your remote working experience. Whether you go get yourself some productivity-boosting tools, or completely revamp the look of your study, choosing to optimise your home office is the undervalued secret to optimised remote working.
[Note, this blog was originally published as several parts, but has been updated and brought together in the glorious format you see before you in 2019. Contributors are Clare Dodd, Matthew Stibbe, Toby Knott and Maddy Leslie]