With the sudden shift to remote work, home office is the new normal for tech workers across the globe. As a global company that has had offices working from home since January, we thought it would be useful to share our best ideas on getting through home office blues
The efforts that every department has put in to keep things running as normally as possible have led to some innovative ideas and working from home tips.
1. Respecting your own time is your best work from home hack
You’ll be surprised how quickly work can seep into your personal time if you are not strict about creating a division. The key is to log off purposefully. Set your Slack notifications to ignore, put your phone on silent and give yourself time to relax mentally.
Anne Verhoeven, Senior Project Manager on our Marketing Operations team, uses a nightly cut-off for notifications as a productivity hack: “Since the news went into hyper-drive, I realized that the usual pattern of waking up and looking at my phone straight away was starting my day off in a stressed state. So this week I started a new routine: I put my phone on airplane mode before I go to bed, wake up and don't touch it until I've done either yoga or meditation, had a shower and made a coffee. Only then will I look at it. I find this helps start my day on the right foot, and I hope I can keep it up!”
Another key work from home tip is to make a schedule — and ensure that your schedule includes breaks. While we all want to imagine we’re productivity machines that can run infinitely at the same level, the reality is that our productivity dips after a spell of intense concentration. Lecturer Bob Pozen of MIT’s Sloan School of Management suggests a break every 75-90 minutes in order to maintain productivity.
As Andy Chandler, Head of Adjust’s UK & Ireland Sales, puts it: “Schedule time for when you're not going to be productive. Everyone knows how long they can work without being distracted, so schedule into your day breaks to get up and do those things that otherwise would distract you.”
One of our best tips for home office is: don’t be a hermit! Our Senior Events Manager Carla Ryan explains: “I break my day into blocks. I know what I need to work on when and take regular small breaks as I would in the office — move around, grab a coffee, talk to a colleague online. It means I have good bursts of productivity and it breaks up the day and makes it feel manageable.“
It can help to create barriers to work, both physically and mentally. Whether that means working from a dedicated work area, or even making sure to get dressed into work clothes to start your day, it pays to create these boundaries. While it might seem more comfortable to be in a tracksuit, there’s a benefit in taking a few minutes to take care of yourself.
You need to make sure you separate work from play — while it’s important to take breaks, you need to keep them distinct from your work time. Taking time to cook something for lunch is a good way to recharge, but having the TV on in the background is a distraction.
Anne has a good method to keep these threads separate, saying; “If you need to write something and get into 'the zone', I recommend using the Pomodoro method, and where possible put your phone in the other room and turn off Slack alerts until you're done with that task. For any non-urgent emails or admin tasks, set aside time in the afternoon for these (when your concentration may have waned a little), use the morning instead for the most demanding or strategic tasks, when your attention is sharper.”
One of the big challenges during long periods of working from home is keeping on top of tasks. In an office setting, you can meet someone when you swing past their desk or strike up a conversation during a break, reminding you of something that’s slipped your mind or sparks an idea that might solve a problem. At the end of the day, when you make your way home, there is a sense of accomplishment. To simulate this effect at home make sure to set yourself goals for the day — to make sure that you leave each work period with a sense of achievement.
Rhiannon Sheehan on our Sales team says the secret is “time blocking.”
“If you look at my calendar I block everything, for example, in the morning I have my workout and handstand blocked out at a time, and also yoga in the evening. When I need to focus on a particular task at work, I’ll block this for the afternoon. I also have a to-do list for each day to make sure I'm keeping up with my work.”
2. Set yourself up for success by having the tools to work remotely
As a truly international company, many employees moved from their homes to join Adjust. Many others simply weren’t expecting to be working from home for a prolonged period of time. For this reason, the company provided every employee with €500 to purchase things to make their home office set-up more comfortable.
Only you know what you need to be able to be productive, and this scheme has helped people get monitors, writing desks or even a Playstation.
If your company isn’t offering monetary support to make working from home more comfortable, there are a few simple quality of life changes that can be productivity hacks.
Rhiannon takes a minimalist approach to office set-up: “I have nothing on the desk beside my laptop, a notebook and some plants (similar to my desk at work).”
But if that doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to experiment to see what does.
- You want to ensure your laptop is charged before starting a meeting or make sure to have a charger close to you in case it runs out of battery. There’s nothing worse than watching your battery status go into the red while you’re on a call. Cue frantic search for a charger.
- Try to use a good headset for calls. The microphones of a laptop are decent but not good enough to hear you clearly at all times. If you or your colleague have to constantly restate things it will make meetings drag, and that frustration can impact the rest of your day.
- Move to a quiet place during calls. Background noise from a cafe or a clicking keyboard or Slack notifications can be extremely distracting for both sides.
- Get a setup you feel comfortable in. This can be a desk or a couch but make an effort to ensure you work with a healthy posture.
Carla suggests having a secondary workspace, so you can get a change of atmosphere, but still feel like you’re not encroaching on your relaxation spaces; “I have a desk set up in my kitchen with my laptop, second monitor and printer. If I need a break from that but still want to work, I have a comfortable chair set up in my bedroom next to a large window with a small table for a change of environment. My cat likes to join me here!”
Freddie the Cat
3. Staying social will help you work from home effectively
One key area that we’ve focused on trying to solve at Adjust is the social aspect of isolation.
When people become tired or alienated, their working from home productivity falls. Connie Zhao is the HR manager of our China team, who has been working from home since the end of January — the first Adjust office to adopt the Work From Home policy. They’ve come up with a number of home office hacks to try and build team spirit while everyone is in lockdown.
A number of these initiatives, including a competition for the best home workstation, have now been rolled out globally. But the China team has also tried to maintain a social calendar, simulating the kind of office events we would have during our normal working situation. This has included fresh fruit deliveries to employees’ homes, online games of Pictionary and gifts for the Chinese holiday of Women’s Day.
Connie’s tip for people starting their work from home experience is to stay busy.
“Do something you are interested in, but do not have plenty of time to do in normal days. I'm now cooking at home 3 meals a day.”
Anne has been working on Adjust’s WFH Hub which will provide lunchtime cooking live-streams, after-work social events including home fitness, board game nights — and even a DJ set! There will also be opportunities for professional development, learning and sharing work hacks, facilitated by the team at Adjust.
While our resident fitness fanatics are set to lead live-streams of workouts via video-calls, Sandra Parker, of our New York Sales team, recommends YouTube to find free workout videos.
“Specifically, Popsugar fitness on YouTube is good. My gym, Crossfit Queens is posting home workouts on their Instagram stories — so everyone should check them out.”
And if you’re looking for an at-home routine to get the blood pumping, Rhiannon recommends: “If you want to burn the lungs, seven minutes of non-stop burpees is a good way to start. You can also challenge yourself every few days and see how fit you get — and how many more burpees you can get into the seven minutes.”
“Another great workout is: a 15 minute non-stop circuit: five pull-ups (if you have a pull-up bar — alternatively can do tricep dips off of a chair or sofa), 10 press-ups and 15 air squats. Keep going through the rounds and see how many you can do in 15 minutes.”
Product Knowledge Manager Monica De Tuya is in the unusual situation of having just moved to Berlin as the Home Office policy was implemented. But she’s taking the change of scenery and circumstance in her stride.
“When I told myself I was looking for a change and looking for an adventure, this was not really what I had envisioned! But, I am the type that plans meticulously and I enjoy doing research... The current circumstances have really made me reflect on and reevaluate what is priority for me — not just in terms of the physical items I need, but the things I do to take care of myself, and the expectations I have for living in a new country.”
“It's helped me simplify and be grateful for the little things. Like figuring out the U-Bahn. Or a sunny day. Finding a grocery store that has my favorite lotion. And the new connections I have made — both in-person and remote — with people here in Berlin.”
“For a while, some of my fellow newbies lived in this building with me, so I would see a familiar and friendly face on the elevator or stop for a conversation in the lobby. I managed to have a few lunches with Adjusters before the call to work from home. I quite enjoy my evening German lesson Zoom sessions with fellow Adjusters. I certainly do not feel alone in my new city!”
A few of the ways we’ve found to be more social and be more productive working from home are:
- Always switch on your camera, it doesn’t matter if you’re still wearing pyjamas, have a bad hair day or did not have the chance to put on make-up. Seeing facial expressions, gestures and smiles are all we have for the moment and it helps build a sense of community even though we are all spread out across the world.
- Do not hesitate to jump on a quick call with your teammate(s). Most of the time direct communication is less prone to misunderstandings than typing novels into Slack. Most human communication is non-verbal, so we are missing these subtle clues, such as tone and body language, that enable us to communicate effectively.
