We did it for years, but the days of hunting for our bus pass or looking forward to a lunchtime Pret already seem like a distant memory. The beginning of a second lockdown last week left us dusting down our VPNs and converting the kitchen table back into a home office.
As WFH begins to look increasingly less temporary, we ask nine women - for whom it’s been the norm for years - to share their best advice on staying happy, productive and on target to achieve your career goals… all without leaving the house.
Rebecca Seal is a Features Journalist, TV presenter and Author of Solo: How to Work Alone (and Not Lose Your Mind). Living in London with her husband and two children, Rebecca has been working as a freelancer for over 10 years.
My advice? Establish boundaries. Boundaries around the time you have for work and the time you have for the rest of your life - which is equally, if not more, valuable and important. When I started working solo, it actually took me a few years to realise I was struggling, because at first, I just worked... and worked and worked. I didn't put my head up to look around at my life and ask myself whether it was going how I wanted it to for a long time.
I overcame this by setting boundaries and massively shortening my working hours, which allowed me to be far more productive. I now do a four-day week, which means I get a decent balance of work time and childcare, but has still allowed me to write five books in the last five years.
Liobhan Alanna, 30, is a freelance designer. After spending her career working for other clients from home she recently started her own business designing and manufacturing scarves, based from her home in London.
Get dressed properly! It seems obvious, but when I first started working from home I would find myself wearing gym clothes a lot because they were comfortable and, besides, who cared? Nobody was going to see me. But I soon realised that it’s not just about who else will see what I’m wearing – it’s important that I dress up for myself. I’ve found that I’m more productive when I feel good about how I look, and it makes me feel more confident about my work.
Deborah St. Louis, 54, is Director of Fashion Finest, a boutique company connecting independent designers to fashion brands. She has worked from her home in Nottingham for the last eight years.
When I first trialed working from home I found myself working long hours and taking calls late into the evening. It was infringing on my personal life and space, and left me feeling exhausted at the end of the week. So I created a designated work place and it’s there, and only there, I do any kind of work. I won’t reply to emails on my sofa or even go anywhere else to take calls. I’m really strict about working in this area 8-4 or 9-5. I know not every one has the space for a separate home office but I think even if its the kitchen table; just knowing that is your work space for a designated time of day helps you draw the lines between personal and professional.
Lucia Knight, 47, is Managing Director of Midlife Unstuck, a business which she founded after leaving her career as a headhunter to study for a masters in psychology. She now lives in Surrey where she runs her business from home.
I recommend that anyone working from home designs a “commute” into their day. It takes me less than two seconds to get from the kitchen to my office, and after working from home for a while I realised that it’s impossible to either get into work mode or decompress after work without some form of a longer journey. I was finding that work was spilling into the edges of my life and never seemed to end.
To fix this, I started to factor in time between my home life and my work life. My “commute” might involve anything from a quick sprint around my block, a walk up a big hill near my home while I chat to a friend on the phone, or a stroll to the local shop whilst listening to a book on Audible or a favourite podcast. In that time I transition from ‘work me’ to ‘home me’.
Natalie Trice, 46, is a coach, consultant and university lecturer. She lives in Devon and has worked from home for 14 years.
With all the best intentions in the world, it’s really easy when working from home to hit snooze when the alarm goes off, work in your PJs, put your hair up in a messy bun and put on endless loads of washing, but this isn’t going to help you power through your to-do list. For me, it’s been important to get into the daily routine of getting up, getting showered, and getting started on my work. I make sure to schedule in lunchtime, as well as adding in breaks for walks, yoga, or meditation. It helps me to find a structure that not only keeps me on track, but gives me a clear start and end point to the working day.
Laura Morelli, 27, is a presenter and Head of UK and Australian Media at SEMrush. She has been working from home for two years, currently from East London.
Make time to talk about mental health. Working in isolation without a team physically around you means bearing a lot of responsibility with little support, creating a feeling of not being able to clock off from work and losing a healthy work-life balance. Setting aside dedicated time to chat with colleagues and professionals allows me to function at my best – both mentally and physically – on a day-to-day basis. I know it can be a difficult topic to talk about, especially in the workplace where you are expected to present professionally, but speaking regularly to my team has been a good way to avoid burnout.
Soma Ghosh, 37, is a happiness mentor and podcast host. She’s spent the last four years working from her London home, where she runs her business The Career Happiness Mentor.
When I started working from home I struggled to put life admin to one side in order to focus on work. I would spend time on my phone, or thinking that I needed to do housework. So I started to plan my week ahead so that I had one main theme for each day. For example, Monday might be an admin day, whilst Tuesday could be for writing. Having an agenda for the day is so important, because it makes me feel as productive as possible and prevents me from wasting time. It means that I’m much less likely to go and do the washing up or get distracted.
Malvika Sheth, 21, is a Digital Content Creator. She started her website Style by Malvika three years ago, and has worked from her home in California ever since.
Working from home requires a great deal of self-motivation and a positive mindset. That’s why my top tip would be to keep a gratitude journal. It helps you to keep track of all of the things that have brought you success, be it personal or professional. If you’re someone who is used to working around people, lifting your spirits could be as simple as having a coffee with a co-worker or taking a lunch break to chat about something other than work – keeping a gratitude journal is a bit like having that chat, but with yourself. It reminds me of the good, and reinforces that positive things can and will continue to happen.
For me, the most important thing that I’ve learned from working from home is to set a realistic list of things that need to get done every day. I think about each task as a timed activity and make sure that I’m being realistic about how long each task will take, and make sure that I schedule in breaks. There’s a risk when working from home that your activities could run into your downtime, leading to burn out, so I make sure to schedule in things like a walk, even if only for 10 minutes, to ensure that I feel refreshed and ready to go again.
We have launched the Digital Sisterhood to provide women everywhere with the community and support they need at the moment. Be that a safe space to ask questions – and receive honest answers – or somewhere to find a digital event that will offer you the information, or perhaps the encouragement, you need to get you through the coming days and weeks. We’re here for you, so please do head to digital.allbrightcollective.com to claim your 14 day free trial and join our community.