Whether you’ve worked from home before, or lockdown has been your first experience of remote working, you might be finding it tricky to adapt to the various challenges brought about by this unusual set of circumstances.
Working from home can be particularly challenging for your mental health, and it’s easy to fall into unhelpful habits. For freelancers though, balancing these challenges is part of their everyday routine, so we asked seven different freelancers to provide some of their top tips for working from home to help you during lockdown and beyond.
1. Look for stability through routine
By Ben Locker
Because I'm a freelance writer, I thought lockdown would be a doddle. I hadn't quite realised the new challenges it would throw at me.
When you work from home, routine is key. Normally I get up early, clear my emails and work until 11am. Then I leave my desk - a change of surroundings is vital - and have coffee. Then it's writing until lunch. By this time, I've more or less put in my eight hours, so I'll spend the afternoon working on a practical project. I like restoring my classic car when I can.
Routine gives you stability and is essential for your mental health. I have a form of bipolar disorder and a daily structure helps me manage it better. Now my wife and children are also at home, we've woven together new routines. We do work or school work in the mornings, then try to spend time following our interests in the afternoon. It's working well - and it keeps us hopeful that our lives will broaden out again soon.
Ben is a freelance copywriter who loves to restore old machinery and learn European languages.
2. Don’t be afraid to take plenty of breaks
By Noel Green @contractswise
I run my own software business from home using a virtual office and have been working this way for about three years now. A virtual office helps to give a good impression to all first time callers and filters out the sales calls.
I set myself a time by when I will be showered, dressed, shaved, had breakfast and logged into work. I’m an early bird, so that’s eight o’clock for me - but everyone should work to their own body clock.
My biggest tip is: don’t be afraid to take many breaks. It helps me with my concentration and it’s good to get up and moving, although moving to the fridge or snack cupboard is to be avoided. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the fact that I can actually take a proper lunch break and go out for a run or walk. It’s okay not being with your phone at all times.
Noel is the founder of ContractsWise Limited providing affordable, easy to use contract management software to organisations of any size and type.
3. Set up boundaries between work and family zones
By Sarah Townsend @STEcopywriting
Having spent the past 20 years as a freelancer I’m used to working from home – but things are pretty different right now! My 17-year-old son is splitting his time between our home and his dad’s, and my partner has moved in for the duration.
I’m lucky enough to have an office in my home, and I had my garage converted to a studio at the end of last year, so we’ve got a fair bit of space between us! Even if you don’t have an office, it helps to designate ‘work zones’ and to make sure these don’t spill out into family space, for the sake of your relationships!
Boundaries and balance are more important than ever. It helps to designate a start and finish time for your working day, and remember to build in time for breaks and exercise. I’d also recommend a complete ban on working on the sofa and in bed!
Sarah is a freelance marketing copywriter and author of Survival Skills for Freelancers.
4. Balance work and children through set playtimes
Working from home was my way of coping with juggling work and life free from distractions. I need to get a straight run when writing (and GCSE Bitesize was never for me!). Suddenly, the coping mechanisms I had went out the window without childcare and my husband working nine to five from home.
At the start, the laptop switch seemed to set off an alarm bell wherever my toddler was playing - outside or in, by herself or with my husband - leading to endless cries of "Mummmmyyyyy".
I've looked into how to encourage more independent play and still keep the connection, which was much more natural before. I now make time for 30 minutes of play every morning and afternoon where I make a point of placing my phone away. I've also found a technique called "strewing" where you set up something that your child can really lose themself in, start them off and then slip away for increasing amounts of time.
I also try to work when I know my daughter is happiest playing without me, which is usually in the morning. Just like I did before, I save the evenings for things I need to concentrate on less, like replying to emails or researching.
Aisha is a freelance inbound marketing copywriter who’s developed a love for interior design (even though her creative skills seem to end with the written word).
5. Use all-day video conferencing to stay in contact with work friends
By Catherine Every @CatherineEvery
Structure is your friend when it comes to combating the sense of drift that comes when you’re on your own. Like Ben, I find it helps to put a schedule together for the work you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it.
Even better is to tell someone when you’ll have done something by so you’ve got some accountability too. Personally, I also have an official working day – nine to five with an hour for lunch, which works for me because I like routine, but this may not suit everyone.
In terms of staying in touch, I sometimes have all-day Zoom sessions with fellow freelancers, both one-to-one and in groups. There are two ways I’ve done it: the first is having a new call at set times, and the second is where we’re on the call the whole time but on mute with the video off for most of it. Either way, the idea is you check in every hour or so to say “hello” and talk about progress. It helps me stay focused if I need to get something done because there’s some accountability - it’s also just nice to know someone’s out there working ‘with’ you.
Catherine has been a freelance B2B copywriter for 16 years and for eight of those she’s worked at home on her own.
6. Take a short ‘commute’ around the garden in the morning
By Ben Kinnaird @benkinnaird
I've been running Rather Inventive Marketing from home for over nine years and find the following habits keep me sane. Firstly, sticking to a regular workday schedule, including tea breaks, is crucial to prevent procrastination. I always get dressed for work - I opt for smart/casual - even if I don't have a video meeting.
I like to take a short walk as my commute around the garden to create a mental barrier between home and work. I find that it gives me more focus, especially when I play a few tracks of my favourite music, and I start the day eager and optimistic. I am currently listening to the soundtrack from 'Everybody's Gone to the Rapture', for such a stark game it's incredibly soothing.
Lastly, like Catherine, I'll use video calls where possible to stay connected with my colleagues and clients. Email and chat can be efficient but nothing beats a ‘face to face’, even if it’s on a screen.
Ben works with people to help them move out of their comfort zone and become more effective in their marketing.
7. Try and stay flexible
By Ric Frampton
After quitting my job, in my first month I tried to work Monday to Friday, nine AM till five PM, as a few have mentioned above. I found that isolating myself in a room did not work at all, though. I had chronic back pain, a cracking headache and little patience for my family.
I soon learnt I had to manage my expectations and change my whole approach to productivity. Now, my house is a home and an office; it must work as both at the same time. My wife and kids live in our home but are not my colleagues.
It helps me to stay flexible, to find tasks that are easy to step in and out of which can be done when the household is out of control. When things are settled and people are occupied (normally when the kids are eating or watching TV), I work fast, hard and stay focused. Spend less time thinking and act.
COVID-19 has forced many people to work in a way that is new, and it may not suit everyone. It takes time to adapt and it may be difficult to accept levels of productivity, particularly when it wasn’t your choice to work at home in the first place.
Ric Frampton quit his job in 2018 to set up his own design consultancy from home
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect British Red Cross or British Red Cross Training.
Topics: Mental health & wellbeing