- Food and drinks unite people: Schedule remote coffee breaks, lunches or after-work beers. A 10-30 minute conversation over a drink helps you feel integrated and less lonely. It’s absolutely fine if your cat crosses the desk or your kid is climbing on your lap. In fact, it’s often welcome!
(left) China team play Pictionary as part of team bonding; (right) one of the submissions to the China team’s ‘Best Workstation’ competition
4. Keep family life in balance while working from home
The reality of working from home is that a lot of these tips are fantastic when you’re working by yourself. But for a lot of parents, the challenge is discovering how to be productive working from home while also dealing with children. And for a lot of people that will necessarily mean a hit to their productivity.
But that’s understandable — what you need to focus on is keeping the balance.
Daniela Becker, from our Talent Acquisition team, said it best: “Fix a schedule with hard cuts between work and family time. Without this I wouldn’t have a job or a daughter after four weeks. Or my husband might go “to get some cigarettes”!”
Any reasonable team will understand that family comes first, and make allowances. Realistic scheduling is key to making it through this period. And realistic means if you have to do less per day than you normally would, that is perfectly fine.
As Andy says: “Kids definitely fall into the distraction category! I'm emphasizing the positives to my daughter and talking about all the additional time we'll get to spend together that we wouldn't usually because I'd be commuting. We've talked about the fact that I do have to work from home, so I will be focused on work for a set period, but on my break time, I will spend time with her. At 4 (and a half as she'd tell me to mention!) depending on what book she's coloring in or what's on TV, she also might not even notice when I do come over during break time.”
In terms of making a strict delineation between work and family time, don’t be afraid to block off time in your calendar as family or “play” time — let your team know you won’t be available for these periods. Similarly, if something urgent comes up, don’t be afraid to drop a message to your team to let them know you have to deal with something. The reality is that you won’t be doing good work if your mind is on something else.
Even if you’re not dealing with kids, this can be a worrying time for everyone, especially those who are living away from home for work.
Anne is living in a studio apartment in Berlin and has the following advice for anyone who is currently living alone in a foreign country: “Living alone during this time can be a bit up and down, because I normally am quite a social person and generally am doing something at least half the nights in any given week.
“I also really miss the social interaction with my colleagues during a normal working day in the office — I didn't realize how much I relied on this everyday interaction to feel 'normal' before all this happened. My main tips for people living alone during this time would be: create a routine that works for you and try to stick to it, but don't beat yourself up if you slip.
“Keep up the video calls with friends and family, they're a key way to feel connected during this time. Make nutritious and nourishing food to keep you healthy, and get fresh air every day if you can. Also, try to lean into this experience and see the positives, like less commute time, more time for reflection, and perhaps a chance to learn a new hobby or finish off a personal project in your spare time.”
5. To help you work remotely long-term: find something you love
Without a daily commute and with events and social activities seriously curtailed, everyone is finding themselves with an excess of free time. But that doesn’t have to be a frustration. If you set yourself a small project or try to do something you enjoy every day, it can really break up the monotony. I’m trying to finally finish Ulysses!
Anne recommends: “Get up and move, get fresh air if you can. A long walk or jog will clear your head and help hit the reset button. I also find podcasts refreshing after you've been focused on something or in your work bubble — listening to others' stories helps take you out of your own reality, for a moment. I'm currently obsessed with 'Reply All', they take some sort of techy mystery or issue from Twitter (like cybercrime or hacking) and then do intense investigative journalism to get to the bottom and 'solve the case' -- it's hilarious and fascinating.”
Rhiannon says her “ways to blow off stress are doing a workout. I'm also lucky that I have a big balcony and a garden in the middle of my building. I've bought kettlebells and borrowed a few other things from the gym too so I make sure I get exercise into destress. I've also been painting a lot in the evenings. By the time we come back to work, I’ll have a LOT of work which I'll give to the Adjusters who want them!”
Andy believes: “Movement is key. Different people like to exercise (or not exercise) in different ways but we all need to keep moving or your health will be impacted. I'm lucky to have a great 5k loop that takes me along a river path so I get to see trees and flowing water which also can't be underestimated! Trying to beat yesterday's time is optional. Also with social distancing now a phrase we all know, it doesn't mean you have to be disconnected. Every day I've found someone on my phone I've not spoken to in a while and dropped them a note to see how they're doing. We really are all in this together.”
