Written by Holly Thomas-Wrightson on Tuesday April 7, 2020
For many people, working from home may be familiar, if not indeed their normal way of working. However, the UK government’s intervention to reduce non-essential travel and maintain social distancing to help curb the effects of the global spread of COVID-19 has led to many being required to work from home for an extended period, perhaps even for the first time. For some this may be a source of additional stress in such uncertain and unpredictable times; others may find it to an exciting new thing to try, whilst others still may take to it and be completely unphased by the change.
But whether you’re a seasoned homeworker or this is your first foray into bringing your work home with you, the length of the time required to work at home to slow the spread of the virus is unprecedented. To help smooth the transition, below are some helpful tips for how to stay productive, motivated and ensure you are making the most of this way of working.
Without the stress of fighting the rush hour traffic, you may find yourself with more time available during the day. Depending on business requirements, it may be worth having a realistic conversation with your line manager about rearranging your hours, whether this means starting/finishing earlier or later, or taking a longer lunch break to allow for your day’s exercise or buying essentials. Without the pressure to avoid traffic or specific obligations like school pickup, you may find that you are able to work at a time that which would usually be impossible, but which currently suits you and the business better.
Whether your workday changes or not, it’s important to maintain a healthy work/life divide and avoid ‘work creep’. While spending a few extra minutes finishing a piece of work is not that unusual, be careful not to allow work time to creep in and stretch far beyond your contractual hours. Thinking like ‘I’ll just catch up on my emails while I’m eating my breakfast…’ or ‘if I keep working now, it’ll save me doing it tomorrow…’ leads quickly to a loss of important free time, without which you will quickly burn out and productivity will drop exponentially.
In a similar vein, it’s easy to surrender to the common fallacy that because you’re working at home, and saving the effort of going to the office, that the exchange is to be glued to your screen. In real terms, this actually translates to physical discomfort, mental fatigue and a degradation in the quality of your work.
To stave this off, make sure to get some fresh air (even if only by opening a window), stretch out your limbs, take toilet breaks and stay hydrated. Set alarms throughout the day if it’s hard to pull yourself away, or consider starting the day with an artificial ‘commute’ i.e. walking around your garden or house for a few minutes before ‘arriving’ at or after ‘leaving’ work. If there are children in the house it also helps to establish a routine of regular break times when they can expect to see you where you’re available for one-on-one time.
Remember that your eyes need to relax too: try to resist the urge to exchange one screen for another during these breaks. When looking at a screen, we blink a lot less frequently (sometimes as little as a third). Try and make a conscious effort to blink more often and give your eyes a rest by following the 20-20-20 rule: look at something about 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Don’t forget to adjust screen brightness and contrast to adapt to your new workspace’s lighting.
Doing what you can to maintain the boundaries between workspace and living space can help get the most out of each. If space allows, use a spare room or study during working hours, or somewhere that you can walk away from once you have finished for the day. If this is not possible, try simply choosing somewhere secure that you can safely put your laptop out of sight (and more importantly, out of mind) as a way of mentally disengaging – it will help resist the urge to check one more email.
It may seem exciting the first time you stay in pyjamas or dressing gown all day while working. But once that novelty wears off, you’ll likely find in its place a feeling of lethargy and a drop in concentration, which in turn will lead to the day dragging. Maintaining the normal routine of getting dressed can help shift your mind into work mode, whether into business wear or more casual clothes (though it may be a good idea to dress smart if have any important video meetings booked). Plus, it’s far more satisfying getting back into your pyjamas at the end of the workday, and can help delineate the space between periods of work and relaxation.
Communication is a very powerful tool. Just because we need to physically isolate ourselves to manage the risk of coronavirus, it does not mean we have to mentally isolate ourselves too. We have more ways than ever to connect through voice and real time video, and in times like this it’s important to use these tools to fend off feelings of loneliness. Consider calling your colleagues with queries or discussion points. Suggest holding daily video team catch ups via software like Zoom, and try not to worry about these conversations going off topic, as it’s crucial for everyone to still feel like part of the team and maintain those key interactions. Reach out to anyone who seems to be struggling. This goes for outside of work as well. Call friends via Skype or FaceTime, or apps like Discord which allow audio call and type messages for bigger groups.
Working from home comes with its own benefits and challenges, but by being sensible, working smart and keeping open lines of communication, you can help make the experience far more pleasant and productive even in these unprecedented
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