A corporate worker's guide to staying productive while working from home
If working from home is your current norm and you want to remain as productive as if you were in the office, then these practical tips from a corporate worker and mum will help you get settled into your new office environment, whether you are currently applying for flexible working and a 'work a day from home model" or whether you are staying put for longer due to the viral outbreak of 2020. From investing in a proper office chair to smart productivity hacks, this guide is aimed at making remote working easier on you.
I have written a little about tele-working below. You can skip this part and go straight into the tips further below. Just scroll. This article contains affiliate links which means that if you buy a product I recommend, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Affiliate links will have an (*) next to them.
Although I love blogging about interiors, I have been working in a corporate environment for more than 16 years, starting in a junior role and working my way to the top of my chosen path, financial crime compliance. I spent most of my time working for Citigroup (you may know them as Citibank). In 2010 I had my first and only child and decided to apply for flexible working which over time (and in different employers) meant anything from working compacted hours and leaving early to finally working up to two days of the week from home.
In March 2020 our world came to a standstill with offices, shops and business up and down the country and all over the world shutting down because of a viral outbreak. The City of London, my workplace for the last 16 years, did resemble that scene from 28 Days Later for a good few months. Office workers had to stay at home and deliver the same amount of service remotely. All while sheltering in place with housemates, partners and kids. Zoom meetings became our go to for meeting colleagues and staying in touch and more often than not each of us were bombed by people running in the room without knocking and occasionally our pets.
By June 2020, at the time writing this piece, we are already getting ready to go back to offices, albeit in a social distancing way. Having said that, there is plenty of talk that working from home could FINALLY become normalised. You know, set in stone with proper laws, so that it is no longer a hush hush affair between HR and a select few.
Remote working should be seen as the norm
A few years ago, the staff in the train line I use to commute to work, decided, for a period of many weeks, to go on strike. I would get into the office late almost on a daily basis. Not only did I feel embarrassed but on many occasions I also had to fork out on emergency taxi to get to my destination and incur small 'fines' for picking up late my child from the school. I was stressed and unhappy.
Thankfully, a lot of employers have business continuity plans in place that allow employees to work from alternate offices or home in situations like this. But what about when there is no real emergency, when you just need to tele-work to achieve a better work-life balance? Because, at the end of the day, when you have the school run to worry about and you want to spend some time with your kids, every minute counts. Why spend two hours (or more!) commuting, when you could work during that time and finish work earlier?
Tele-working is no longer a taboo. New joiners ask about a firm's policies on flexible working and tele-working now more than ever. Do not be afraid to bring this subject up during interviews. In many instances (especially if you are not in a customer facing role), working remotely is actively advertised as a perk by employers. If you want to be considered for tele-working, you need to check your employee handbook or your flexible working policy (available from your HR) as you may not be eligible for it (for example, if you are still during your probation period).
And if you are eligible, know that HR will have to amend your contract and put your new days/hours and place of work in. And once you change it, usually you cannot change it for the next six months. Your remote working will also be subject to an ongoing review by your boss, to make sure tasks are complete and deadlines met, or the benefit (because that's what it's seen as) is revoked.
I personally love having the opportunity to work from home and would seriously choose an employer that supports remote working over an employer who pays better but wants your in the office 9-5. Some companies actively encourage remote working, as it's a practice that reduces the cost of desk space and rental, lowers insurance and makes for happier and thus more productive employees.
1/ Find a space and turn it into your office.
If possible, separate it from your bedroom
Working from home can be very productive. You have less disruptions (when the kids are not home!), less noise around you and no people coming to your desk. But to make this work, you first need to dedicate a space as your 'office'. Having your laptop balanced on your legs in bed is not a way to be productive. So where you can, separate your 'office' space from your 'relaxing' space. Being in your bedroom sends all the wrong signals to your brain.
use the guest room. If there is a bed in there already, push it to the side so that you are not squeezed in.
use the kitchen table or breakfast table (no need for new furniture)
use your kid's room while they are at school
create a corner in your living room with smart furniture that folds away when you don't need it
use an insulated garden room
as a last resort, create a corner in your bedroom with smart furniture
If you have an extra room in your home (a guest room) you can turn this into your new office with the tiniest of budgets. If there is a bed in there already, push it to the side so that you are not squeezed in. IKEA has desks available from as little as £40 for a MICKE desk - I use a combination of a large and small Micke desk in the Seasonsincolour home office as well as a BILLY bookcase and they perfectly fit the very average 3m wall.
Also, you can use a combination of trestle legs and the table tops from IKEA, starting at just £2.50 for the legs (try the ADILS) and £5 for the table top. So save on the desk and spend more styling it!
My favourite: The IKEA LINNMON / LERBERG combination, £39, for a table, white stained oak effect, and red legs, 150x75 cm.
Above: The IKEA Micke desk from £40. You can find cheaper on Ebay. Below: The IKEA LINNMON / LERBERG combination
2/ Dress appropriately
Before we even start... Were you planning on working in your PJs? You know the whole "dress for the job you want and not the job you have" mantra? Well no one gets any job in their PJs! So get up early, have a coffee and fix yourself girl! Who knows who will be there on Zoom and Microsoft Teams!
Otherwise, it's like you haven't woken up properly or you are not taking this seriously. Wear comfortable clothes and be done with it. Jean shirts or white tops and wide leg trousers are all comfy clothes to wear when working from home. This is my favourite jean shirt by the way*.
3/ Stick to your agreed hours
If you are meant to be online at 8.30am, then do so.
