Working from home: how to organise your day

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, ever more companies have been asking their employees to work from home. A lot of people imagine that it will be more straightforward than it actually is. In reality, people who work from home on a regular basis often feel isolated. Here are eight top tips to make your working day at home a success.

Jürg Zulliger

There are so many preconceptions about working from home! Are you picturing rolling out of bed and switching on the laptop, and spending the whole day slobbing around in your jogging bottoms? Getting a few things done in your own good time, then crashing out on the sofa...? There haven’t been many scientific studies on the efficiency of working from home, but one thing is certain: people deal with it in different ways. There seems to be evidence of an interesting psychological effect, however: many people feel that they get more work done at home rather than less – simply from fear of being suspected of taking it too easy.

Pros and cons

In a survey of Swiss employees, the majority said the time they saved by not having to commute was a definite advantage. People who work in large, busy offices tend to feel that they can work better and in a more focused way at home. American employees are of the opinion that working from home is not conducive to effective teamwork. And many bosses have reservations about it, fearing that they will lose some of their control and that instructions will be ignored.

Here are eight top tips to make working from home a success:

Working from home: how to organise your day

Get the day off to a good start

Most people report that they find it difficult to get going in the morning. They sit down at their desk in their comfiest clothes or even their pyjamas, and drink a second or third cup of coffee. The worst offenders dither between reading their emails or heading back to the fridge. Or they hang out on Twitter and Instagram.

So here are a few practical tips: set your alarm for the same time as usual and work out a morning ritual. Shower, get dressed, have breakfast, maybe go for a short walk. Stick to your usual working hours and start your working day on the dot.

Make lists

The first hours of your working day could be your most efficient – or the ones you fritter away pointlessly. It’s best to begin with a clear to-do list for the next few hours. Prioritise the tasks and estimate how long they will take. Allow yourself a ‘treat’ or break only when you have managed to tick some things off your list. A realistic timetable and a little self-discipline will help you achieve good results. It will also help prevent you spending too long thinking about where to start.

Communication is key

Check with your employer about the rules you are expected to play by. Do you have to be contactable at specific times? How regularly will video conferences or phone calls take place? Are you expected to record your working hours and, if so, how? Is it ok if you do some work in the evening because you need to take care of your children or relatives in the afternoon? Ensuring that expectations are clear is the best way to prevent uncertainty and unnecessary stress.

Create a good working environment

If you want to stay motivated and inspired, you need the right environment. It’s important here to look beyond the tech (your laptop and internet connection) or your desk and chair. The ideal is to have a certain degree of separation between your workspace and your usual living area. Do not try to improvise a workplace for yourself on the sofa or at the kitchen table. A bright, ergonomic office workspace, if possible with a view, is a must. Bear in mind that if you are going to spend a lot of time in front of a screen, direct sunlight isn’t ideal. It doesn’t take much to add a few accessories, photos or plants to give your ‘office’ more appeal.

Chat with colleagues

Missing the gossip in the coffee room? Or being able to talk to colleagues at neighbouring desks? Many people find the social isolation difficult. And when you work from home, your contribution often receives less attention, and feedback and support can be lacking. The latest digital technology – for example, video conferencing with high-quality image and audio – can help to remedy the situation.

Talk to your team or employer about making regular communication via mail, messenger or other media part of your established routine. A friendly ‘Morning!’, a few appropriate emojis and a positive message can make a real difference to someone’s day. After all, we’re all more motivated when we get along well with colleagues and managers.

Don't forget to eat

Make sure you take proper breaks, especially for lunch. Don’t be tempted to spend lunchtime in front of your laptop with a few snacks or a yoghurt. A balanced meal and a little fresh air and daylight will energise you for the second half of the day.

Don’t do everything by email

Going for long periods of time without seeing another face or hearing another voice can get you down. In difficult times or during a tough working day, it’s important to take time out for a phone call or video chat. And, as in the office, ensure you make time for small talk. It is also important to remember that certain organisational issues or technical questions are simply easier to deal with on the phone. In any case, there will be less room for misunderstanding than if the same questions are sent back and forth in an email chain with half the company copied in. The same applies, of course, if something has annoyed you. Any misunderstandings or puzzling contradictions are still best dealt with directly in a phone call.

Switch off at the end of the day

People who work from home a lot can often find it difficult to switch off at the end of the day. Work out a ritual that could help. Perhaps a walk or some physical exercise? Here too it is important that you clarify expectations with your employer. Unless there are very good reasons, you should not have to read messages or check emails in the evening.

Otherwise, you could end up feeling that you are on constant ‘standby’. It’s important to feel that you have left the office at the end of the day, and it’s much easier to switch off if you make a note of your three most important tasks for the following working day. It also helps if you clear your desk and tidy away any files and documents you have been using before you leave your workspace behind.