The Affinity team’s top tips for working from home

After several weeks working from home amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, here are a few things we’ve learned as a team that may help boost productivity, ensure household harmony and most importantly, keep your spirits up.

1. Get up and get ready as normal

It’s important to freshen up and get changed out of your pyjamas every morning. It will help you get in the mindset for work and ensure you’re prepared for any unplanned video calls during the day.

2. Set up a dedicated space for work

“Fitting two workspaces into a three-bed house (with a four-year-old and two cats) has been a bit of a challenge. We felt like it was important to have separate workspaces, ideally in rooms that we could close a door on at the end of the working day (or at least throw a sheet over the computer monitors).” Charlotte from Artist Relations explains. “Having spent years as a work-from-home freelancer before joining Serif, this was something I always found really helpful when it came to separating work and life.”

3. Have a comfortable desk setup

To help take care of your body and avoid causing pain, an ergonomic desk setup and a good supportive chair are key. When working, your arms should be at right angles, with forearms lightly supported by your desk or work surface and your feet should be able to rest on the floor.

Technical Author, Alan, advises; “As well as considering back support, pause for a moment with your hands on your keyboard or whatever input device you use most. Are your shoulders and arms relaxed, or are you learning, turning or reaching for the device? The fix might be simply shifting your keyboard a little to one side, or making an effort not to overreach and instead moving your graphics tablet, say, to a comfortable position.”

Alan’s desk setup

4. Make a schedule, and stick to it

This can be easier said than done, but having a clear schedule for when to work and when to call it a day helps to maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you’re more productive at certain times of the day (such as when the kids have gone to bed), there’s no need to stick to a traditional 9-5 schedule, but make sure you set a time when work must stop, as overworking can be a real issue.

5. Be courteous to your partner or housemates

When you’re used to spending most of the day apart, it can be a challenge suddenly finding yourselves under the same roof 24/7. The key to keeping harmony is to respect each-others space. So, discuss times when you do not want to be disturbed, try to keep unnecessary noise to a minimum and tidy up after yourself—no leaving dirty plates and cups in the sink. Especially if one of you has to work from the kitchen table.

“To help not get on each other nerves we’ve identified our most annoying habits; therefore I’ve promised to have a single designated tea mug (instead of working my way through every mug in the house every day…oops!) and my partner is keeping all his Warhammer figures in one room as they have a tendency to show up unexpectedly in the kitchen and living room and multiply at an alarming rate!” Charlotte reveals.

6. Have a rota for childcare

With many schools and nurseries temporarily closing, if you have children there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself juggling childcare and working from home. Drawing up a rota may help you and your partner share the responsibilities.

“Splitting each day in half, so one of us is working and the other is supervising our four-year-old has worked well for us (we tried two-hour blocks at first, but found it too bitty). We’re able to stay focused for longer on work and also get to spend better quality time with our son.” Spotlight Editor, Melanie, explains.

Topping up daytime work hours in the evening is also an option, although you need to ensure you set aside some time to relax and mentally switch off too.

7. Stay connected with colleagues

It’s important to check in regularly with your colleagues, just like you would in the office. Along with email and messaging it’s a good idea to set up regular virtual meetings via Slack, Skype, FaceTime or Zoom. Seeing your colleagues face-to-face can help lift your spirits, make you feel like you’re still part of a team and less alone.

To keep collaborations going, Miro or Trello both offer great ways to communicate with colleagues, plan team projects and share ideas.

8. Have a set time to complete chores

You wouldn’t be able to do the laundry or work through a pile of ironing at the office, so avoid the temptation to do household chores when working from home. “I’ve been doing a quick clean of the kitchen in the morning, pots etc. and then leaving them for the rest of the day.” Jess from Artist Relations explains. “Then, once I finish work I have been putting all my work stuff away (moving the computer and all my cables, notepads etc. and putting them into the utility room so I can’t see them), then having a quick spruce up—loading the dishwasher, wiping down the sides and doing a quick hoover around. It’s really helped with feeling the transition of going from workspace to home each day—and it feels nice to have a nice fresh house/kitchen too.”

