Homeworking hints and tips
I am conscious that for many people, at the moment, homeworking is a new and bewildering experience. And perhaps the novelty of not commuting is starting to wear off; the dog's flatulence is ruining your concentration and you are missing 'Sarcastic Karen' from the office more than you realised.
So, as a seasoned homeworker, I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned along the way:
First of all as appealing as the thought of staying in your jammies all day may be, it's really not a good idea - unless your job is reviewing nightwear. Getting into a productive mindset means getting dressed, and it really does help you to make that switch into work mode. That doesn’t necessarily mean wearing a suit, but something that you would be happy to open the door in or host a conference call with your colleagues. Save the pyjamas for Sundays.
Invest in some green plants. I have killed my fair share of house plants in my time, but that hasn’t stopped me adding to my collection or drooling over other people’s healthy ruffled fan palms. According to one study, green plants can increase productivity by up to 15%, while people who care for plants felt happier. Select the plants you like, and ones that are easy to care for, but also consider those which help improve air quality. You can’t beat a couple of spider plants, a weeping fig (ficus) or an English Ivy (they love being watered), which are well known for their air filtering qualities.
Aromatherapy. Essential oils have some real benefits when homeworking; including helping with concentration, focus and lifting your spirits as well as helping to unwind at the end of the day. An aroma diffuser is a great way to use essential oils whilst working, and they allow you to swap and change oils depending on your needs. You can either buy blends which have been created to help you focus or unwind, or you can invest in a range of solo oils to create your own masterpiece. These are our just some of our favourites to keep on your desk:
- Rosemary: A great oil to have handy, as it is well known to promote productivity and concentration. Admired for its uplifting and stimulating effects on the mind and memory, it has a fresh, herbaceous aroma, but be careful how much you use as it can be very strong, so less is more! If you are green fingered, or aspiring to be, you can also enjoy the aroma of rosemary by growing your own and having some in your office space as well as the kitchen.
- Bergamot: This truly amazing oil has a citrusy but sweet-smelling aroma loved by many and has powerful mood-stabilising effects. The oil can be used to promote relaxation, help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and stress, and with its soothing aroma can also assist in achieving a restful state for a good night's sleep. But that's not all; key constituents of its aroma also make it a perfect pick-me-up with a fresh, uplifting fragrance.
- Geranium: A notable mood lifter, geranium offers the hope of lazy summer evenings to come whilst you are confined indoors especially on those dreary days. Geranium essential oil has a beautifully floral aroma which is reputed to promotes emotional wellbeing, relieving stress and lessening fatigue.
- Lemongrass: Now summer is on its way, Lemongrass is perfect for adding some zing to those long, hazy days and brings some sunshine in doors, and it can even help to keep those pesky insects at bay. Lemongrass is a incredibly versatile essential oil, known among aromatherapists to be soothing, stimulating and refreshing, it has the ability to both calm and revitalize, to relieve tension and invigorate. Lemongrass is also known to help with insomnia and just a small spritz on your pillow or a well placed diffuser is a great alternative to counting sheep!
- Lavender: Many people, not just your nan, rave about lavender for a very good reason. There are so many known health benefits to lavender and even if it is not your favourite, we recommend you have some in your arsenal as it renowned for its ability to reduce anxiety, emotional stress – even exhaustion. It can also be a really helpful remedy for those pesky headaches.
Your mind is equally fascinating and baffling, but the scents you surround yourself with can make a real difference. Theresa Molnar, executive director of the Sense of Smell Institute, said, ‘Scents can have positive effects on mood, stress reduction, sleep enhancement, self-confidence, and physical and cognitive performance.’ So fire up your aroma diffuser and get to work!
Exercise, go outdoors, or just stop for a moment: Before you know it you have been sat in the same position and your bum is numb, and no one has offered you a brew! Exercise naturally boosts endorphins, which, in turn, increases levels of happiness, enjoyment, and enthusiasm; all of which are important for productivity. If, like me, you are easily distracted - especially when it comes to jobs you have avoided all week - everything helps!
Regularly stretching helps you to maintain a good posture. It's also worth researching ergonomic office furniture, such as chairs and mouse mats with arm supports when working from home. Lounging on the sofa with a laptop perched on your knee whilst half-watching Friends is not going to do your back any favours (however tempting). Set yourself reminders to get up, move and stretch.
As well as remembering to stretch throughout the day it's also important to schedule in some type of exercise routine. Whatever your thing is, if you can combine it with getting outside and taking in some fresh air, all the better. Walking and appreciating the small things in your neighbourhood is a great way to give yourself a break while naturally increasing your dopamine levels. If you can’t always get out, there are some great virtual communities offering online yoga classes, or you can simply stop for a cuppa and watch the world go by your window. You'll be surprised just how absorbing the local wildlife can be, especially this time of year.
Lighting – natural and ambient: The first rule of building a comfortable home office environment is to get as much natural light as possible. However not many of us have the luxury of starting from scratch, but doing what you can to position yourself in the lightest room is really important. I have tried working in most rooms of the house over the years for variety, but keep going back to room with the biggest window! But don’t take my word for it; a recent study found that adults who get natural light sleep better (46 minutes more than those who don’t get natural light). Another study found that 40% of workplaces with natural light experience 30%-40% improvements in productivity. However good natural light is, if, like me, your work hours vary, or natural light is not always forthcoming (especially in Manchester), installing some well-placed lights is vital. It doesn’t have to be costly to look good and add some personality and warmth to your space.
Listen to music: Whether it's having the radio on in the background, or needing ABBA or AC/DC turned up to the max, I have found music to be a really important element of homeworking. A study by Total Jobs showed that most workplaces would benefit from allowing music, and as you are the boss, there are no office politics stopping you. In fact, many studies have found music lifts people’s moods and especially helps you to psychologically escape from activities you don’t enjoy. Music also boosts creativity and inspiration. Funnily enough, over the past few weeks there has been a rapid increase in the number of Spotify homeworking playlist to get you started, but, make time to create your own. But we must insist you include ELO's Mr Blue Sky.
Make human contact: Working from home may mean greater flexibility and fewer interruptions, from colleagues, but it's those small interactions, however mundane, that are incredibly important. When I first started homeworking, I was conscious of not wanting to interrupt people’s days and would often end up not speaking to anyone until my nearest and dearest walked through the door. So, I started to pick up the phone rather than always emailing; just making a simple, friendly admin call to a supplier or checking in with colleagues has been really beneficial, especially if I was stuck or needed to brainstorm an idea. It was surprising how quickly I built up a network of fellow home workers/freelancers to talk to, and we even have regular virtual coffee breaks, and real life meet-ups (although the current situation has put a stop to that...).
Stock up on some good quality dark chocolate. Yes, that’s right; start as you mean to go on. Eating dark chocolate has been shown in studies to improve cognitive function; boost the production of feel-good chemicals called endorphins, and improve learning, memory and focus. However it is also important to have tasty, healthy snacks on your desk to prevent you from raiding the fridge every ten minutes!
Do something fun: I forgot this for a while, but it could be one of the best and most important self-care tips. Make time to do something silly or something you know will make you laugh and smile. After all, you work hard enough, so give yourself a break, whether it’s picking up the kids, skipping rope in the garden, singing and dancing to your favourite song, or watching funny dog videos online (but be careful of falling into that YouTube wormhole). If silly isn’t your thing, getting creative is also good for the soul; drawing, painting, poetry, whatever you do, do it with all the enthusiasm of a five year old!
I hope you find these tips helpful, and feel free to share with friends and colleagues. If you are only temporarily homeworking, perhaps you could take some of these back into your regular workplace.