As a beneficiary of a remote working policy I was better prepared than most for the recent instruction to stay home.
For over a year now I’ve lived in reasonable proximity to family, without having to commute and with more open space and mountains than I could explore in a lifetime.
My setup is certainly not right for everyone, but it has worked for me.
But things have changed.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to continue working during the pandemic have in many cases needed to adapt quickly to the realities of working from home, with no schools, parents or friends to support us.
Remote working has thus been thrust upon many who may struggle, now that the usual benefits mentioned above are no longer relevant. Now that public transport may be considered too risky, family are keeping their distance and many parks are closed.
Add to this the difficulties faced by people at higher risk of complications due to coronavirus, and we have a situation that may test the mental health of those working at home, balancing health, life and being productive.
Whether worrying about your Amazon delivery driver wearing gloves, or trying to remember if you washed your hands after touching the gate to enter your building, there’s already plenty to be fearful of right now.
With that in mind we thought we would offer some positive tips for staff working from home at this time:
Schedule regular breaks.
Suddenly the noisy collaborative atmosphere of the office is gone and you are left to your own devices. It is easy to become inefficient with time, get lost in difficult tasks, or focus solely on the time sensitive jobs while neglecting longer term projects. This may be a good thing at times, but it’s also satisfying to reserve the energy to attack and complete a checklist over the course of the day.
Tools like the Pomodoro Technique recommend splitting time up into manageable chunks which allow us to work with natural cycles of concentration and in order to understand a task, complete it and refresh before moving on to the next.
Get the foundations right.
You may consider this remote working phase only temporary and therefore neglect to identify the right equipment your team needs to carry out tasks properly from home.
Make sure you have a decent desk or table to work from, if possible with plenty of natural light and space to comfortably sit for prolonged periods.
In my first year of remote working I went through 3 dining chairs of different sizes and developed nagging pains in my back. After too long I ordered a proper office chair and desk, and difference is noticeable, and I am able to sit properly for longer periods and I realise now how much I was allowing my back to suffer unduly!
Clear your workstation.
Keeping your desk as empty as possible is great for your concentration, and allows temporary remote workers to transform the office back into a home at the end of the day. Seeing that laptop open, with dirty coffee cups and stacks of papers in your living space is going to blur the edges between work and life and cause stress to you and your cohabitants as a result.
Think of being a minimalist, and working with the minimum of clutter that you possibly can.
Keep communication channels open.
Ensure that you are able to contact team members just as you would in the office setting. It’s important that colleagues can ‘raise their hand’ if needed, and don’t feel cut off from the rest of the team.
Most workplaces are using Slack, Skype or Teams but now that whole companies find themselves atomized across cities, countries or even continents it becomes more important than ever for staff at all levels to embrace these tools and schedule face-to-face meetings with as few connectivity issues as possible.
Schedule a social call with colleagues to get the water-cooler fix.
Keep a slack channel open for miscellaneous chat, or schedule a regular Skype call for colleagues to catch up and review non-work-related issues. It’s a great time to take an informal temperature-check and make sure no one appears to be suffering in silence.
Don’t put pressure on the call, and allow it to happen even if your whole team cannot make it – this will keep the dynamics of the calls fresh and allow different members of staff to interact who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity.
Stick to agreed working hours if you can.
If you, and your family, enjoy the sound of emails and meeting requests drawing your attention back to the office, then this might not apply to you.
Without a commute, you suddenly have extra time to devote to your projects and it becomes easier to add a couple of hours extra to your day here and there. A nice advantage of remote working!
However, the sound of incoming mail has the potential to keep your mind in work-mode when you should be taking some time for yourself. Shut down at an agreed time and stick to it.
I’m always trying to think of creative solutions, and I find I need a space where I can map out these thoughts visually, so in order to throw ideas around in my empty room I use one wall in my office, painted with black chalkboard paint, for listing ideas, intentions and notes for the week.
Music can give an excellent boost during the day if stress levels are peaking, and podcasts are great way to get fresh perspectives on your specialisation from others in the industry.
If something isn’t working though, speak up. See what works for you and ensure you create an atmosphere in which you can comfortably sit out the next few weeks or months until normality resumes.
Those who are able to work remotely during this troubling time have an opportunity to establish what it was that we really enjoyed about our workplaces, and our career in general.
As is frequently the case, ‘you don’t know what you got, till it’s gone’. So let’s reflect on what aspects of our office-lives we miss, and what we would change.
Armed with these experiments and perspectives, it may be possible to approach the ‘new normal’ with a better understanding of how we want our offices to run, leading to a more inclusive, productive, happy workplace once we can get together under the same roof again.