Survival 101: WFH Edition

2020 was a year of many new challenges with the dark shadow of covid on the horizon, and the subsequent ‘work from home’ order that followed.

It’s been a strange and somewhat unforeseen year but as always people have tried their best to make the best of the situation and hopefully, some see some positives come out of it. Here at Creative Coop, it’s certainly been a change for us too, so we’d like to share some of our experiences from working from home, in the hopes that it could help others who are in the same boat, and share some tips and tricks on dealing with the challenges of working from home.

Sabrina (Designer)

Being the youngest of the team and still living at home during the pandemic threw plenty of challenges my way, especially the need for a dedicated workspace. Fashioning the dining room table as office space for the best part of a year is something that I and thousands of others have had to live with. Top tip, invest in an office chair early on: it’ll save you a lot of arse ache! (pun intended).

As a lot of people will tell you about working from home, distractions come in all shapes and sizes and most of my distractions came in the form of a small furry character that liked to sit staring at the screen, swatting the pesky mouse cursor around until boredom sets in (usually around 15 minutes). She’s darn lucky she’s such a cute tenant, otherwise, she would have been immediately evicted.

I do feel eternally grateful to still live at home with my family during the pandemic, my heart goes out to the people who live alone and have been cut off from everyone for months on end. However, there were definitely times when I would have given an arm and a leg to have the house to myself, especially when you have siblings who don’t work and play computer games all day (while constantly shouting at the television) but what are siblings for if not to irritate and boil your blood.

In the end, the whole working-from-home order has been for good reason and there have been some positives come out of it, being able to see more of my family than I usually would (even if they are annoying at times), pyjamas becoming everyday wear, and finally having access to an entire house full of (free) food to devour whenever is necessary.

I would also just like to add a moment to remember all the office plants that have been neglected over the past year, you shall not be forgotten.

Alan (Technical Director)

Working from home isn’t a new experience for me; I’ve been doing it since I started in web development back in 2008, living in a small town in North Yorkshire. So the difference lately has been watching everyone else encountering problems for the first time that I’ve had years to work out!

When you work from home instead of in an office, you gain some things and lose other things. There are some obvious positives: no commute, no bosses or co-workers looking over your shoulder, nice cheap food and hot drinks only a couple of rooms away, and being in the comfort of your own home.

There are also some obvious negatives: you lose most of the social aspect of work (zoom just isn’t the same!). Even if you’re someone like me, who usually doesn’t enjoy office socialization, you may not even know what you’re missing out on – I met my best friend through work many years ago. Also, commutes aren’t all bad – depending on how you do it, travel can often be a time to relax and daydream before and after work – a kind of “reset” that you don’t get when you’re just sitting down and getting up from your home workstation. Additionally, certain types of work are definitely harder to do remotely – for example brainstorming sessions with creative materials.

Then there are some things that might vary depending on what you’re like. I don’t mind being around my family all day – in fact, it’s one of the reasons I’ve worked remotely by choice for the last 13 years. But some people find it too much of a distraction and have trouble adjusting. Also, space and equipment can be an issue – or a stable internet connection. And what about those zoom calls where children wander in?  I’ve had many years to work these problems out and settle into a way of working that is good for me and the people I live with.

All of that said – here are my tips for pleasurable, long-term working from home.

  • Equipment – Get a really good computer, if you don’t get one from work. This is much more important than people realize. A slow or glitchy computer can make working hell because there’s no IT department on hand to help you. Spend the money on a really good computer, and a good monitor that won’t burn out your eye sockets.
  • Space – You need to find a space that’s yours – even if it’s just a converted closet or corner of a bedroom. If you can fit a background behind you, and it’s your space that you’re in charge of, then it’s as good as an office. Just remember to clean it now and then.
  • Headphones – If you can’t be on your own, you can at least screen out noise with a good pair of headphones. Make sure you get ones with a mic.
  • Take breaks – Even if it’s just a few minutes of staring out the window, you need breaks just as much as if you were in an office. Your eyes need to look into the distance.
  • Vitamins – You probably won’t be getting enough – particularly Vitamin D. Get a really good (high) Vitamin D supplement.
  • Communicate – Really. Much more than you think you need to. Communicate with your family – tell them what you’re doing that day, when your meetings are. Treat them as if they are co-workers who need to know your schedule. Everyone will be much happier when they know when you’re available for a chat or a walk outside, and when you’re not to be disturbed. If you just lock yourself in a room for the entire day with a Do Not Disturb sign, that’s going to be depressing for everyone. You’re all sharing this space together.
  • Think differently – Is everything working? What isn’t working? Could you rearrange your home space to be more efficient? Would a different sleep schedule work for you? Our lives were transformed when I stopped working late into the night, and instead flipped it around and started getting up to work really early – 4 or 5am. Something you’ve never considered before might make all the difference.
  • Listen – When the people you live with have a problem with how things are working, listen and think about how you could do it differently. If it doesn’t work for them, it won’t work for you long term either.
  • Are you on your own?- If you are, then working from home could become very lonely, especially during the lockdown. Make sure you talk to people – zoom calls with colleagues, interest groups, or even just watching live events online. When I was spending long hours alone in the mornings I found I enjoyed watching live-streamed online games and chatting with the communities there. Make sure you get out once a day for a walk or to go to the shops. Call your family more than usual. Don’t get cabin fever.
  • Have something else going on?- It’s very easy when working from home to lose your boundaries. Without that clear dividing line between work and home, sometimes you might feel that you never really stop thinking about work until you sleep. If you are freelance or own your own business this is even more of a danger. It helps to have something else in your life besides work and home life – some kind of enjoyable hobby or side business that forces you to allocate time and attention away from work. Give yourself cutoff times for work and try to stick to them. Don’t reply to out-of-hours emails unless they’re genuinely important. Usually, things will wait.
Ben (Creative Director)

Having experienced both working from an office with a team to working from home I really can’t wait to get back. It’s been great to see more of my family however at the same time to really focus and get the same amount of work done as before I really have had to lock myself away otherwise I’ve found the distractions soon add up to have such an impact on productivity. From the dog barking to be let outside to someone knocking on the door all these things really add up to disrupting my workflow.  I find myself working longer days to counteract this impact and to get the same amount of work done and in the end, find myself having less quality time with my family. Trying to give creative direction to other members remotely is also much harder, we screen share a lot which helps but never quite replaces laying out lots of work or testing on screen.

One thing that has come out of this that is positive is how clients have adopted zoom as an option for meetings and while there will always be a need for a face to face meetings it’s certainly meant we have more options to communicate with clients now and on restricted budgets, this translates into more time project time by moving some meetings online. This is one key change I think will improve the way we work going forward.

I miss the social dimension of seeing other people, I miss the journey to work where I am forced to switch off and transition between work and home. Even the visual stimulus on my walk-in from the shop signs to roadside billboards all help to keep my mind active and culturally engaged with creativity which is constantly changing.

From a company perspective, I can only see productivity dropping when working in a team from home when so much communication now requires a call or slack chat. I dread the thought of working this way on a large scale with having to rely on so many people to have a strong reliable internet connection, the fewer points of failure the more reliable comms seem to be and you can’t beat having a face-to-face conversation. I’m lucky enough to have a home office but not everyone does, some people have a house share with only one room to themselves and little control of the noise around them which I think is something often forgotten.

Your role plays a big part in how successful working from home can be, for example, a job that requires minimal interaction is very different to one that requires working in teams and with a collaborative approach. Ultimately everyone is different and has a different home situation that really affects their experience of the working dynamic however it’s certainly not a way I enjoy working and I’m looking forward to getting my old life back.