In 2017, more and more of us have a level of flexibility in our working life. Mobile technology has made it much less essential to sit in a corporate office, and there has been a big growth in self employment (1).
Whether you are self-employed or part of a large corporate team, working at home has distinct benefits. Many workers report a higher level of productivity at home (2), and it is great not to spend an hour commuting at each end of the working day. But there are downsides.
"A lack of contact with other people can be a challenge, and to be productive, you need a high level of discipline and self reliance."
To get the most out of yourself, you need to look after yourself. So how should you practice self care when you are working at home? I run my own consultancy, and I’ve spent nearly ten years working at my kitchen table or in my study. Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
Keeping warm – and other physical needs
I feel the cold, and when your work involves sitting at a keyboard, it’s very easy to suddenly realise you are chilly. Fluffy socks, big jumpers, thermals and endless hot drinks are all part of my working from home kit.
When I don’t want to put the heating on in the whole house, I find getting out and coming back in is helpful, and means you get some fresh air and exercise. I also like working from other places with good wifi – I’m writing this at my local gym! Not only does this break up my day, but I’ve also managed to fit in a quick swim before starting.
Dog walking homeworkers have a perfect excuse to get out of the house, but if finding time to get some exercise is a challenge try combining it with work. I went to a great “netwalking” meeting earlier in the autumn, which was a great way to meet other business owners (essential when you are self employed) and I got to walk along a canal for an hour.
It’s also very easy to eat badly when you are at home. I find that the earlier I start on the biscuit tin, the more I eat, so I make sure I have healthy snacks in the house and I try to eat a filling lunch. Good coffee is an essential – sometimes the simple act of getting away from my desk to make a drink helps to clear my head.
When I asked my Twitter community for their working from home tips, having a designated area to work from home came out as a strong theme. I have a colleague with an adorable studio in her garden which makes me envious every time I visit! Not only can you make it an attractive and comfortable place to work (colleagues listed their adjustable desk, plants, favourite photos, scented candles and beautiful stationery as helpful items) you can walk away from it at the end of your working day. If you work at your kitchen table, putting your laptop away when you’ve finished working gives your brain the same message. Drawing a line at the end of the working day is so important, and something I am really not very good at.
If you are new to working from home, you may also need to set clear boundaries to your loved ones. In the early days, I used to get phone calls from friends and family who just wanted to chat because they thought I was lonely on my own at home. I had to gently remind them that I was working, and I had deadlines to meet.
Many who are new to working from home say they feel guilty for getting away from their desk. If you were working in an office, having 5 minutes conversation with a colleague about their weekend, or popping to another floor of the building with paperwork would be absolutely standard, so don’t feel guilty about getting up to stretch, pop to the toilet or make a drink. Doing housework is often a point of debate among home workers – do you take advantage of being able to tidy up the house, or do you keep a strict routine and ignore all the domestic tasks? I will sometimes put the washing on or plan the evening meal while the kettle boils, but I make a point of not cleaning or tidying in work hours.
Boundaries work both ways of course. If you are working from home because you are self employed, do try to make the most of the flexibility. If you work well early in the morning or late at night, use those hours and take an extended break in the middle of the day to get to a yoga class, go to your children’s assembly, have a hair cut or whatever is top of your personal self care list.
The solitude can be bliss! Working by yourself means no office politics, no tea rota, no listening to gossip from the next desk or having to put up with a team member who puts herself on a tuna only diet for weeks (yes that happened!)
But don’t neglect your need to be social – it will benefit you mentally and can also help the quality of your work, if you have other professionals to bounce ideas off. There is a big community of people working from home, so try and find your online tribe, as well as networking events that suit your business and schedule. I am a member of a fantastic Facebook group which provides professional and moral support, and have a network of other self employed homeworking friends locally. Regular coffee meet ups and even a quick text to say hello are helpful and remind me that I’m part of a community even when I’m on my own.
I haven’t used co-working spaces at all, mostly because I’m based in a rural area and have to drive a long way to find one, but these seem to be growing in popularity and are definitely worth exploring.
The key to self care when working from home is to find what works for you. Some people like to work in their pyjamas to be comfortable, others need to put a suit on to feel they are present and “at work”. What works in one season may need adjusting in another, and over time your working from home habits will shift and change. But remember to listen and respect your own needs and you’ll never want to work in an office again!
Jenny Procter runs Bondfield Marketing from her home in rural Staffordshire, providing flexible social media and marketing services for passionate (and busy) small business owners. Find out more at www.bondfieldmarketing.co.uk