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Working from home - our top tips

Introduction

Like many other companies, we have taken the decision to work from home. This isn't always a simple case of just logging in and off you go though. In this article we wanted to share some of our experiences so far and the reasoning behind our individual decisions we've made.

Everybody works differently so we thought we'd each highlight our choices such as where we located our desks, how our daily rituals have changed, and ultimately how we stay motivated and connected.

Our work stations

Dean - Digital Marketer

Dean duffield digital marketing

Working from home, or anywhere remotely, isn't really that alien to me. I enjoy being based in our offices in Kendal with my colleagues and the benefits that brings to collaborative projects, but I also like to get out and about visiting client locations and attending conferences and networking events. I might spend the odd day working at home, simply to take advantage of an empty house where I can be laser focussed on a piece of work or catch up on admin. I guess now, during the COVID-19 outbreak, it's just become more of a permanent thing. The main priority, wherever we work, is that it benefits our clients' needs; they always come first.

So, my set up at home is me, my laptop, my second monitor and a good brew of Yorkshire Tea. I'm set up at the table in my kitchen, which is rarely used because it became the dumping ground for all sorts of stuff the minute we moved here. But this week it's completely clear. Clear of clutter and clear of any distractions.

Everything I work on is saved in the cloud. Other than the odd PDF, I've nothing saved on my laptop. We mainly use Google's G Suite to store files, but also use Dropbox and a few others. Just yesterday a client and I were both working on the same spreadsheet - at the same time! As a digital marketer, a lot of my time is naturally spent working with online platforms such as Google Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook, Linkedin and of course our preferred content management sytstem; CraftCMS (which is awesome by the way).

I've been used to video call conferencing for years (back when MSN Messenger was all the rage). We now use Zoom which allows our team to easily set up online audio or video meetings to catch up on progress with website projects or marketing campaigns. We can also bring clients and collaborators in on calls to keep them updated, and often host webinar and screenshare workshops. So wherever we all are, we're always connected. I think this type of communication will become a norm over the next few years, just like online shopping has. That said, I still strongly believe face-to-face meetings are important in business and won't go away any time soon. Ultimately, we can be flexible and adaptable to any environment.

Working from home has its ups and downs. The quietness can mean less distractions and you can simply get stuff done, but you can also feel isolated from the rest of the world. I think it's important to take short breaks, or at least pull your eyes away from your screen, because the hours fly by. Ace that chunk of work then sit in the garden for a few minutes or go for a quick walk round the block - something that allows you to get fresh air and prevents you from going stir crazy. Another thing is try to stick to your normal working hours (easier said than done) and treat your 'work station' as you would your desk in the office. No-one wants to see you burnt out or poorly. I love listening to music, so my Spotify usage has definitely increased this past few days.

So, to summarise, here's my top tops for working from home:

  • Sit comfortably, preferably at a clear table, and ideally not slouched
  • Have the radio on or some music playing in the background
  • Take mini breaks every couple of hours, ideally taking in some fresh air
  • Check in with your team every so often and support each other
  • Be super pro-active and responsive to stakeholder or client communications
  • Respect your role and don't let yourself become distracted with 'home' stuff
  • Be switched on, but remember to switch off.

Laura - Frontend Designer

Laura home office

I decided that my living room was going to be the best place for me to set-up an office environment for working at home. I don't have children (unless you count Jasper), so my house is pretty quiet and there are no distractions. The living room works best for me for several reasons. It was the room I could most easily re-arrange - my dining table has become my desk, while the armchair that was sitting here has now been relocated to the conservatory.

I took my work computer home with me, so having a large table was important; plus the table and chair height have turned out to be of a very comfortable height when working. The living room is also where I get the best WiFi signal, which when you work on the web is highly important.

I also have two large windows, so I get plenty of daylight. And when the weather gets warmer, if we are still in this situation, I will also have plenty of fresh air too.

Since I am using my normal work computer, I haven't needed to set up any special logins or users for this time period. Simply log in as normal, and crack on with work. One thing I did do before leaving work, was to set up a VPN connection to our internal network (and tested it before leaving). This may not apply to you, but if you have anything locked down by IP address, is worth considering.

I have made the rule that my desk is my office, so nothing that I won't normally put on my work desk can go on it - no post, folded laundry, shopping bags, keys, etc. Similarly, having a desk to work from means not working from the sofa or bed. Have a dedicated work space.

My top tips:

  • Consider your needs, then pick the best environment accordingly
  • Make sure you are comfortable, you might be there for some time
  • Keep a clear separation between work and home life
  • Make sure you still get daylight and fresh air

Biggest change to the daily ritual:

  • Working in a quiet environment

Matt - Developer

Matt workstation

I'm in the fortunate position to have both a mac and a windows pc at home, so I've chosen to load up my workstation on my gaming rig. The desk is a new addition as it has a handy pull out drawer which I keep my notepad and pen in, as well as a secret stash of biscuits.

I've chosen to set up in the bedroom so that I am away from everybody else in the house. This means that I can have video calls without being interrupted and there are less distractions. I often work best with some decent tunes on too.

I've also created a new user login so that I have a work profile and a personal profile on my machine. The work profile has access to all of my coding and development programs, my work emails, and any browser tabs or bookmarks which I find relevant. The personal login profile is then kept clear of all of my work stuff so I am not notified about emails out of hours and can get on with my gaming.

Keeping a clear separation between work and play is important. You need to make sure that you have a good amount of self control to keep that separation in place. This works both ways as you need to remain undistracted whilst working, but also to keep your head away from work in your own personal time.

My top tips:

  • Use a separate login account to keep your work life balance in check
  • Find an isolated room / area of the house so you can play music or have conference calls without interruption
  • Be comfortable and have everything to hand, you are going to be sat here for long periods
  • Stay focused on what you are doing, and leave the dog alone, playtime is when you're finished
  • Keep a clear routine and stay in touch with the rest of your team, this makes it easier to get used to it all

Biggest change to the daily ritual:

  • Cooked lunches - cheese on toast is not to be underestimated!

Conclusions

Working from home can sometimes feel more daunting than it needs to be. To make it easier, put your favourite playlist on, keep in touch with the rest of your team, take time to enjoy your lunch breaks and create a new routine which you can stick to. Keeping a dedicated workspace helps a lot but as long as you have self control and can keep a healthy work life balance, everything becomes easier as time goes on.

Every couple of days we have a video call involving the whole team, just because you are isolated doesn't mean to have to spend it silently on your own. A catch up can help make things feel more normal. Everybody works differently, you just need to find a way of creating an environment and a routine that suits you.