Earlier this year, many financial advisors were forced to work from home for the first time. The second wave of Covid-19 means working remotely is likely to last well into 2021. Now might be the time to optimize your home office for the long haul if you haven’t already.
Many modern workspaces are designed with employee productivity in mind, but most home offices aren’t designed for productivity. There are several strategies you can use to boost your productivity while also maintaining a work/life balance — even if space is at a premium in your home.
Designate your workspace
If you worked in an office before the pandemic, you were used to having a distinct separation between your work and your home. You should try to recreate that separation as much as possible by designating a physical workspace in your home, says Kirsten Marshall, principal designer with Palmerston Design Consultants Inc. in Toronto.
Marshall says the ideal workspace should be sectioned off from the rest of your home, in addition to being comfortable and functional. Your workspace should be “somewhere you can go every morning and somewhere you can leave at the end of the day,” she says.
Your workspace doesn’t have to be a separate room if you don’t have the space; it can be something as simple as a corner of the kitchen. But it should feel separate from the rest of your home, Marshall says.
Nathalie Bureau, president of Professional Organizers in Canada in Toronto, says it’s important to find a place in your home that “puts you into action.” At the very least, she suggests, you should choose somewhere other than your bedroom.
If you work in a room that isn’t a dedicated home office, pack up your work items — laptop, notepad, etc. — in the evening to signify the end of your workday. If you don’t have a company laptop and do your job from a personal computer, make sure to close all the tabs and applications you use for work as soon as you’re done for the day.
Marshall says it’s important to invest in functional home-office equipment. You may even be eligible to get some of your home-office expenses reimbursed by your employer without incurring a taxable benefit.
“Something I would look at first is investing in a really comfortable chair — one you can sit in for long hours that won’t harm your body,” Marshall says.
Situating your desk somewhere with natural lighting is important, especially during the winter months, Marshall says. If you spend much of your day on Zoom, use a desk lamp to make yourself visible. Marshall also suggests adding a rug to your home office for sound absorption.
Set a schedule
You should be clear about when you’re working and when you’re not, Bureau says. “The more you plan your schedule, the more you will be able to focus on your work,” she says. “Make sure to communicate [your schedule] to the people you live with.”
Sticking to a schedule will not only inform those around you of when you’re working, it will help you stay accountable, Bureau says. If you have children at home, staying organized is even more crucial. Have a plan to keep children occupied when they get home from school. If you have small children, organize your schedule to get work done when they take naps.
Don’t forget to schedule breaks in your day either. “Set a reminder to break for lunch and take a few minutes in the morning and afternoon as well,” Bureau says. “If you know the laundry is going to distract you, plan to throw it into the machine during your morning break.”
Monica Bodurka, co-founder of The Leadership Wellness Group in Toronto, says many of her clients have been working longer hours during the pandemic, but feel less productive because they’re no longer rushing to leave work and get home.
Having a schedule that establishes boundaries between your work and personal times can help you maintain work/life balance, Bodurka says: “There is a really big opportunity in working from home because you actually have a little more control over your schedule.”
Bodurka suggests you maintain a routine. Try to treat weekdays just as you did before: wake up at the same time every morning, eat breakfast and get ready for work. You may not need to dress as formally as you did in the office, but the simple act of getting dressed is a signal that it’s time to get up and get working.
One of the best things you can do to minimize distractions, Bodurka says, is to create a calm atmosphere and minimize clutter. “Clutter raises your [level of] cortisol, which is your stress hormone,” she says.
Other ways to minimize distractions include turning off notifications on your phone and limiting your use of social media to help keep you out of that “stress zone,” she adds.
Bureau says an essential-oil diffuser can help boost your energy, mood and brain function, and playing white noise or quiet music can help with your concentration.
Take care of yourself
The second wave of Covid-19 probably means your home is not only doubling as your office, but also as your gym. Scheduling time to maintain your physical health is important, says Heather Wilson-Phillips, founder of The Fitness Empire Inc. in Toronto.
“That feeling of checking something off of your list is gratifying,” Wilson-Phillips says. “The same goes for your fitness and wellness. When you put [fitness] into your schedule and you check it off, that feeling of accomplishment carries on throughout the rest of the day.”
Even with limited time and space, Wilson-Phillips says, there are several simple ways to make sure you are taking care of your body while at home. First and foremost, she says, be kind to your body while you are working. Invest in a proper desk chair, a standing desk or a stability ball.
A stability ball can help increase your core strength and improve your posture. A standing desk also can be beneficial, and it doesn’t have to be expensive: you can build your own by setting a small table or stack of books on top of your desk, bar top or kitchen counter.
Wilson-Phillips recommends a combination of standing and sitting to keep your muscles activated. She says she begins each workday standing for a certain amount of time before she sits down.
As for exercise, Wilson-Phillips recommends finding something that works for you.
“There are so many things that we can use around our home that are going to help us be more active,” she says. “[Exercise] can be simple: start the day off with a stretch or a five-minute workout. Once you begin doing it [daily], you will realize the benefits and want to continue.”
A strategy Bodurka uses with her clients is to challenge them to incorporate walking meetings into their workdays. Try to pick a one-on-one meeting that doesn’t require being close to your computer and go for a walk while you talk on the phone.
“People [trying that strategy] were finding they were getting more creative ideas. They were having fun,” Bodurka says. “When they got back, they felt relaxed even though they had just had a meeting.”