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Working productively at home

Working from home changes the meaning of work, which is no longer a place where staff go, but instead is redefined at the outputs produced.

Productivity from home can mean adapting and changing working practices.

While there is no one size fits all approach to managing productivity, detailed below are some tips and guidance for staff to consider.

Create a morning routine

It's easier to switch off from work when you leave a Trust site and travel back home as this provides a change of scenery and time to process the day. Just as a morning routine helps to signal the start of the day, create signals to end the day (e.g. close all work applications down and turn off any phone notifications, go for a walk or pick up a book to read).

Establishing a good morning routing is essential when working from home. Not only do routines help reduce mental fatigue, they help to prepare the brain for the working day, enabling it to work more productively.

Setting a routine without the pressure of having to get to work on time can be difficult, especially when hitting the snooze button is more appealing. Taking time to set a routine and maintain it can have huge a significant positive impact on starting each day at peak productivity.

Below are three tips to consider when creating a morning routine at home:

  1. Wake up at the same time every day – going to bed and waking up around the same time each day helps to regulate the circadian rhythm or "internal body clock" which affects everything from mood to diet to heart function. Having a set sleep schedule helps to positively influence productivity levels
  2. Exercise in the morning – exercising helps to increase productivity. This could be just going for a morning walk to help clear the mind and enable it to start the working day alert
  3. Map out the day – making a prioritisation list of what needs to be accomplished helps to provide a structure to the start of the working day

Have a dedicated workspace

Whether it is a separate room, a fully stocked desk or just a clean part of the kitchen table, a dedicated area to work in is key to enabling productivity.

The brain often makes associations between a location and how it should behave. Having a dedicated area helps to provide signals to the brain that this is where work is completed and helps to decrease distractions. It also helps to create clear boundaries between work and home modes. Before sitting down to work ensure you have all the equipment required to hand and that there is enough room to work comfortably.

Wherever the location of your work space, make sure it’s not a relaxation spot. Working in an area where you normally relax can create associations with work making it difficult to switch off at the end of the day.

Remember to take time to set up the workstation using the Trust’s DSE guidance for homeworkers. Having an appropriate chair and other equipment will help improve productivity and reduce musculoskeletal risks.

Clarify expectations

Having clear expectations around what needs to be achieved will help to ensure focus and prevent frustration or disengagement.

Spend time with management talking through the key work priorities, deadline dates and what the short-term as well as long-term goals for the department are. Being able to see how work is contributing to goals helps to provide motivation and focus.

Not being on-site reduces the ease of communication and being able to turn around/walk into the next room to ask for clarification on work tasks that have been set.

Time can be wasted worrying about whether work being completed is correct or through misunderstanding. Spend time in 1:1s discussing any concerns or challenges, asking for feedback and reviewing any support required. Additionally, pick up the phone or send an email if support or clarity is required. A quick ten-minute phone call can help to reduce any uncertainties and enable productivity to resume.

Create to-do lists

Block out time to complete tasks with set deadlines. Parkinson’s law states that work expands into the time available for its completion. In other words, the more time you have, the longer you will take to complete the task. Look at scheduling in work tasks in your outlook calendar, allotting specific timescales to the tasks and sticking to them.

Creating daily lists of work-related tasks that need completing can help improve productivity and create feelings of organisation. Keeping a list will help to organise work and set out priorities and timings. It can also help to identify the urgent and non-urgent tasks to enable them to be scheduled in appropriately throughout the week.

To-do lists can also be useful in learning how much work can realistically be accomplished within the working day. This will help with allocating time to specific tasks throughout the day and week.

Research identifies that homeworkers can often put unrealistic expectations on themselves on what can be achieved in the working day. Understanding how long tasks can take can ensure achievable and realistic work timescales.

Ticking off tasks at the end of the day helps to create a sense of accomplishment.

Schedule tasks against energy levels

Productivity and energy do not remain at a consistent level throughout the day. Energy levels go up and down.

