How to manage your days when working from home

Working from home can be beneficial for some and a disaster for others - it all depends on your personality, writes Alex Davda.

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I’ve been offered a new job and the boss says I can work from home. This is partly due to a shortage of space in the office. While it might sound great to some, I feel more motivated when I am around other people. So how do I ensure I stay disciplined and actually get the work done? BH, Abu Dhabi.

An opportunity to work regularly from home will sound appealing to some; we can roll out of bed a little later and avoid the stressful commute. We put on some comfortable clothes, have our morning coffee in peace and focus on our work without the distraction of chatty colleagues. Home working, if managed correctly, also allows for a bit more time with the family and ensures we never miss key family events.

Hopefully once 9am comes you have the house to yourself, free from the distractions of partners and kids. If not, protect the office space created, ideally with the luxury of a separate room that you can work in. The first step to successful home working is having a space to call your own that you are disciplined enough to go to every day.

Even with all these potential benefits, someone like you may still find it difficult to motivate themselves unless they can have some kind of interaction with others and the noise of everyday life going on in the background. It can definitely be challenging to get going when there is no one else around to bounce ideas off. In fact, some multinational corporations have even gone as far as to restrict home working; they have found it can in fact decrease creativity and collaboration, encouraging people to work in silos. I believe that organisations need to strike a fine balance, allowing people to work flexibly while ensuring maximum collaboration and creativity.

Personality, as with everything, has a key influence over how and where we like to work. If you have an outgoing personality, it is almost like your motivation is derived from interacting with others. On the other hand, our introverted colleagues are the ones who thrive from working from home or closed away behind their office doors. They are neither rude nor unsociable, but need this time alone to refocus and re-energise.

I have spent some time myself working from home and as a very clear extrovert quite quickly found myself climbing the walls. To overcome this, I worked in coffee shops or even small business hubs; this provided me with some background noise and allowed me to observe and even talk to my fellow humans going about their daily lives. One of the great things about the entrepreneurial and lively nature of the UAE is that in every coffee shop from RAK to Abu Dhabi, there are creative workers and entrepreneurs sipping their coffees and working away. I frequently connect with interesting people in the cafes of my local mall – the office environment is not the only place to gain stimulation and inspiration.

Remember, if your energy is driven through interaction with others, then organise your time accordingly. Firstly, go into the office one or two days a week; especially as it is a new role and you would like to get to know your new colleagues. You can use a meeting room or a colleagues may share their desk or office with you. I am sure someone in the office would happily swap and work at home for the day.

Secondly, spend some of the time working from a coffee shop or environment where you can enjoy the world and make the effort to connect with the interesting characters you share the space with. You never know, there could be a potential client there.

Most importantly, discipline is key to get you up in the morning; you need to keep a clear cut-off point. Working from home has the potential to further blur the lines between work and life as your laptop is always just around the corner. In a study on stress and work-life balance we conducted a few years ago, we found many successful home workers strictly adhere to a symbolic alarm bell that signifies “time to start” and “time to stop”. This could be the kids leaving or coming home, a morning run or an evening trip to the supermarket. These symbolic alarms will help you keep some boundaries as well as giving you the discipline to get going.

Doctor’s prescription:

Working from home successfully will require you to organise the time and space exceptionally well. Create an environment that you enjoy working in; try to spend time in the office and in other stimulating environments, as well as making the most of the alone time you have to really focus. You must also take regular breaks and if you can’t physically be with colleagues, make sure you are connected via other methods of communication. Recreate the office environment everywhere you go and you could get the best of home and the best of work rolled into one.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues