More of us are working from home than ever before. In fact, a survey carried out by Adzoona, found that 93.3% of people are able to carry out their normal role from the comfort of their own home, and 52.6% prefer home working. Additional research carried out by Dale Office Interiors has also shown that 71% of business owners are adopting more flexible and agile working practices as a result of the recent pandemic.
Home working has many advantages, including a lack of commuting, having space to concentrate, and having greater control over how you spend your day. However, it can also come with drawbacks. Some people say that they are less focussed at home, miss the office camaraderie, or simply don’t have a setup that’s conducive to work.
With home working becoming increasingly common, let us take a closer look at how we can make our working from home setup as comfortable and productive as possible. Here are 15 tips that will hopefully help….
1. Choose a dedicated work space
One of the reasons that working from home can be tricky, is because our homes are also where we relax, socialise, and maybe even exercise. This means that instinctively our brains will associate being at home with rest and leisure, and not with work. So, if you sit down to tackle your to-do list, only to find that your ‘work brain’ simply won’t engage – then this will often be why.
The best way to combat this is to choose a space in your home that you can dedicate to your work. Perhaps you’ve got a quiet corner where you’d have just enough room for a small desk, or maybe you could consider transforming one of your spare rooms into your personal office.
Our homes come in all different shapes and sizes, so you might be lucky enough to have a choice about where you choose to work; for example, in front of a large window that you can look out of, or in a room that’s tucked out the way, where you can get some peace. If your space is limited, then you might have to be more creative with your choice of work area – perhaps you could rearrange some furniture in your living room to make room for a compact desk, or if you rarely use your kitchen table – perhaps you could turn that into a work space instead. It might take a bit of trial and error to find what works best for you.
Extra tip: If you can, try to avoid working in the same room that you sleep in. If your brain ends up associating that room with both activities, then you might find that you feel sleepy when you try to work, and really alert and unable to switch off when you try to sleep. You can read more about optimising your sleep environment in our article, How to create the perfect bedroom for sleep.
2. Adopt the correct sitting posture
When working from home, it can be tempting to work on the sofa, or from our beds as we associate these with being comfy – but the reality is that we’ll end up hunched over, or sitting with our knees bent at an awkward angle, which can cause musculoskeletal issues over time.
Have a read of the tips below to find out how this can be avoided.
Find a comfortable chair
It’s important to make sure that you have a chair which provides both upper and lower back support, in the natural S-shape of your spine. This should mean that when you rest your back against it, there are no gaps between the chair and your spine. You could always try placing a small pillow between behind you to support your lower back if you need to.
There are plenty of ergonomic chairs available on Amazon at a range of different prices, which are specifically designed to help you achieve the correct sitting posture.
Adjust your chair to the right height
It’s also important to make sure that your chair is the right height for the desk or table that you’re working at (having an adjustable chair can help with this). Too high and you’ll find yourself hunching over your work, and too low you’ll probably find that your knees are bent greater than a 90 degree angle, which can put pressure on your knee caps and result in discomfort.
Experts recommend that we should sit with our feet flat on the floor, and our knees level with our hips or slightly below. You should be able to have your elbows at your side, while resting your arms on your desk in front of you in an L-shape. This position should help you avoid having to lean or strain too far forward to reach your work, which can add stress to the muscles in your arms, back and shoulders. If your seat is too high, then you could consider buying a footrest to improve your position, and if your seat is too low, you could try giving yourself a boost by sitting on a firm cushion.
Try to avoid sitting with your legs crossed, or with your knees bent under you, as this can affect blood circulation, temporarily increase blood pressure, and put stress on your hip and knee joints.
Bring your eyes to screen level
You can avoid hunching over your screen, or straining your neck and eyes to look up at it, by making sure that your eyes are level with the top of your computer screen. Your screen should also be about an arm’s length away from you to make sure that you aren’t craning forward to see it, or leaning back because it’s too close. When you’re sitting in the correct position, you should be able to look straight forward to see everything on your screen that you need to. If the font on your computer screen feels too small, and this is what’s encouraging you to lean forward, then consider making the font bigger – this will also help to prevent eye strain.
