“Lockdown taught you more than you might have wanted to know about working from home. Now it’s time to parlay those WFH skills into your first graduate job.”
Working from home might seem at first like the perfect arrangement. But it takes some planning and self-discipline to be your best whilst working from home and to guard against some of the risks involved. We spoke with a handful of recent graduates who work from home for their advice on how to reap the rewards of WFH while limiting its downside.
1. Structure Your Workdays
Traditional workspaces tend to provide plenty of structure, starting with your commute. Working from home puts pressure on you to create a routine and lend some structure to your days. It’s a significant bit of extra overhead, but establishing a solid routine can help you stay on top of the demands of a new job.
The recent graduates we interviewed suggested these tips for building a productive routine.
Don’t neglect your commute. A little stretch of time between home and work can help ease the transition each morning and put you in the right frame of mind for your job. A mock commute can involve a walk around the block, a bit of time with your earbuds or a good book, or anything else that’s not specific to home but that isn’t at all work. You can even lie in every once in a while and call it your resting commute. Don’t forget to do the same at the end of the day: put on your coat and gather your belongings, just as you would in a traditional workplace.
Dress for work and maintain a designated work area. These might seem obvious, but maintaining the line between work and home can be difficult over time. Give yourself the freedom to be Work You when you’re on the clock and Home You when you’re at your leisure.
Schedule your days firmly. Set aside two meeting-free hours a day (at the same time, if possible). Block out 15 minutes before and after meetings to prepare and digest. Speaking of digestion, give yourself a full hour for lunch, at the same time each day (and don’t make it a working lunch if at all possible!)
Pepper your workdays with personal projects. This might seem a bit counterintuitive, but five minutes of intense exercise here and ten minutes of hobby time there can keep you engaged, sharp, and productive. Adding a bit of personal time to your workday can also help you divide each day into segments devoted to specific tasks.
Get a mentor’s advice. An established mentor really knows their way around how to structure their workdays. Use their expertise to really get a plan in place, it’s always suggested to have multiple meetings over time to really reap the benefits of having them at your side.
2. Guard Against Zoom Fatigue
Most of us can set up a good WFH routine. Sticking with it is another matter, especially if your job requires you to attend virtual meetings throughout the day. Here’s what our group of graduates had to say about avoiding the burnout that can creep in after too many 2D meetings.
Dress the part. Take advantage of your surroundings to change your look from meeting to meeting. Something as simple as a different jacket or a bit of lipstick can put just enough of a twist on a big meeting to keep you out of a rut. It might be a bit riskier to skew your wardrobe a tic more casual, but give it a try if you’re confident in picking your spots.
Look around—just like you do in a real meeting room. Virtual meetings have a way of drawing and holding our attention on each other’s faces that can be downright exhausting over time. You don’t spend your time in face-to-face meetings scanning the faces of the others around the table, and you shouldn’t do it online. Let your eye wander. Look out a window, look around your place—feel free to do what you normally do when you’re concentrating on someone else’s words. It’ll give your eyes a break and allow you to concentrate on each meeting in your own way.
Try a walkie-talkie. If you can join a meeting on your phone, do it! Stroll around your place, slap in some earbuds and take a walk outside, whatever lets you stretch your legs. You might just find that you’re more engaged when you’re in motion.
One of the biggest dangers our graduates warned of is the temptation to stay too locked in to work for too long. Communal workplaces offer plenty of opportunities to vary the tempo of your day; WFH leaves that sort of thing to you. Here’s what our graduates recommend.
Get outside. This was the single most common bit of advice. Whether it’s cold or rainy (or both), don’t let the weather keep you from breathing some fresh air every once in a while. You might find it easiest to work a quick jaunt or two into the midst of your workday. Many WFHers like to bracket their workdays with walks or trips to the park. You get the idea.
Drink water…even if it means getting some help to remember. This might sound like ridiculously simple advice, but a surprising number of the graduates we spoke with pointed to water consumption as a key element of a successful WFH scheme. Several suggested installing an app to help you stay on schedule, or setting your phone to issue a discreet reminder every hour or so.
Take care of your body, and it will take care of you. While you’re drinking enough water, consider ways to improve your diet.
4. Mind Your Wellbeing
Working from home can leave you feeling isolated, and that’s no good for your mental and emotional health. Or, since we’re talking about your job here, your productivity. Here are some ways that our graduates keep themselves connected with others whilst working from home.
Schedule freeform time with colleagues. The incidental chit-chat that goes on in a typical workplace serves a purpose that even management can appreciate: it keeps people aware that they and their work have meaning to others. You might need to go out of your way to schedule time for a bit of banter, and you should do so if that’s what it takes. You can also work a bit of non-work-related chat into the start of meetings, especially routine ones. For that matter, there’s nothing stopping you from meeting up at your local after work or having a virtual pub night once in a while for far-flung colleagues.
Remember: you’re not on call 24/7. Work has a way of bleeding into our personal lives as it is, and working from home heightens that danger. Shut down your laptop and stow it away when the workday ends. Leave your phone in another room and visit it only when you’re on a break. One idea we love: have a podcast or radio station playing quietly in the background as you work to give you something like an office’s atmosphere, and choose a group of programmes that you only listen to whilst working.
Redirect your attention every so often. Breaks don’t need to mean walking to the office kitchen (or yours). Refresh your mind and ground yourself every so often by reading up on a hobby or interest, or making a quick post or two to an online forum. It’s not quite the same as talking sport or fashion with your colleagues, but it can be just as refreshing.