Tales from a seasoned remote worker

I’ve spent the past 5 years working remotely. I was lucky enough to work in national role from Brisbane rather than relocating to head office in Melbourne.

I split my time between the Brisbane CBD office, a suburban office much closer to home and working from home. That flexibility allowed me to be where I needed to be to get my work done and it was awesome.

So over the years I’ve spent a lot of time working from home (not full-time, shoulder to shoulder with my husband and with our banshee baby tottering about… this is a whole new ball game) but enough to have tried and tested a lot of options and to have figured out what works for me.

There has been a LOT written about how to work effectively from home in the past fortnight. A lot of it has been contradictory and some of it overly idealistic. Much of it I disagree with.

There has been a LOT written about how to work effectively from home in the past fortnight. A lot of it has been contradictory and some of it overly idealistic. Much of it I disagree with.

Ultimately you need to find what works for you, especially in this most unique of situations where many of us have kids underfoot, or live alone and are craving physical human connection by the end of the day. So for what it’s worth, here’s my evaluation on some of the key pieces of advice I’ve seen floating about:

1) Get ready and get dressed like you’re going to work. Nope!

One of the best benefits of working from home is the time I saved from not having to primp and preen. I do find a shower in the morning and changing out of PJs a good step that helps get my mind into gear. If doing your hair, whacking on some lippy or fixing a tie gets you in the ‘workzone’ that’s awesome, you do you! But my advice is don’t go crazy on the corporate attire (it’s just additional and unnecessary ironing, and who has time for that these days?)

2) Don’t mix work and home tasks. Disagree with this too!

One of the real risks with working from home, particularly if you don’t have kids around to constantly interrupt you, is not taking enough breaks. You just don’t have the same cues at home as you do in the workplace (the offer of the morning coffee run or the waft of people heating their lunches in the kitchen). I found throwing a load of washing in on a 1.5hr cycle was actually a great trigger for me to get up and task switch. Same goes for the 2.5hr dishwasher cycle. Hanging out the washing and unstacking the dishwasher both take about the same amount of time as buying your double espresso from the café across the road when you’re at the office, so why not do something productive and give your eyes and your brain a quick break.

3) Set work hours. Yep, this is a good one.

Again it is SO easy to work work work when you basically reside in your office. Just note they don’t have to be standard office hours (unless there is a clear stipulation from your employer otherwise). To make the current lockdown work for us and to ensure our toddler is taken care of, my work hours bookend my husbands (I do 6:30am-10am and then 7:00pm-9:30pm while he does 9:30am-5:00pm). This allows him to get his billable hours each week and aligns with his ‘head down, bum up’ work style better, while I’m an early bird and benefit from working in my productive peak before 10am.

Just ensure you communicate whatever work pattern you determine with your teammates so they know when you're 'on' and when you're not.

4) Use your lunch break to get life admin done. I’m on the fence with this one.

Yeah it’s good to be productive and get things like bills paid, but you also need down time. One of my favourite things about working from home was taking my lunch outside and having a picnic in the sun. Honestly even just 30 mins doing that re-energised me for the afternoon. Maybe organise a FaceTime lunch date with a loved one and sit ‘together’. My suggestion is use your break for an activity that fills you with joy, not admin.

5) Avoid kids and pets. I'm leaning towards no on this one.

Yeah ordinarily kids are not ideal WFH companions, but the reality is that in the current situation they are going to be around. My suggestion is identify work tasks that you can do around the kids so you can be productive and be present. I know that sounds like a bit of a misnomer, but I can reply to basic email requests on my phone while Wee Man plays in his sandpit. You might have things you can do on your phone or laptop while sitting with your kiddos watching a movie or as they play quietly on your office floor. I've created a handy guide to structuring work around kids (based on an excellent webinar by Blaire Palmer from That People Thing) that you might find useful. You can find it in the Flexible Work Resources section of the Free Resource Library.

In regards to pets, my furry co-workers sit at my feet all day except when they run to the fence to bark at the postie every afternoon. To be fair they are less disruptive than some human co-workers I’ve had. I certainly think having their company when you’re on your own working from home all day is a great thing for your mental health.

6) Have a daily to-do list. Hm, I’ve recently moved away from this approach and for the better I think.

I am a to-do list lover. Anyone who has worked with me will attest to my notebook touting ways, but recently I discovered the Monday Hour 1 method in a podcast and it’s been a bit of a game changer. Basically you sit down on a Monday morning (or the first morning of your work week) and list down everything you want/need to achieve in the week. Then you diarise everything on the list. EVERYTHING. And then you throw the list away.

I was totally sceptical, but it is actually super effective for me. By pencilling in specific time to complete activities, I ensure I have time to get stuff done each week without overloading myself. I have a recurring Monday Hour One appointment in my calendar so as new things pop up, I write them into next week's calendar item so I know to schedule them next Monday. Listen to the podcast and try it if it sounds interesting to you… it won’t be for everyone I know. But I have saved a shedload of time not having to completely rewrite my to-do list every 2-3 days and I use way less paper!

7) Develop a morning routine. Yes, another one I agree with!

I’m not a sleeper-inner (I’m one of those irritating people who doesn’t use an alarm clock, I just wake up (although now that job is delegated to my toddler who thinks 4am is go time… but I digress) but my husband is. He would literally roll out of bed and plonk onto his laptop if he could, but that’s not ideal for productivity. Having a bit of time to wake up, eat breakfast and do some light exercise really does help set the tone for your day. It’s been really nice in the past 2 weeks to sit down to breakfast as a family and have some active playtime with Wee Man before the work day starts. I suggest you find a routine that starts your day off positively; whatever that looks like for you.

8) Move around. Ending with a resounding YES!

It is way too easy to get trapped at your desk when you work from home. The desire to be always seen as ‘on’ or productive is immense, but it’s not healthy. My FitBit step counts were thousands of steps lower on the days I worked from home because the incidental exercise just didn’t happen.

Find ways of building movement into your day. Can your daily team huddle meeting be done on your mobiles while you all walk around the block? If you’re dialled into a webinar can you be on mute and walk around your home office or do some star jumps? If you need some strategic thinking time or composing an email in your head can you ruminate as you throw the frisbee for the dog?

I’m a huge advocate for flexible working, including working from home, and the one thing I will repeat until I'm hoarse is that flexibility needs to flexible. There is no cookie cutter way of working from home. Different people are going to need different approaches. By all means read all the ‘top tips for remote working’ articles you can, but ultimately, it’s going to be trial and error to find your own groove.

I read a post today that stated ‘You aren’t working from home right now. You’re sheltering in your home trying to work’ and it’s true. This situation isn’t normal, it’s not ideal and it’s far from flexible.

‘You aren’t working from home right now. You’re sheltering in your home trying to work’

If you’re a supervisor finding leading a remote team difficult or someone who is struggling to find your WFH groove, or just feeling a bit overwhelmed, please reach out. I’m always happy to chat.

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