If your monitor or laptop sits too low on your desk, then you could try propping it up with some books, or you might want to buy a laptop stand, which you can get for a reasonable price on Amazon. If you have a laptop, then once it’s been propped up, you’ll then need to make sure you can comfortably reach your mouse and keypad.
The best way to solve this issue is to buy an external keyboard and mouse, which can sit directly in front of your computer, so that you don’t have to strain to reach them. These can be connected to your laptop via a wired or wireless connection and are available from Amazon, or from an electrical retailer, such as Curry’s. Sometimes people end up with a keyboard or mouse that is too tall, or is angled in such a way that they have to tilt their wrists to type. If you find this happening, then you could try using a wrist rest, as this will bring your wrists up to the same level as your keyboard or mouse.
For more tips and advice on adopting the correct posture when working at a desk, or on the sofa, if this is your only option, then have a watch of the video below…
Note: If you can’t afford to buy certain equipment that would make working from home more comfortable, then it’s worth having a chat with your employer to see whether they could help you buy what you need. Some companies have a budget specifically for this purpose. You may also be able to claim tax relief on equipment you’ve already bought, such as a laptop, chair or mobile phone.
3. Consider working in a standing position - at least for a short time each day
Some experts suggest that standing up to work, for at least part of your working day, can offer benefits like burning more calories, improving mood and reducing back pain. Many people also find that standing to work makes them feel more alert and engaged.
You can buy standing desks on Amazon in a range of different shapes, sizes and styles. Alternatively, you could consider placing a desk tray on top of your existing desk, or your kitchen table or worktop to raise it up – some people also use whatever they have to hand, for example, books.
For more guidance on good posture, when standing up at your workstation, have a read of this article from Heathline.
4. Dress like you would if you were going into the office
When you’re working at home, and aren’t spending time around your colleagues, it can be easy to dress in loungewear or pajamas – as these might be what we usually wear when we’re in ‘relaxed mode’ at home. However, dressing differently to how you would if you were headed to the office, can mean that you feel less focused and motivated.
Whether anyone is going to see you or not, it’s a good idea to get dressed in your usual work attire anyway, as this can help you to get into a more productive frame of mind. Wearing loungewear or pajamas will only signal to your brain that it’s time to relax, which can make ticking off your to-do list feel particularly challenging – and you might even find yourself back in bed!
5. Structure your day, and take proper breaks
When you’re working from home, you effectively become your own personal manager. In some ways this can feel liberating, as you have greater flexibility and control over your day – but on the other, it can sometimes feel difficult to know where to start, or how to organise your day in the most constructive way.
The best way to create a structure for your day is to consider which tasks you perform best at certain times in the day. For example, if you feel more focussed early in the morning, then this could be a good time to get any work done that requires quiet thinking space and no interruptions. Then if by the afternoon, your concentration is waning, you could have a couple of phone or video calls with clients or colleagues, to break your day up, and give you a bit of a break from tapping away at the keyboard.
Whatever structure your day takes, it’s important to try and get some exercise in there too, as this can give you space and time away from the computer screen, and help to re-energise you. It’s also worth giving yourself proper breaks at meal times (rather than eating at your desk), so that you can really enjoy your food, have a breather, and come back to your work with a fresher perspective on things.
6. Have a clear start and finish time
When we’re commuting to work, we’re more likely to have clearer start and finish times – because we have to allow time for things like travel or family commitments. Many of us will also reach a certain point in the evening where we also think about heading home for dinner. However, when we’re working from home, it can be easier to multitask, and you might find yourself doing things like eating at your desk, or taking quick breaks to do household chores or feed the dog.
All these little things that you’re able to do around your work can be incredibly helpful, but they can also make it easier to simply carry on working well past a time that you usually would – simply because there’s nothing to get home for like there would be if you had to travel into work. Some people also find themselves picking up their work in the middle of the night if they can’t sleep, or anytime they have a free moment.
