Survival Guide: Working from home

As you read these words over 10,000 athletes are stretching their muscles, 30,000 members of the press are checking their cameras and over 8.8 million people are watching their letterboxes in anticipation.

The reason? That the London Olympic Games are coming - nobody wants to be caught unprepared when the eyes of the world turn to the UK's capital.

What's often overlooked, though, is that, even if you're not bothered about the games at all, you may still need to make preparations if you live in London. It doesn't matter if you're an anti-athletic grump or the event's most ardent fan; the sheer scale of the Games means that it won't be business as usual for anyone in London. Most of us are already being told we can - or must - work from home for the duration.

While being able to loaf around the house in your PJs all day and call it work might sound like a dream come true, take it from us that working from home isn't as easy as it sounds. You'll need a tremendous amount of self-discipline, preparation and resilience to make it work - which is where our survival guide comes in...

PREPARATION

Telecommuting sounds like it should be something you can just launch straight into if you've already got a computer at home, but in fact you'll need to prepare a lot of stuff in advance - not least of which is a decent, uncapped Internet connection. Since you're reading this article online you can probably tick this off your checklist straight away, but it may be worth finding out where your nearest library or Internet cafe is, just in case you lose connection one day.

With your connection sorted, it's time to make sure you can link up to the essential files you need to actually do your work. Your company may already have a system in place for this, but if not then Dropbox is a free and lightweight way of storing all your documents in the cloud. Sign up for a free account, login on your office computer and put all your files in the Dropbox directory so that, when you login at home, you can work on them directly.

Cloud storage ensures your files remain accessible no matter where you go, but it's likely you'll need secondary resources too, such as software and email. If you've not got a copy of Microsoft Office handy then Google Documents will suffice as a free alternative. If you need more specialist software, such as Photoshop, then you'll need to discuss that with your manager and ensure you have access when you're working at home.

Most companies already use web-enabled email these days, so find out from your IT department how to get access to this if you don't already have it. Afterwards, make sure you've formatted your email signatures correctly and that you've got a copy of your address book backed up to Dropbox too - you can't rely on these things to be ported over cleanly.

When it comes to staying in touch with the rest of the office then you'll obviously need to keep your mobile phone handy, but videoconferencing is another possibility to consider. Webcams are cheap to get hold of and easy to configure, while free software such as Skype will let you stay in touch with a number of colleagues at once. There are dozens of alternatives to Skype, including MSN Messenger, so before you leave the office it'd be a good idea to discuss with your colleagues which one you want to use. Otherwise, you'll spend ages jumping between different applications.

It’s also worth implementing some kind of remote desktop, or desktop sharing application, so you can share ideas or collaborate directly on documents with colleagues back at the office. Join.me allows you to share your desktop with up to 250 viewers, each of whom can use an Android or iOS mobile device as well as their PC to join the party. Join.me can also be used for Internet voice calling and instant messaging, but as always, make sure that you colleague are all using the same applications as you.

That said, while it's tempting to focus all your efforts into webcams and videoconferencing, don't forget the importance of a standard landline either. It's often far quicker to just pick up the phone than it is to spend ages setting up webcams, emailing or sending instant messages - so make sure you've got the phone numbers you need too.

Make sure you consider your hardware needs too, as back strain and RSI are even less fun when you don't have an HR department to complain to. Getting hold of a full size or ergonomic keyboard or mouse is essential if you're working from a laptop and your office manager will probably let you borrow your work pair for the duration of the Games.

Ensuring the rest of your workspace is comfortable can be a bit trickier, as desks and chairs aren't as portable as computer peripherals, but a good office chair is a worthwhile investment at any time.

PRODUCTIVITY

Even once you've got everything set up, working at home isn't as easy as it may seem - mainly because, with no boss or implicit pressure looming over you, distractions are a constant temptation. You need to be disciplined to avoid falling behind and make sure you stay productive.

Everyone has a different approach to their work of course; some of us need to listen to music, while others will only concentrate in absolute silence. One of the most successful routes we know of is to try and replicate the office schedule at home, which will also maintain healthy boundaries between your work and social life while you're telecommuting. By making sure you start work at the same time, take lunch at the same time and so on you're not only giving structure to your day, you're also giving yourself stability in a too-flexible environment. Mainly though, it'll help keep you away from the horrors of daytime TV.

Make sure you rigorously enforce a difference between 'work time' and 'play time' too. From 09:00 to 17:00 you'll likely want to stay logged into Skype all day, just in case your boss rings to check up on you - but later in the evening? Turn Skype off and switch your phone to silent. Just because others can't find a balance between personal and professional doesn't mean you should have to suffer for it.

That sentiment does go both ways, however. When you're on personal time you can spend as long as you want on Facebook and Twitter, but during work hours you need to know when to shut them down and focus. Again, mimicking an office schedule should help you here, but if you have trouble concentrating then there is software to help. Minimalist applications such as Google Docs can help blot out a lot of web-based distractions if you run them in full-screen mode, or you can always just unplug your network cable if you really need to get things done.

It's not just online distractions you need to be aware of though; if your partner or flatmates are also working from home then they can be just as bad as Facebook. Consider working in a different room if you can, or dividing your time up into productivity periods of between 60 and 90 minutes, after which you'll allow yourself to relax for a bit by chatting. These timelines should give you enough time to get important tasks done, but also won't frazzle you long into the night.

Learning how and when to treat yourself with these sorts of rewards is one of the hardest things about working at home, as it's easy to trend towards leniency or masochism - and neither is good. You need to make sure you're getting enough work done every day, while also warding off the depression and frustration that can come from working alone, in the same room everyday. If you ever feel yourself starting to suffer, see if you can meet with a friend and spend the day working together - you're certainly not the only person working from home, though you may want to check the best way to travel with TFL.