Today's office: how to work from somewhere else

A guide to managing your home office including tips on managing your wellbeing, negotiating rent relief, and tracking expenses that are tax deductible.

Illustration by Emily Johnson.

Working from home

Whether you’re a freelancer, artist, or have a flexible workplace, more and more artists and arts workers are working from home. Right now, during the COVID-19 crisis, many of us have little choice but to change where and how we work. 

Working from home might sound ideal to some, but it also comes with a lot of challenges. How best to make sure you’re balancing your physical and mental health, as well as being able to focus on work in a place you associate with rest, relaxation and retreat?

Create a morning routine

What does your morning routine look like? Are you happy with how you’re starting the day?

Get out of the house and go for a walk or a bike ride, get a takeaway coffee, or listen to a podcast, audio book or the radio. Do something that gets you out of the house for at least 30 minutes, or the equivalent of your commute from home to work. Give yourself a few moments to change gears and transition between two different mental spaces.

Do the same in the afternoon or evening to consolidate and reflect on the day.  

It’s so important to recognise the benefits of this time, and acknowledge that it is not ‘wasted’ time. This may be the most valuable time you’ve committed to today. 

Get dressed for work

How do your work clothes make you feel? What kinds of working and thinking do they make possible? What about your slouching clothes? Or your favourite clothes?

It can be tempting to stay in pyjamas all day, but getting dressed in the morning like you are ready to leave the house can help get your head in the right frame of mind. This also acts as a physical reminder that you are now at work.

Flexibility and structure

Confusing as it may sound, try to keep some routine and structure while allowing yourself flexibility. It can be helpful to think about how you are going to structure your day. 

Identify, try to schedule the difficult or most time consuming work for your most productive time of the day.

Schedule break times to stretch, wiggle, dance etc. If you don't trust yourself to take these breaks, try apps like Smart Break for Windows TimeOut for Mac. 

Be clear to your colleagues/clients about your working hours and try to stick to them. This is not always achievable, but it is good to get into a habit of respecting your time and your body.

Be conscious of your screen time

Working from home can often mean that most of your meetings are held on screen instead of in person. It is important to keep in mind that your eyes need regular breaks from the screen too. If meetings do not always require video, consider a teleconference as an alternative. This way you can sit outside, go for a walk while you talk, or move to a different space for the duration of the meeting. 

Consider your office space

If you are working from home regularly or permanently, consider how best to arrange your physical work environment. Not everyone can set up a room specifically for office use. Here is an apartment- or studio-size-friendly list of things you can do to create a positive and healthy working environment in your home: 

  • Make sure you are seated comfortably and safely. Make sure your eyes are level with the top of your laptop or computer. With a separate keyboard and mouse, you can be more flexible about levelling your screen with your eyes to ensure that your back and neck are straight.
  • Build a DIY standing desk by stacking books, boxes, milk crates etc. on your dining table.
  • Alternate between sitting and standing regularly – don’t sit for more than an hour!
  • Have you got good access to natural light and airflow?
  • What about some beautiful indoor plants to clarify your air?
  • Make a few playlists for different work moods

Home office tax deductibles

As a general rule home office costs are not deductible when you have another place of work. On the rare occasion that you are required to work from home – such as now! - the following expenses can be added as home office tax deductibles:

  • Part of your electricity
  • The proportion of your rent that can be attributable to a dedicated office space
  • Depreciation of computer and related hardware and software
  • Telephone and internet costs
  • Car expenses related to travel from home to your usual place of work (which usually wouldn’t be tax deductible) – there is no guidance on this from the ATO yet but keep records anyway because there is precedence in terms of a related home/work situation   
  • Unreimbursed work related costs (stationery etc.)

For further information visit the following links:

Evictions and rent relief

NAVA is concerned by reports that many artists have received eviction notices at their home, studio or gallery space. 

On 29 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced six-month moratorium on evictions as renters and landlords were pushed to breaking point.

Although the resources below from the Tenants Union are for domestic tenants, many of them will also help artists in negotiating terms for their studios or ARIs. 

When negotiating rent relief or changes to your lease, you should ask for what you can realistically afford. That might be a reduction in rent, or it may be no rent. That's up to you and your collective. NAVA recommends being open to negotiating, which may be a few back and forths between you and the owners before an agreement is made. They may not be able to agree to your first request, but that doesn't mean you should give up. 

We also encourage artists to reach out to the arts and cultural team at your local council. Most local governments are very concerned about the impact to local artists and arts initiatives in their areas and many of them are working with the counsellors on emergency packages to assist. It is likely that they can help in some way.

The Australia Council will be announcing the detail of a few support initiatives including $5m to provide immediate relief to Australian artists, arts workers and arts organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Details on these new programs, including eligibility and opening dates for applications will be released in April 2020. 

Help is near

At this difficult time, please know that support is near:

  • Call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or text the helpline on 0477 13 11 14.
  • Beyond Blue has a comprehensive list of national help lines and websites.