In October 2017, I moved to London to start a new job at the British Heart Foundation, and I was excited and nervous in equal measure. The BHF was recruiting for two Brand Executives, and on my first day, I met my counterpart Libby, and we quickly became friends.
Two years ago Libby left the BHF after her debut novel The Lido became a Sunday Times bestseller. Libby is now a full-time writer and often works from her flat in North East London.
With many of us now working from home as the world tries to manage the coronavirus crisis, I’ve asked Libby if she would share some of her tips to help us adjust to working from home, something that we may choose to do more of when life returns to normal.
Libby what are your top tips for working from home?
Take time to create the right working environment for you
I think that while open-plan offices are great for collaborating and socialising they’re not so great at allowing you the opportunity to focus on your work. When working from home, you can manage your environment, and you can create an environment that works for you. I feel very lucky to have my own home office which has become my sanctuary – it’s very colourful and is somewhere I feel really creative. But even if you’re having to make do at the kitchen table there are still things you can do to make it feel like somewhere you want to work. Arrange your seat so you have good light and feel comfortable. I like adding things like flowers and even a nicely scented candle to make my workspace feel more inviting. If you’re sharing your space with others in your household consider headphones and soothing music when you need to really focus on work and avoid distractions.
Accept that it will take a while to adjust
I think when you’re starting, it can feel unfamiliar. Don’t worry if you don’t take to it immediately. It took me over a year to really get into the swing of it.
Find out what motivates you
Gretchen Ruben’s book The Four Tendencies explores the notion that our personalities fit into four tendencies: upholders, questioner, obligers, and rebels. Understanding our tendencies helps us to better understand our behaviour so that we can make better decisions and meet deadlines. Some people need a sense of outside accountability. Some people need a reward system, and finding out what you need, be it structure and routine or treats each time you finish a task will help you put practices into place that enable you to reach your goals.
Find a community of other people that work outside of the office
During the current coronavirus crisis I’m replacing face-to-face meet-ups with virtual ones instead. Video calls with friends might not be quite the same as seeing them in person, but pausing for a cup of tea and a chat can still help to break up your day and introduce an element of sociability that I find makes me more energised to then get back to work.
Exercise is a very important part of my life, but even more so now. When you have a commute you normally have a bit of a walk to the bus stop or tube station but it takes me ten steps to get from my bed to my office. Try to build time into your day to be active, whether that’s going for a walk (whilst practicing social distancing), doing a home yoga video or just standing up and stretching. I use a great app called Stand Up which reminds me to get up from my desk every hour to avoid being too sedentary.
Take regular breaks
When you work in an office and other people surround you, it is easy to get up and have a quick catch-up with a colleague over a cup of tea. But when you’re working by yourself, it is easy to get stuck into a project and forget to give yourself a break. The same applies to a lunch break, it is often very easy to grab a sandwich and eat it over your laptop, but it is important to have a proper break and get out if you can or even watch a bit of TV. I sometimes feel guilty about watching TV during the day, but when my sofa is right there, I think why not? Your lunch break is your time – enjoy it.
How did you find the transition between working in typical office environments to working at home?
I found going from working in a big office to working from home a big shock to the system. I wanted to be an author, it was my dream job, but I hadn’t thought about the actual working life of an author. When I was working in an office, I had a good group of friends, so I’d go out for lunch with them every day, but as an author, most of your time is spent in front of your laptop by yourself. The social aspect of working in an office is something I missed, and the sudden change was hard. I’d say it took me a year to adjust.
Also, when you’re your own boss, you’ve got nobody checking up on you. As an author, I’ve got very long deadlines, each day, each week, each month I have to set my plan, I have to motivate myself, and I have to decide how to spend my days. Even in an office where you get given a lot of freedom, you usually are still reporting to someone, and you had a setlist of tasks. When you work from home for yourself, you suddenly have these endless possibilities each day when you wake up. Those were the two things I found most difficult when adapting to working from home, missing the social aspect of working in an office, and managing my own time.
One of the central themes to the Lido is one of loneliness. How do you overcome the feelings of isolation that occur when working by yourself?
It definitely wasn’t easy, and I think that one of the things that made it difficult was that it was very unexpected. My dream had just come true, I had wanted to be an author my whole life, and while I did enjoy my job, I had also fantasised about handing in my notice because I had been given a book deal. For that dream to become a reality and to still find yourself not entirely happy was hard, and I felt like I was doing something wrong.
My last experience of feeling lonely, which I channeled into The Lido, was when I first moved to London and knew nobody, but in that situation, you think, “of course you’re lonely, you have no friends, or partner, or anyone.” But when I started working from home, I was living with my boyfriend and had a good group of friends, but they were all at work during the day, and it felt like a very different kind of isolation.
I think that time helped. Over time I’ve developed a routine, and I think now that I’d struggle to go back into the office because I’ve gotten so used to being by myself. I’m lucky because I’m naturally predisposed to working for myself, the things I enjoy most are the things I can do by myself like running, reading, swimming.
What do you think are the main benefits of working from home?
You can wear yoga trousers! I love the fact that at this moment everyone is talking about the clothes that they wear when they’re working from home. A good day for me is when I brush my hair. I very rarely do that. When I’m out in public, I pride myself on choosing a nice outfit, but there is a freedom that comes with not having to worry about that. The freedom and flexibility that comes with working from home can be a bit overwhelming and daunting at first, but when you get used to it, it’s great.
Being able to set your schedule is also liberating, like today, for example, I did do some work, but I just wasn’t feeling it, so I stopped, watched a film, and did some baking. As I keep track of my overall schedule, I can do that. Being able to do your washing is a very unsexy benefit to working from home, but it is one of my favourites.
Photo by Timothy Cochrane
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