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How to make working remotely work for you (From the Archives)

18 Mar 2019
Working from home your new norm? In the face of COVID-19, here's Sam Grover's smart advice on how to be productive and look after your well-being as a remote worker.

Working remotely: staying productive, keeping it together

I’ve been working remotely, off and on, for a long time. When I started out as a freelancer a decade ago, I worked from my room in my flat. When I had a regular job, I worked from my girlfriend’s house in Napier every second fortnight. And for a while in 2016 I worked from my lounge when my then-employer’s office building was temporarily taken out of commission by the earthquake in November of that year. Now, of course, I work remotely writing content.

And my experience isn’t that unusual. Remote working is pretty much par for the course for lots of creative, freelance jobs - including lots of arts jobs. So today I’ve interviewed a foremost expert on this topic: me.

Working remotely successfully comes down to two things: staying productive, and looking after your well-being. Here’s how to look after both of these things.

Routine, routine, routine

In every job, it’s easy to have a day just sort of slip by. You tinker with this, poke at that, answer some emails, and next thing you know, it’s 5pm. These days are even harder to avoid when you’re working from home - after all, you have your entire house to distract you, with its TV, fridge and internet connection, and none of the social pressure to at least look productive that you feel when you’re in an open-plan office.

I’ve been attacking this problem from a bunch of different angles, but the most successful has (predictably) been the least interesting: just get into a routine. Just treat your day like the work day that it is.

Here’s an example of how not to do things. I try and exercise every couple days, and I used to sneak in bike rides, runs or workouts at the gym whenever I felt like it during the day. This really didn’t work for me. It’s super-easy to get bored with what you’re doing at 10am, faff around getting ready to go for a run for half an hour, run for an hour, come back, shower, faff around some more, and now it’s time for lunch. Eat lunch, get distracted by something else, and now it’s half past 1. It sounds absurd when you write it out, but it really is that easy to let half your day slip through your fingers.

So pretend you work in an office. If you’re going to exercise, do it first thing or last thing. You’ll be surprised at how much more you can get done when you have a clear routine.

Get out of the house!

This one’s less about productivity and more about your general well-being. Working from home has some really solid perks - no commute, for one, which is particularly nice on cold winter mornings. But that perk can be a huge drawback if you’re not careful.

Think of it this way: you’ve probably had days where you woke up, went to work, then came home. The only places you visited were your house and the office. Now imagine how that plays out when your house is your office. It’s not that hard to realise at 6pm that you haven’t left the house all day!

This is  . . . not great for your overall well-being. Once in a while, it’s fine, but you really don’t want to end up realising on Wednesday that you haven’t left the house since you went grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon.

So make sure you get out and about. Even just a walk around the block at lunchtime. Maybe grab a cup of coffee, or do some grocery shopping. Trust me, your mental health will thank you. (Editor's note: this tip may not be so helpful for those in self-isolation - please stick to the latest COVID-19 ground rules.)

Separate your work and home life

This one is tricky, because when you’re working from home, your work is your home. Again, this is handy - but it can also start to impact your well-being if things get too melded together. When your work and home are melded together, it all just gets way too murky, and it messes with your brain. When you’re at work, you feel like you’re not quite at work, and when you’re at home, you feel like you’re not quite at home.

The first time I worked remotely, back in 2007, I was in a flat. So I set up a corner of my room that was essentially my “office”. It was just a desk with all my work stuff on it. But the key aspect of it was that I never used it for anything else. If I was going to play computer games or something in the evening, I’d sit somewhere else.

Now, I’m lucky enough to have a spare room that I use as an office - but that’s a relatively recent development. So whether you have a spare room, or just a bit of space on your desk in your bedroom, try and carve out some space that’s just for work.

Wrapping up

Working from home can be great, especially when you’re starting out. It keeps your costs low, and lets you focus on your creative work, without having to fret about paying extra ongoing overhead costs. But it can be tricky, too. Hopefully my tips help you stay productive, and stay on top of your well-being while you’re working remotely.