While initially this might feel helpful – like you’re getting loads done – we aren’t robots, and we do need to set boundaries so that we can take proper rest. Having clear start and finish times for your work can help to make sure that you don’t overwork yourself, and end up feeling burnt out. If you’re worried that you won’t get everything done, then always try to start your day with the most pressing tasks, so that it’s the less important things on your list that get pushed back if need be. Your time is also precious, so consider saying no to meetings or requests that you simply don’t have the time for, or that aren’t essential to your day.
If you’re someone who struggles to move on from a task, and to start another, then you could consider using a free time management tool like a Pomodoro tracker, Toggl (free for up to five users), or Plantie. These will allow you to keep track of tasks, and will encourage you to finish them in a more timely manner, so you can move on to the next thing on your list. You could also try doing things like putting a load of washing on, and aiming to complete a task by the time it’s finished.
7. Work when you feel most productive
When you’re structuring your day, and giving yourself start and finish times for your working day, it can be helpful to consider when you work best. Some of us are night owls and suddenly have a flurry of creativity when the clock strikes 8pm, whilst others might do their best work from say, 5-8am, when it’s starting to get light and not everyone is awake yet. You might even find that you’re most productive first thing in the morning and late in the evening – and that you lack concentration during the middle of the day.
The great thing about working from home is that it does often give you the flexibility to make the most of the hours that you feel most productive, and this could help to decide how your working day is going to be set out.
8. Move your body at least once an hour
Research suggests that sitting for most of the day can increase our risk of health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, so it’s important to do what you can to minimise the effects of sitting for long periods of time. Having the correct posture will certainly help, but it’s also important to get up and walk around or have a stretch at least once an hour to release any tension in your muscles, and to boost blood circulation.
Many of us hold tension in our necks without even realising, so rolling them out a few times a day can really help. Why not have a go at these stretching exercises from the NHS?
Doing some daily exercise – like yoga, a fitness class, or a run can also give your mind and body a welcome break from your work. We have plenty of ideas to inspire you over on the health and fitness section of our site.
9. Look after your eye health
If you’re looking at a screen for several hours a day, then without proper breaks and positioning, your eyes could end up feeling tired, dry and sore. Specsavers has come up with a helpful video which explains some simple ways that you can protect your eyes while working from home, which includes blinking more regularly, reducing the brightness of your computer, and looking at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes or so, to give your eyes a chance to relax.
Alternatively, if you have any concerns about your eye health, you might like to have a read of our article, 10 age-related eye problems you should know about.
10. Stay connected to work colleagues using instant messaging or video calling
Working from home can give you freedom and independence, but it can also leave you feeling a bit cast adrift, if you have little or no interaction with colleagues. For many of us, being part of a team, where every person has a responsibility or role that contributes to a bigger cause, can be a powerful motivator – and often when we hear and see what great work our teammates are doing, we feel even more driven to perform well ourselves.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to make sure that you stay connected to your work colleagues. Nowadays it’s really easy to do this from home, by having video calls, or by using free instant messaging services such as Slack or Flock. If your work is yet to use any such platforms, then perhaps you could suggest it yourself, and get the ball rolling.
If you work solo and don’t have work colleagues, then it can still be helpful to network with other industry professionals to get ideas and inspiration, and swap tips. Our guide to networking will explain the importance of this, and offer advice on how to reach out to others in a similar field to you. Networking is an important skill to have whether you’re employed, unemployed, working solo or as part of a team.
It’s also important to stay connected to people while working from home to prevent feelings of isolation – as over time, this could start to affect your mental health. You could consider arranging a 15 minute video call with a work colleague at lunchtime to chat about things other than work – this way you’ll get to know each other on both a personal and professional level, and feel as though your work colleagues are also friends. Having set start and finish times will also allow you to schedule social arrangements with friends and family, and maintain your social connections with people outside of work.
