Common Mistakes To Avoid When Working From Home (Expert Advice)

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta
Updated on 5 November 2020
Expert Content

With so many people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to ensure that you’re set up for success in your new working environment.

Working from home has a range of obvious benefits and drawbacks. But what are some of the common pitfalls to avoid?

We asked a selected group of experts to identify and explain some of the most common mistakes to avoid when working from home.

Here’s what they said.

Set Yourself Meaningful And Attainable Goals

Dr. Oliver Crocco, Assistant Professor, School of Leadership & Human Resource Development at Louisiana State University

Research tends to support the idea that working from home and the flexibility therein is related to increases in productivity.

But, as with all scholarly research, “it depends.” For example, it depends on the type of work, the home context available to the worker, and the worker’s preferences.

When you work from home, the biggest things missing are bumping into colleagues, impromptu meetings, and face-to-face discussions all of which can be related to positive work environments, engagement, and creativity.

Colleagues aren’t able to grab lunch or coffee as easily and regularly, which would typically provide them the chance to get to know one another more and share ideas. It would be a mistake to forget about these things and not seek to recreate them as best you can in a work-from-home environment.

Since working at the office often provides a natural source of accountability and support, it is crucial for many people to establish their own accountability and support measures to ensure they are reaching their goals.

This could be in the form of daily or weekly check-ins with colleagues/friends to share goals and update one another on their progress. It could also be scheduling silent Zoom meetings or working in the game-eque website Gather Town where you move around a virtual office space and interact with people who are “near” you or stop at a virtual workstation and work alone.

Success in working from home comes with having and following a plan of meaningful and attainable goals. By now, most of the world is quite adept at wasting away inordinate amounts of time on their phones.

I recommend having a set of daily, weekly, and quarterly goals that you break into smaller time-based chunks and working through them. This can be aided by a productivity journal or excel file and by implementing methods like the Pomodoro Technique (i.e., working on specific tasks in 25-minute sessions).

When working from home, people are often not getting the informal mentorship that would typically be available to them in the office. Normally, someone can pop over to a colleague and ask a question or get advice on a complex issue.

It would be a mistake when working from home not to seek out those mentorship opportunities intentionally.

Ask a colleague if they have a few minutes for a phone call to get their advice – sometimes it’s nice to have a break from video conferencing – and talk through the question/situation. It can also help to show up to Zoom meetings five minutes early and chat informally with whomever else arrives early.

Perhaps the biggest mistake would be not taking advantage of the benefits and flexibility that working from home offers. If you do your best work from 5:00 to 8:00 AM, wake up and do the majority of your work then.

If you need to give your brain a break in the middle of the day, go for a run outside and soak up the fresh air and vitamin D.

If you see someone moving into the neighborhood, pause your work and go help them unload the heavy furniture. It’s these types of things that will dramatically increase your quality of life and likely your productivity as well.

Work from home

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Structure Is Key

Frank Buck, Founder of Frank Buck Consulting

The most common mistake I see when working from home is failing to provide ourselves structure.

For almost 30 years, I went to work somewhere else. For the last 10, my home and office have been one and the same.

When we go to work outside our homes, the environment provides a certain amount of structure. We have to get up at a certain time in order to leave the house in time to arrive at work by the required time.

We stop for lunch at a prescribed time to eat with the same co-workers with whom we eat each day. We go home at a prescribed time. Coworkers or the boss may stop by to check on the progress we’re making on a project.

When we work from home, we’ve got to supply that same structure for ourselves.

It starts with planning tomorrow today and knowing exactly where our attention will be when we enter our home office. We’ve got to define what a successful day looks like and when that day will end.

Those that work outside the home must deal with interruptions from others. When we work from home, the challenge is to avoid interrupting ourselves.

How To Be More Organized At Work

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Bring Back Your ‘Commute’

Jessica Bedenbaugh, Certified Executive Life Coach

One of the biggest struggles with working from home can be the blurred line between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’.

For many remote employees, there isn’t a clear-cut routine of shutting down the workday and beginning leisure time.

This can lead to burnout from feeling like you are always working – and sometimes this leaks into the dangerous territory of never signing off. If your computer is open on your dining room table, you’re more likely to feel ‘the pull’.

There are a few ways to help establish the line between ‘work’ and ‘home’. The first is to establish a shut-down routine.

For some, this may be the 10 minutes before they clock out when they make a list for the next day, ensure that there are no looming emails left hanging, or simply tidying up the workspace.

The second is to reinstate a commute. I know that there is no ‘real’ commute when working from home, but there are benefits to giving yourself those moments of limbo between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’.

A working-from-home ‘commute’ could look like taking a walk around the block with your dog, going upstairs to change your clothes, or sitting on the porch and calling a family member as you did previously during your drive to work.

Allowing those moments to buffer the components of our day allows us to be more present once we’ve transitioned.

Planning desk

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Avoid Prolonged Static Posture

Ayoola Kaffo, Occupational Health Specialist and Founder of The Success Feed

Working from home can work for you – if you let your home work for you.

Having a dedicated workspace at home is great and definitely advisable. However, you can get more out of your experience if you avoid using the same workspace all the time. Using other areas of your home at certain times of the working day can help to create variety and boost productivity.

For example, for some of my Zoom meetings, I find it more effective sitting at the dining table. For more focused work, especially in the late afternoon, I use my daughter’s bedroom. Sometimes, I’ll go over a report in the utility room or the garden. Every area and space in the home can serve as a working spot for idea creation.

Another mistake to avoid when working from home is not having a morning routine. It can be tempting to jump out of bed and dash to the desk in your pyjamas five minutes before you’re due to start your day. Avoid this at all costs, as it destroys the structure of the day ahead. Create a morning routine that serves you – and stick to it.

It’s also important to avoid prolonged static posture. Take regular postural breaks. For example, stand up and stretch / move as often as you can.

Ensure that you adopt and maintain proper posture. Avoid using your standard household equipment for continuous regular computer-based work. It’s not ergonomically designed for such activities and is likely to result in postural problems in the long term.

Use an adjustable ergonomic chair, an appropriately-sized desk, and ensure that your workstation is correctly set-up.

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