Matt Hyder, from our Training and Development team, is taking the time to catch up with family: “My partner and I have started doing yoga in the mornings. My good friend is a yoga teacher in Florida and has been recording his sessions/classes. So we started doing that. I read a great deal, so when I am stressed, I will take a minute, have a tea and read a book.
“When all else fails, my partner and I play board games or I will play video games. We have been doing virtual hangouts with friends and family: we all bought the same board game and played it at the same time… it was interesting. I also have a standing gaming appointment now with my 6-year-old nephew where we play Pokémon over Nintendo Switch; it helps me stay connected and sane, and I think my brother appreciates the break on his end: Virtual Uncle Babysitting.”
6. Minding your mental health is vital to work from home effectively
With a lot of scary news and an unfamiliar situation forced upon us, it is normal that people might be feeling the strain. It’s sad that there is still a stigma around taking care of your mental health, but the important thing to remember if you are struggling while working from home is that you are not alone. There are a number of common-sense strategies you can use to keep track of your mental wellbeing, especially if you know you have a history of anxiety or depression.
As part of the WFH Hub at Adjust, there will be group meetings including external coaches and facilitators, all taking place online to check in with employees. But you shouldn’t feel disempowered if you are feeling low or alone.
- Track your mood. Use a tool such as Moodscope to keep track of how you are feeling day-to-day. This can help establish a baseline and also help you recognize if your mood starts to dip. If this happens you might need to take action.
- Keep occupied. If work (or the world) is stressing you out, some grounding activities can make the difference. Whether this is a practice of mindfulness, or even something like watering a plant in your apartment, we all need to have little moments where we practice some self-care.
- Reach out to someone. If you feel yourself slipping, try talking to a friend, relative or colleague who might be understanding. Also, as more of the world locks down, healthcare professionals are increasingly offering online consultations. Check a local directory to find out whether you can have a remote session with an appropriate professional.
7. Remember this won’t last forever!
While it has been an adjustment for all of us, the working from home opportunity is a temporary solution. There will come a time when we all have to go back to the office. And if you’re already bored in your apartment, try to remember that it’s not forever! Here at Adjust, there are mixed feelings about Home Office, after our impromptu trial of working remotely full time.
Daniela says: “Before I considered it as a luxury to be able to work from home from time to time. Now I see what a luxury situation it is to work onsite in a nice office, shoulder by shoulder with an amazing team. #missingmycolleagues”
Connie says her whole team is managing the transition: “Some of them enjoyed so much to spend more time with family, but some of them felt so bored. In China, there are more and more virtual activities from various platforms, including self-learning, fitness class, etc. to help people adapt to a new lifestyle.”
Sandra explained: “I always thought I would love a remote job. Boy, was I incorrect! All kidding aside, I will be super excited to get back into the office. I do like working from home once a week, and I think this experience will make that time more productive, just because I’ll be so good at it from all this practice.”
Carla agrees that the last few weeks have changed her opinion on working from home: “Definitely. I think after this whole thing people will be more productive when working from home. There are a lot of pros about being home while you work (cooking from home, quality time with pets!). However, the lack of personal human interaction and connection is hard to replace with a screen. Hangouts etc. are extremely valuable in this situation and they definitely help, but I am looking forward to my commute to the office and seeing people in real life again!”
Monica on the other hand, says her opinion hasn’t changed: “Not at all. In previous jobs I worked remotely, so I am comfortable with the process and enjoy the comfort and flexibility. If anything, I think it has reinforced for me the great opportunities for connecting people across time and space to collaborate on projects remotely!”
Matt is adjusting well to the home office life: “I generally prefer to be in the office, but I don’t hate the WFH situation. I have tried to make it as “normal” as possible. It helps that my partner is also WFH. We take coffee breaks together. I’m sure the novelty may wear thin soon, but so far so good. The biggest impact has been the inability to be in a physical space with learners. As a teacher, that is hard. But I do the best I can.”
Rhiannon says she has a much different view of working from home now: “Yes for sure. I used to enjoy working from home every now and then but now I realize doing it for an extended period it's a lot more difficult. Which is why I've made sure to not watch too much Netflix, and keep myself busy.”