9. Keep pets happy and entertained

It’s very easy to get distracted by pets wanting your attention when working from home. “If you have a dog factor them into your daily exercise. Dogs practically live for exploring and experiencing new smells, so if you take them out during your lunch break it will help relieve their boredom. Don’t scrimp on their time (e.g. five-minute walk round the block), try and give them at least an hour.” Product Expert James advises.

James’ dogs Horatio and Tennyson

“The other thing you can do is keep them stimulated. There are lots of ‘intelligence’ toys and food puzzles like the Nina Ottosson designs. Food puzzles can keep them entertained for quite a while.”

“Also, if it doesn’t distract you, bring a dog bed into the office and let them sit with you—dogs like the company (they’re pack animals) so this usually benefits them as opposed to being separated from you. You might often find they’re quite happy to get in their bed and chill.”

“Cats always jump on your laptop at the worst moment in time! Giving them a warm spot to sleep in (sunny spot or using a microwave bag for a few seconds) that’s nearby may help fend off warmth seekers.” Technical Author, Caroline, suggests.

Charlotte’s work ‘buddy’ Mina

You could also try putting out items that your cat likes to explore, such as cardboard boxes and paper bags, in a separate room to help keep them amused.

10. Drown out background noise

If barking dogs and other neighbourhood noises are a distraction, “rather than using the radio, TV or music to drown it out, which can prove an even bigger distraction, try a white noise app like Noizio for Mac or these alternatives for Windows. However, try to play it through speakers rather than headphones, which may increase your sense of isolation.” Alan advises.

11. Try the Pomodoro technique or apps based on it

This well-known method of time management works by dividing your working day into 25-minute chunks where you focus all of your attention on a single task, followed by a five-minute break. This is thought to help with focus and boost productivity. Alan advises; “If you’re not already a fan of things like the Pomodoro technique, consider using one of the many apps based on it to keep a closer eye on your focus. Alternatively, on Mac you might use Screen Time to monitor your usage of different apps automatically, or even to impose limits on those you know are a distraction. Tempted to open Solitaire for five minutes that quickly become 15? Lock access to it during working hours; if possible, ask your partner to set a parental control password that only they know, so you can’t simply override the restrictions you’ve put in place.”

12. Take frequent breaks

Sitting at your desk for long periods can lead to stiffness in your joints and fatigue. If you regularly lose track of time, setting a timer or using an app can be a good way of reminding yourself to step away and take a break—even if it’s just to make a drink or go into another room for a change of scenery—you’ll feel more motivated and refreshed for it.

13. Get some fresh air

You should also try to get outside at least once a day—pottering in the garden (if you have one) or going for a short walk around your neighbourhood are both good ways to brighten your mood, top up your vitamin D and boost productivity when you get back to your desk.

14. Exercise regularly

Exercise is good for both your physical and mental health. So, if you would normally get up early to do a run, cycle or walk to work, or do a fitness class in the evening, try to keep that up at home or in your local area (if permitted, while social distancing).

“I like to do a 5k run before work. It really fires up the metabolism and gets the blood flowing. I find I’m more alert throughout the day but more than that, mentally it gives a feeling of accomplishment and positivity which impacts my outlook and attitude at work.” Creative Projects Manager, Ian, explains.

“Now is a great time to establish an early morning routine for some basic bodyweight exercises like press-ups (upper body) and squats (lower body). Try 10 full slow reps, then a two-minute rest, and repeat this ‘set’ five times. The reward? Breakfast! Setting yourself goals/rewards will keep you motivated and commited.”


Spotlight editor
As editor of Affinity Spotlight Melanie oversees the stories, interviews and tutorials published on the site. Outside of work she enjoys travelling, reading crime thrillers, Pilates and dabbling in a spot of oil painting. Get in touch with Melanie if you would like to contribute or be featured on Affinity Spotlight.
Credits & Footnotes

Header image by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash.