Working from home isn’t always as easy as it sounds - writes Martin Donaldson, BCS Apprenticeship End Point Assessor - yet we’re being increasingly asked to move our workspace from the office to our homes. Many of us don’t have a separate office room at home so your office may now be the sofa, the bedroom or on that big wooden thing others call a dining room table.

There are many reasons for why you’re working from home now and are reading this article:

  1. Your job doesn’t need to be office based.
  2. Your employer is trying to save money (some must save a fortune in coffee!).
  3. There’s a huge pandemic and the Prime Minister strongly advises it, where possible.

Not everyone is able to work from home but for those who can, this may be the first time you’ve found yourself in this position and you might be wondering how you’ll go about it and stay productive. There are some major benefits to working from home, including taking breaks when you want, being around for the kids, or avoiding that counter-productive office chat. However, it’s not always easy and working from home requires concentration and self-discipline.

How to manage working from home - top tips

As an organisation which employs several home-workers, we have spoken to some of the assessor team to find out their top tips for working from home. Some may seem bizarre and others might be common sense, but these tips are aimed at helping you stay productive:

1. Create a dedicated space

OK, it’s not always going to be possible and you might not have a separate room available, but if you do then create a space and keep it as yours. Try to stick to standard health and safety requirements of an office environment (you are at work still), such as having an adjustable chair and enough space on your desk. Then, keep this space for you and for working. If you don’t have a separate room, then section off part of the dining room table or shut yourself in the bedroom. Tell others in your house you are working and that you’ll be ‘home’ for lunch or at 5pm, etc. If necessary, put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door. The important thing is that your workspace is appropriate for you - everyone is different!

2. Write a ‘to-do’ list

It’s probably a good idea to be using a calendar if you aren’t already and if not, there are several great tools out there. However, to help you focus and be more efficient with your time you might find that writing a physical ‘to-do’ list on old-fashioned paper will allow you to see exactly what’s needed and crossing it off throughout the day lets you have the satisfaction of seeing how much progress you are making. Then, review what you’ve done at the end of the day.

3. Don’t spend ALL day in your pyjamas

It may well be that you or members of the family aren’t leaving the house. You might not need to leave and you haven’t got to turn your webcam on, so why bother getting dressed? It might be a novelty for a few days but don’t neglect yourself. You’re still working and the old saying of ‘feel smart, work smart’ really applies. You might not need to worry about your suit and tie but showering and getting dressed at the same time (ish) as you would normally will set you up for the day.

4. Take regular breaks

It’s tempting to work through your lunch and breaks. Why bother? The kitchen is just downstairs, you could make a coffee and drink it at your desk and yesterday’s leftover chilli con carne can be in the microwave while you send an email. It’s still important to take breaks and make sure you set aside time in your calendar, certainly for lunch. Get exercise too (where you can) - go for a walk round the block with the dog, water the garden, go to a different room in the house or go play with the kids (or escape from them!).

5. Keep in touch with colleagues

Working from home can be very lonely and some people do struggle with the isolation. Keep in touch with your colleagues as they might be feeling the same if it’s their first time working from home too. Skype, Teams or other workplace tools are good if the company is using them. You might want to discuss setting up a WhatsApp group or just send text messages. Make sure your colleagues have your mobile number as ten minutes on the phone chatting about what you’re up to could motivate you for the rest of the day. Remember you aren’t around that office chatter which could be taking up more of your time if you were in the office. Just remember to keep an eye on that checklist from point number two.

6. Put your mobile phone out of reach

Your phone gets a notification and you need to check it - an amazing offer from a shop you haven’t been to in months. You swipe away and decide to scroll through some other emails. Then you check the news, then Facebook... before you know it, you’ve spent ten minutes watching cat videos or playing that next level of Bubble Blast. If you don’t need it for work reasons, put your phone on silent and out of the way, just where you can’t reach it. If you were in the office, would you spend a lot of time on your phone? You won’t have the CEO randomly walking in at home to make you put it away, so adopt a bit of self-discipline and allow yourself a five-minute break when you’ve completed a task.

7. Ignore your housework!

If you were at the office, would you come home to clean the bathroom? Sure, there are some things you could do while waiting for the kettle to boil, such as loading the breakfast bowls into the dishwasher or putting a few glasses away, but don’t suddenly decide to clean the oven just because you’re at home. You can be productive though; set the washing off in the morning and peg it out on the line on your lunch break (or while you wait for that chilli con carne to warm up).

8. Good luck with the kids

It’s probably the hardest thing to do if you’ve got kids at home and especially at work. If you need to do your bit (and your employer is flexible) then take the time to play or read with them, working in the evening instead. It’s difficult to balance both but if you’ve got somebody else at home with you just remind the kids that while you’re working, they need to ask Daddy to do Play-Doh or to ask Mummy to read the next book to them. That’s where the sign on the door might be useful. If you’ve got important calls, perhaps save the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for then.

9. Be safe from viruses

Not that one (well actually, do stay safe from that one) - we mean be safe online and follow the same security measures you follow at work. Risk assessments are usually created by employers for home-working and you are probably using a work machine which is encrypted, password protected and supported by security and anti-virus software. However, you might be having to use a personal machine and, in this case, check with your employer how you can stay safe, especially if you are handling sensitive documents or customer data.

On this (our in-house cyber security expert had more to say), it is important to be careful with sensitive documents - don’t leave them lying around, especially if you are working in a public place. Be aware that there are always phishing and scam emails being sent, with several specific coronavirus scams doing the rounds.

For more information on staying safe, visit

10. When work finishes, finish work

How often do you stay in the office working when everyone goes home? If you normally finish work at 5, finish work at 5. Shut the laptop down, switch it off and head downstairs. Be aware that once you have acclimatised to home working, you may find yourself actually doing more than you would if you were in the office - there can be fewer distractions (particularly if there is nobody else in the house) and you are likely to be more comfortable.

Benefits over challenges

The benefits of homeworking certainly do outweigh the challenges, but only once you’re used to it. The early temptations to get on with jobs, watch an episode of something on TV or play with the cat are there for all of us, but adopting a bit of self-discipline and you’ll probably be wondering why you didn’t do it sooner. It’s a completely different environment to being ‘at the office’ but start by following these tips and you’ll soon be more productive, healthier and happier too (once the kids are back at school!).