The importance is not in extending that period of high energy, but in knowing how to make best use of it. The different type of energy in the morning, afternoon or evening can help determine when to schedule in specific tasks. When having periods of high energy work can be completed more quickly and with fewer mistakes.

Instead of using the principles of time management to manage the entire day, consider organising tasks by level of energy. Being aware of "peak performance periods" will mean that time can be spent scheduling in the more challenging or import pieces of work during this time, leaving the less complex or "light" tasks for when energy is lower.

Plan meaningful breaks

While taking breaks might sound counter-intuitive when it comes to increasing productivity, it is one of the best ways to improve it. Research has found that regular breaks throughout the working day help to significantly improve productivity levels and the ability to focus.

Try the Pomodoro Technique. This technique looks at "pomodoros", 25-minute stretches of focused work, followed by five-minute breaks, with longer 20- to 30-minute breaks after four pomodoros. Using a small block of concentrated time, with zero distractions, can help to focus the mind and help to achieve more in less time than it would normally take.

Working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion. Taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes mental resources, and helps increase creativity. Additionally, when working on something challenging or where focus has been lost, taking a break can help to enable development of new ideas or solutions and renew motivation.

When working from home the natural breaks that occur when working on-site, through talking to colleagues, getting up to make a hot drink or walking to use the amenities can be lost. It is important to therefore schedule time throughout the day for breaks to get up and move around.

Create a process for collaboration

Working from home reduces the ease of being able to simply turn around and ask for help or support, or run an idea past a colleague for their input and advice. These are all important elements for helping to increase productivity and bring about new ideas and perspectives.

Without effective team working and collaboration, homeworking can feel isolating. Feelings of stress can escalate without having an outlet of someone to talk to and confide in who understands the work pressures being faced.

Talk to colleagues and agree ways to continue with collaboration and communication when working at home. Discuss how to share ideas, provide feedback and maintain communication with each other.

Just as importantly, take time to build in non-work-related communication. Take time to call a colleague, have a virtual coffee or just check in. Engaging in small talk helps to improve cognitive function in areas such as planning, prioritisation and organisation and helps reduce feelings of isolation.

Celebrating success and create rewards

Recognising and rewarding hard work is an easy way to increase productivity. Rewarding yourself can help complete work quickly and more efficiently which can help to increase feelings of motivation.

Create a micro-reward system by thinking of a task you’ve been putting off for a while and try to estimate how long it will take you to complete it. Split that time into specific time periods, such as 25 minutes. Start the task as normal, but when you reach the end of time period give yourself a micro-reward to help create motivation to complete the next task within the time period.

In addition, take time to celebrate success at an individual level and as a team. Celebrating success helps to recognise that meaningful work has been completed, creating a sense of accomplishment.

When working from home, other colleagues might not be aware of the work completed and miss out on a spontaneous celebratory moment that can take place when working together on-site. Creating a culture of sharing the successes helps lift mood and boosts energy.

Everyone knows the reward technique and every single person has been a part of the technique. In spite of the knowledge and the proven results behind its success, when was the last time you acknowledged or rewarded yourself for great work?

Take time to experiment

Working from home means complete control over the working environment.

Experiment to determine what works best at an individual level for increased productivity and give considerations to:

  • temperature
  • background noise – is music a help or hindrance?
  • location
  • timing of breaks

If you have flexibility over your working hours, discuss with management experimenting with working hours so that work can be completed when productivity and energy are at their highest

Don’t forget to look after health and well-being

When trying to improve productivity, looking after health and well-being is just as important. Proactively looking after health and well-being makes it easier to deal with and take on the different challenges faced each day.

Working from home is still new for many staff. Spending time understanding what works best will for you will create great benefits in the long term.

While working from home can provide many positive benefits for health and well-being it can also bring different challenges. Please see the "well-being when working from home" and "mental health and well-being support" pages for advice and guidance on looking after health and well-being when working from home.

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