Sir Cary Cooper: The seven rules of home working

by | Mar 18, 2020 | Faculty of Humanities | 17 comments

Sir Cary Cooper, 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health, shares his top tips for working from home.

One: Plan your day
If you are not used to working from home you need to have a clear schedule for the day ahead. When you go to work in an office or factory the day is very much scheduled for you already, but when you are at home you have to do this yourself. However, make your schedule as flexible as possible. For instance, it might be that due to childcare duties you might have to do some of your work in the evening once the kids are in bed. This is fine, as long as you plan this in advance and tell your family what you are doing.

Two: Set ground rules
Working without interruption is crucial. Set ground rules with your family about where and when you are planning to work. This is an unprecedented crisis, so get the family around the table and talk about the rules. If you have children tell them you are working from home and also tell them why, but also be careful not to unduly scare them. Life is going to change for all of us, so let’s plan ahead.

Three: Find a suitable space
Further to the previous point, finding an appropriate space in which to work in the house is critical. If you are not used to working from home you might have to create a space especially, for instance maybe in a dining room or a child’s bedroom. You need to give this serious thought, and again family consultation is really important. As a family get together and say ‘let’s see if we can organise ourselves effectively’.

Four: Take exercise
When you are going to work in an office you might walk to the train station or bus stop, both in the morning and evening. But when you are at home this discipline disappears which is why you must make time in your day for exercise, especially at lunchtime. It comes back to scheduling. Get out of the house, go for a walk, get some fresh air. If your children are still at school think about walking to school to pick them up. Personally I love going for a walk early in the morning, it makes you much more alert for the day ahead.

Five: Maintain social contacts
Social media can come into its own during this crisis and we can use it in a very constructive way. Whether it’s using facetime, skype or whatsapp, ensure face to face contact continues with colleagues, family and friends. One of the reasons that many people do not apply for home working is the fear that it will be a lonely process, but it needn’t be. Eyeball to eyeball remains really important. We have the technology available to us, let’s use it.

Six: Email not always the answer
The temptation when working from home is to only communicate by email rather than picking up the phone or having a video call with a colleague. The worry is that you start using email when actually it would be far better – and wiser – to have a conversation with someone, especially if it concerns a sensitive subject. Rather than dealing with a problematic email simply by replying to that email, say to them ‘can we talk about this’ and speak to them face to face over video.

Seven: Get dressed
Smart casual is fine, pyjamas definitely not. Think about all those video calls you are going to start having. Look smart but wear something that you feel comfortable in. There is no need to go over the top.


  1. Amaya Munoz

    8th rule of homeworking: Add some background music to disconnect of the “home world” and concentrate on your task. Cd’s are better than online tracks because it requires a pause at around 45-60 mins, which is a good prompt to get up and get your body moving.

    9th rule: transition from home to work, which is usually a ride on the car, a walk, or a public transport journey, now is down to zero. You could make a transition to help with the switching “on” of the brain working mode: go for a walk before sitting down at the desk, or press the play button on your cd player.

  2. Anna Line

    Thank you for these tips and Hi to everyone. I live on my own and I am finding the days rather long we do have a WhatsApp group which helps but I just miss the buzz in the office, lets hope we can all get back to normal life as soon as possible and stay safe everyone

  3. Amaya Munoz

    Additional advice may be necessary on the scenarios of self-isolating or lockdown.
    Lockdown in countries like Spain means people can only leave their homes to buy food. Except for supermarkets, all other shops and establishments are closed. Many people have also had to stop working altogether for a period of time. That means that days may seem longer to bear without being busy with work activities.
    Additionally humans need social contact, our way of punishment is to reduce such human activities through prisons. Self-isolating and lock down will therefore feel like imprisonment. Social contact through any device as Sir Cary Cooper indicates, will be even more important in self-isolation or lock down scenarios, when going for a walk (a chance of seeing other human beings around us) is not a possibility.

    • Gemma Dale

      Hi Amaya – we are keeping the situation under close observation as you would expect – and will adapt our advice as needed. I agree about the social contact. Are you on Yammer? There are lots of good conversations going on there now. A number of our wellbeing champions have started online Zoom lunch meetings where people link up socially just to chat. Some are also organising virtual coffees with colleagues. We will also continue to run wellbeing online activity whatever happens in the weeks to come.

      • Amaya

        Thanks a lot for the information Gemma, I’ll share it with the team at the Dalton Cumbrian Facility.
        Virtual coffees with colleagues is a very good idea.
        I suggested to do a game at an specific time every day, when everyone could have a go at guessing a soundtrack (maybe via WhatsApp?), and give some small prizes (the type of things one takes to charity raffles)

  4. Lynne Barlow-Cheetham

    Good tips. However…

    Full-time staff who are single parents of primary-age children are going to find this tough.

    How do we balance supervising our children’s at-home learning while trying to fulfil the responsibilities of our work, without stacking them end-to-end and putting in 13-hours straight? Not to mention feeling guilty for working while your child is sitting alone somewhere else in the house when they want company, or for reduced productivity and speed of response because your concentration is distracted by the guilt.

    Difficult times

    • Gemma Dale

      Hi Lynne,
      I understand completely being in the same position. I am going to start a chat in Yammer for parents so we can support each other. On a practical level there are lots of parents sharing resources on social media already and we can help each other there too. PE with Joe Wicks on Monday morning on YouTube will be a must! But as a University we recognise that we can only ask our people to do what they can in these difficult times. We know that ‘normal’ productivity just isn’t possible right now. We must also all focus on our own mental health where we can.

    • Pat Gorham

      Hi Lynne The university has a new coronavirus “special paid Leave Policy of 14 days leave for parents who now have to look after children normally otherwise in school -or nursery- whilst it wont solve all problems hopefully it can ease some pressure
      Best wishes

  5. Neal Chamberlain

    Thanks Cary, very helpful points. A couple of things I have also found to be useful:
    – just giving colleagues a call from time to time, especially with the somewhat enforced isolation we currently have, can be much appreciated
    – if working on a project, putting on an ‘out of office’ to let others know we are focused on something for a while, can be helpful to others and can take some pressure off the individual who may feel a need to respond to emails as they come in.

  6. Victoria

    Great tips, I’ll share them with the team

  7. Fidel Peacock

    I think the relative suddenness some/many of us had to switch to working from home, especially for those who have not worked from home before, on top of everything else that is happening, it is important not to be too hard on ourselves or our colleagues. I imagine that there will be varied lengths in time needed to fully transition and that in some cases, we might never reach the same level of productivity, and that level of assurance should be provided after all reasonable accommodations have been made.

    • Sandra Taylor

      Extra challenging for those of us who are largely laboratory based 🙂

    • Gemma Dale

      Hi Fidel,
      under normal circumstances evidence suggests people who work from home are very productive – but these are far from normal times. We know that staff will not necessarily be able to maintain a normal level of productivity, especially with the school closures now taking place. We recognise that colleagues will do what they can – and they will be paid as normal.

      • Fidel Peacock

        I’ve heard first hand of so many of our colleagues who have had their annual leave disrupted or cancelled. Although there are bigger concerns right now and the foreseeable future, I do hope that when the right time comes, when we put our people first, that we will be more flexible and compassionate around the use and carry over of annual leave. As much assurances or at least the commitment to providing assurances sooner rather than later would also help.

  8. Kate

    Love these tips thank you so much, makes you feel supported when at home definitely!

    • Gemma Dale

      Kate – there are also wellbeing activities taking place online for further support – currently detailed on StaffNet.

      • kate

        thank you Gemma, now i am settled working at home I will take full advantage – thank you for your continued support to us champions!


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