Do not be late.
Do not give anyone the reason to question your integrity.
You can only achieve this if you have a routine.
Equally, try not to exceed your agreed hours. My experience on this is that it rarely gets recognised and people start thinking of it as the norm for you. "You did 4 extra hours the other day, so surely you can do so today too, no?". Well, NO. This is time you could be spending with your family or on your hobbies.
There will be of course times at work (and your contract may well stipulate this) where you are expected to work longer to cover emergencies and backlogs. But don't work for someone else for free. Unless it's an emergency, don't set the wrong type of standard!
4/ Natural light and fresh air helps. A lot!
If you can work from home during the day, then having your desk close to the window will ensure lots of natural light which is good for your eyes and your mood. This cannot beat the office lighting, especially if you are located towards the core of a building (I spent two years in a basement office in my first role, never again!).
You can even open your windows for some fresh air, which you definitely cannot do when you are located on the 20th floor of a building in the financial district. Sheer curtains are also great if you don't want the light reflecting on your screen. Try these from HM HOME.
5/ Invest in a good office chair
A good office chair will do you good long term - it will keep your back healthy (provided you remember to keep a good posture and take breaks often). Some great choices depending on your budget are here:
HAG Capisco Puls, £346
Hailey by Made.com*, £149
Knox Office chair*, Retro Orange, Made, £99
HAY About A Chair AAC24 Office Chair*
Kartell Maui Swivel chair (£284);
Rookie task chair, VITRA
the Form chair in white and oak by Normann Copenhagen (£350).
Left to right: Knox and Hailey, both by Made and HAY About A Chair AAC24 Office Chair
Below: Rookie task chair, VITRA
The HAG Capisco chair
The Hailey Chair by Made in our second home office
6/ Desk Lamps
I find that desk lamps are an easy way to add character to your desk and completely transform your style from industrial to art deco to retro to contemporary. You can choose a colour that complements the rest of your scheme (e.g. black) or choose one that will pop against the background, like a green lamp against white background or a yellow lamp on a black background (like the Anglepoise Margaret Howell Type 75 Desk Lamp in Yellow Ochre, £140 via Amara).
Anglepoise is generally a great and reliable brand that makes lights only (that should tell you something). We only use their lamps on our desks and we are pretty happy so far. Their new models are full of colour but you can find vintage pieces in the Spitafields antique market for around £30.
Tom Dixon's 'Boom' desk lamp shown below looks stylish but it might not direct a lot of light on your desk. The Artemide Tolomeo Micro desk light is one of the best out there and you will also see it in most stylish home offices. As an articulating lamp it's useful when you want to have light just above you.
7/ Style your desk
It took me precisely two years to take a paper framed photo of my son in the office and place it on my desk. If you work in an office, do you try to personalise your space and if so, are you limited by office 'etiquette'? Depending on the work you do, you might find it extremely difficult to personalise you space, because you don't like other staff to comment on it. But if you could work remotely, the way you styled your space would be up to you. I say, whatever brings on your creative juices, use it!
8/ Clear desk
Besides the laptop or desktop PC that you will be using, you will need little else. This is because one of the security arrangements when you work remotely is that you are not allowed to print work documents at home. So keep your desk clear of paperwork and tidy up often because a clean desk helps productivity. Fact. Go and get a cute bin for your rubbish. Now.
A dark backdrop helps me focus more. I have used one in my home office (see it here and below) for almost two years now and find it the best backdrop ever. Your eyes just stay focused on the computer screen! But if an all white room is what you are after, then go for it. Remember, this is meant to be your sanctuary, the place where you are really productive, so go ahead and style it your way!
10/ Stay organised
Every once in a while I find that my office gets full of unnecessary things, like magazine inserts (why do I even keep these!?) and lego pieces courtesy of Junior. Keep on top of the mess by cleaning up your desk regularly. To keep you tidy, here are some really cool accessories that you should add on your wish list!
1 | Acrylic and gold magazine holder, £40, Kate Spade New York; 2 | Cube Tape Dispenser - Copper, £60, Tom Dixon; 3 Pyramidbox Neon Pink Extra Large desk tidy, £22, The Conran Shop | 4 | "A Stroke of Genius" Pencil Holder, £22, Kate Spade New York; 5 | Normos Metal Stationery Set, Gold, £39, Made.com; 6 | Buro Set - Shades of Blue, £50 Lexon via Amara; 7 | Fornasetti pencil holder, £100; 8 | Brass Pencil Holder, £72, Ferm Living
11/ Remember to take breaks
Again, from personal experience, I know how easy it is to just focus intensely on your task, so much so that you forget to get up, drink water or even blink! But doing so you can hurt your back, your eyes and even start piling on the pounds. So here are three simple things to stay healthy as well as stylish while working remotely.
Get up and walk - 250 steps is all you need and that's a simple two minute break. Go up and down your stairs for a few times. Walk to the kitchen and back. Actually, run to the kitchen and back. That's it.
Stay hydrated. Remember running to the kitchen? Well, stop and drink some water too.
Blink. If you have been looking at the computer screen for too long, your eyes will hurt and get dry soon.
Here's a simple exercise you can do almost everywhere, to strengthen your eye muscles.
Sit up and stretch out your arm with your index finger extended upwards.
Focus on your index finger and start bringing it closer to you while focussing on it.
Stop when your finger is roughly about 3 inches in front of your face.
Now move your finger away again until your arm is fully outstretched.
Do this for a few minutes at a time throughout the day.