The world is in the grip of a global viral pandemic. Due to current government advice to exercise social distancing and in many cases, self-isolation, more of us who are in a position to do so, will be working from home over the coming weeks and months.
Whether you are new to working from home or a seasoned self-isolator, I wanted to share some tips that I’ve found work for me. Being both an actor and voiceover artist, I am no stranger to home working. When I am not chasing around the country for auditions and jobs, I spend my days talking to clients, editing files and bringing scripts to life. Mostly alone in the padded isolated box that is the vocal booth in my home studio.
Some of my tips were discovered years ago, while others I have only been practicing for a matter of months. And while they may seem trivial among the great deal of uncertainty and upheaval that we are all experiencing right now, I believe that it is precisely during these trying times when exerting some order and discipline to our lives can really help us the most. So all of you, please stay safe and well, wash your hands and enjoy the following tips. I hope they can be of some use to you.
1. Get dressed!
Some people see being able to chair meetings or speak to their boss while still in their pyjamas as a plus to working from home, but seriously, it isn’t. Unless you’re poorly, get dressed! It is a psychological thing no doubt, but even though you may have your dog under the desk, you’re still at work, so take yourself a little seriously if you want others to.
I don’t put on my glad rags, but I always make sure I shower, dress, and do my hair and face. It helps me to feel ready and motivated. It is a simple way of observing that important yet often blurred distinction between being off duty and on duty.
2. Don’t be afraid to ignore people
What I really mean here is that when you work from home, sometimes friends and loved ones can have difficulty grasping the concept that although you are at home, you are actually WORKING. You’ll often find people calling for a chat, asking if you fancy going for a coffee, and genuinely being sociable when you’re trying to speak to clients, meet deadlines or get your head around some other important work related problem.
Nobody means any malice when they do this, they just don’t think. Don’t be afraid to remind them YOU ARE AT WORK and you’ll be with them when you’ve finished or as soon as you can. You wouldn’t go to their place of work and interrupt them to ask what is for dinner or ask them if they fancy going to the cinema on Friday, so they shouldn’t do it to you.
A simple do not disturb sign on your door, or asking people to email or text with questions can work. Failing that, if possible, share with them your usual break times if you have them. And this point leads us smoothly on to the next tip.
3. Insist on some daily structure
If you don’t impose any structure onto your day, how can you expect people to know if it is OK to disturb you?
I had to have a harsh word with myself a few months ago after getting a house and a puppy with my other half. What used to be acceptable when I was living alone, (6 or 7 days a week of constant work with zero structure), began to seem unreasonable when others were quite justifiably wanting or needing my attention.
when you are self-employed, it’s easy to feel that you haven’t done enough and the temptation is to just keep going. I realised I owed it to myself and others to find the discipline to take regular breaks and not feel guilty for it. In fact, doing this has made my productivity go up significantly.
I got myself a large chalk board (see this short video). First thing in the morning, I now write out a plan for the day. So typically, a list of jobs followed by a rough time for when they need to be done. I also write down what time I am going to take a break or lunch. Yes, things can and do change. Work in my industry comes up last minute, but at least I have something tangible to adjust and some clarity about how to prioritise, and we cover this some more in tip number 4.
4. Leave the housework alone!
I don’t mean totally, because let’s be honest, that working from home allows me to mop the kitchen floor or top up all the toilet rolls in the house while I wait for a large voiceover file to process, is indeed one benefit of working from home, BUT multitasking to the point of overworking and losing focus on the job in hand is not good.
There is this feeling that because you are at home, you should also be tacking all the home jobs too but this isn’t true. My partner works in an office, you can guarantee he isn’t wondering whether he should put on a white or a coloured wash at 11.20am on a Tuesday morning while at the same time trying to invoice someone, speak on the phone and edit a file.
By all means, factor a little housework into your day if you want to, but add it onto your planned list of daily jobs being careful to not to blur the lines between business time and housework time.
Most people do their house work in the evenings or at the weekend. Not at the same time as trying to run a business or satisfy their boss. There is a time and a place for everything and if we don’t learn to respect that, we can become unfocused. This then can lead us down the path of reduced productivity when working from home.
5. Join a community
It really helps to connect online with a group of people living a similar existence to yourself. Home working can be a lonely experience at the best of times, even without adding Corona virus to the mix, so it’s nice to have somewhere to go mentally when you take breaks throughout the day. I guess it is the virtual equivalent of having a quick chat with a colleague at the water cooler.
While I am sipping a fruit tea at my desk, I often spend five minutes scanning the groups I am a part of to catch up with any industry news, or simply connect with like-minded people.
That 5 minutes of human contact, albeit virtual, can be all you need to feel reconnected and less alone. They are often also full of practical advice and inspiration. There are many niche groups on Facebook and elsewhere. I am a member of the British Voiceovers Group, UK small business owners group, my local Equity Actors Union group and many more. There will be one that suits you and is relevant to your industry.
I am sure there are many more tips that can help when working from home. Please leave comments and share yours!