11. Create a work space that inspires you
Chances are you’ll feel more motivated to work if you feel positive about and/or inspired by the space that you’re working in. This will mean different things to different people, for instance, you might feel that you can think more clearly in a space in your home with more light and fresh air. Or perhaps if you have a small home and you’re feeling cramped, you could consider adding some mirrors to the room to open it up, and give the illusion that it’s a larger space.
Some people also find that adding some bright prints to their walls, or some plants to their desk or window sills, helps them to feel more cheerful and upbeat. Research has also shown that happiness and productivity are linked, and that workers who are surrounded by plants are often more productive and satisfied with their work life generally. Our article 10 low maintenance indoor plants that can add life to your home, will hopefully offer you some inspiration if you’re in the market for a new plant or two. Or if you’re looking for some affordable ways to improve your living space, have a read of our article here.
12. Match your music to the task in front of you
Music can have a significant impact on our mood, and if chosen wisely, can increase productivity. It often helps to select your music based on the task you’re working on. For example, if you’re working on something that requires a great deal of focus and concentration then, it’s generally best to listen to music that doesn’t have lyrics, so that it becomes complementary, rather than distracting.
Or if you’re spending a couple of hours replying to emails, but you’re struggling to stay motivated after the first couple, then you could put on some music that really gets you pumped up – such as some pop or dance music! Music tastes are very individual, so it’s best to experiment to find out what works best for you.
You could also consider making your own playlists for different tasks using Spotify. A basic account is free, or if you get annoyed by things like adverts or not being able to repeatedly skip songs, then you might want to consider signing up for a premium account.
13. Find out how to ease symptoms of screen fatigue
If you start to find that looking at a screen for several hours a day is taking its toll on your mental health and leaving you feeling drained, then you might find it helpful to check out our article on screen fatigue – which is packed full of helpful tips on how to stay productive while minimising the effects of your screen time. These include switching off all smart devices 30 minutes before bed, and making time in your day to get some fresh air, and interact with nature.
14. Have a conversation with people you live with about what you can expect from one another during working hours
One of the down sides about working from home if you live with other people, is that they might see you as simply being at home, rather than working. This might mean that they regularly engage you in conversation when you’re trying to concentrate, expect you to do extra household tasks like cooking or laundry because you’re at home all day, or they might just make a lot of general noise.
To avoid any friction between you and anyone that you live with, it can help to have an open discussion about what to expect if one or both of you are working from home – such as waiting to do noisy tasks like hoovering until the end of the working day, giving eachother a heads up if you’re about to start a video conference or other important task that requires you not to be disturbed, and agreeing which nights of the week each of you will cook and do certain chores.
Communication is key and can go a long way in helping you to reach an agreement that everyone in the household is happy with.
15. Remove distractions
Let’s face it – working from home does have the potential to be pretty distracting. We have things like our TVs, smartphones, household chores, family members, and unfinished projects to contend with, while we’re trying to work. Some people also say that they find having rest spots like beds and sofas so close by a distraction too – as when you feel particularly overwhelmed, it can be tempting to take yourself off there (and who knows when you’ll come back!).
Distractions are a natural part of working from home, but there are a few things that you can do to combat them. For example:
- When you wake up in the morning, make your bed. That way, you’ll be far less tempted to get back into it.
- Some people enjoy having the TV on for some background noise when working at home. If this sounds familiar, then try to leave the TV on a channel that doesn’t really interest you, so that it’s unlikely to capture your attention and throw you off track.
- Establish boundaries with family members, so that they know when not to disturb you.
- Consider downloading smartphone apps like Space (basic version is free) or Stay Free (in-app purchases available), which can allow you to set limits on your access to certain apps between certain times.
- Consider reading our articles on focus and motivation for tips on how to boost your get up and go, and keep your mind focussed on the task at hand.
A final note…
Home working has a lot to offer, including increased freedom and independence, a better work-life balance, and the chance to save time and money on commuting. As with anything in life, there are certain drawbacks – such as distractions, feelings of isolation and longer working hours than you would if you were going into the office. However, we hope that the tips in this article will help you to get the most from your working at home experience, whether it’s for a few days, months – or on a permanent basis.