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How to Prepare for Working From Home as a Research Scientist 

Posted in: Organization and Productivity
Computer and coffee on bed symbolizing working from home

As scientists, we spend a significant portion of our workdays (and weekends) carrying out experiments in the lab. However, there are many aspects of being a research scientist that are removed from the bench, such as experiment planning, data analysis, literature searches, and writing. This provides plenty of work you can do from home.

As scientists, this means we have the flexibility and freedom to do a portion of our work from home. This is a huge advantage of a scientist’s job. However, that doesn’t mean transitioning from bench to home, temporarily or more long term, comes easy to all of us. How do you continue to work efficiently whilst at home? How do you avoid becoming isolated from your colleagues? There are a number of things you can do to make working from home work for you.

1. Be Prepared

There may be occasions when you have to work from home that you can’t pre-empt. But when you are able to plan in advance, having several things in place will help ease the transition for moving from bench to home.

  • Having software you need on computers at home, for example for data analysis or citation management, will undoubtedly make your life easier. However, licenses sometimes don’t permit that. Therefore, making sure you have the capability to connect to your office computer remotely (most institutes allow this if you have a secure VPN connection) will allow you to use vital pieces of software from home.
  • Make sure you have all external hard drives and USB sticks that you need in order to work remotely. And check that all your data is backed up on these!
  • If you do not have access to a printer at home, take some time to print off any papers or data sets you may need to complete your work from home.
  • Writing up the methods section of your current paper and can’t remember the antibody concentration you used? Keeping your lab book with you whilst working from home can be very handy.

2. Manage Expectations

When working from home, whether short or long-term, it is always a good idea to discuss with your PI their expectations of you whilst working remotely. What mission-critical goals need to be met and in what timeframe? How often will you communicate with your PI?

Departments and centers differ in their working from home policies, and some tend to micromanage more than others. One way to keep in everyone’s good books is to keep a weekly work report outlining what your targets were and what progress was made (PIs often appreciate this as well).

And do not forget to manage your own expectations! Create a to-do list and a schedule and set realistic work hours that you will stick to. Having strict work hours will also help you avoid overworking, which can lead to burning out.

3. Working on Your Workspace

It is tempting, especially if working from home is novel to you, to head straight to the couch with your laptop and attempt to work in front of the TV. But you’re just asking to be distracted if you do this. Creating a designated workspace within your home is a great way to keep productivity up.

  • Choose a space in your home that is separate from any distractions and household traffic.
  • Set up a desk space that is well lit, comfortable and gives you enough space for all essentials (including your favorite coffee mug).
  • If you do not live alone, make sure you are clear with those in your household that this is your workspace. Remind them that you will need space and quiet in order to work.
  • If you are easily distracted by the buzzing of notifications on your phone, switch it off and designate certain times of the day to reply to texts and browse on social media.

4. Morning Routines

My advice here is to keep the exact same morning routine that you typically have when going to the lab. Keep alarms set to the same time and shower and get dressed as if you were heading to work. It is tempting, I know, to stay in your pajamas whilst working from home but this may lead to you working less efficiently.

Is part of your morning routine stopping to get a coffee on your way to the lab? Then incorporate that into your routine when working from home! Leave as if you are going to work, walk and get a coffee and bring it back home, ready to start your workday.

5. Importance of Breaks

When working from home alone, it is easy to work through those coffee and lunch breaks you would normally take with your lab mates. It may feel like you are accomplishing more by skipping those breaks. However, without them, productivity is likely to decrease as your body and mind become fatigued.

Set alarms on your phone to remind yourself to get up, stretch, and maybe take a walk outside or around your home every hour or so. As well, schedule coffee and lunch breaks into your daily routine to ensure you are eating and taking mental breaks away from your work to recharge.

On the other hand, avoid using breaks to prepare elaborate breakfast and lunches. Pre-pack your meals if you are used to carrying them to work or put together a quick meal that is equivalent to the time it takes to grab lunch when at work.

6. Stay Connected

Working from home does not mean that you cannot stay connected with your PI and lab colleagues.

  • Attend weekly lab meetings either in person or connect in remotely via video chat.
  • Organize virtual journal clubs to discuss new papers with your colleagues online via group video chats.
  • Update your colleagues on your progress, as discussing this with your peers may help and refocus your work.
  • Socialize after work! If you and your peers go out for dinner after work once a week, then make sure you continue that to ensure working from home doesn’t become isolating.

And finally, it is important to remember to give yourself a little grace and time to adjust to a potentially new normal. Working from home can be a blessing for some whilst being a challenge for others. However, keeping in mind these tricks and tips discussed here can make that transition from lab to home that bit smoother.

For more tips and tricks access our on-demand webinars on working from home:

Also, make sure to check out our new webinar series ‘The Happy Scientist’ which focuses on how you can be a happier researcher. The first episode, ‘The Art of Going Slow‘ discusses the importance of going slow and how you can achieve this and is available on-demand now.

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