Working from home? Some helpful tips

It’s been a worrying few weeks for everyone, as we all struggle to absorb the realities of the spreading Coronavirus outbreak. Our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19. 

Our grateful thanks go to key-workers, not only those who are working on the front-line but also those keeping services running, from food and fuel to utilities and waste.

Earlier this week, the government announced a national lock-down, with many people advised to work from home. 
This might sound relatively simple but some may find it difficult to begin with, as they struggle to settle down to working within the space they usually use to relax. 

I’ve been working from home for over nearly 20 years (& have a long-term health condition, so I'm used to spending long periods of time stuck at home.) I offer a few tips I’ve learnt over the years that might help you adjust to your new routine. 

Working in your home space

Location - Set a defined area for your work station. If possible, try to keep your work area separate from the rest of your home, to enable a working frame of mind. Some people even change into different clothes during working hours.

Technology - Do you have the necessary equipment to be able to work from home? Carry out a display screen assessment for your new work station.. Speak with your employer about your requirements.

Posture - Be aware of your working position. Take regular breaks & think about your posture. Your work space outside of the home might be ergonomically arranged but slumped on the sofa is asking for neck or back strain. Make sure you move about periodically and stretch any cramped muscles. 

Need flexibility due to caring for children or a vulnerable person? - If you are caring for a vulnerable person or have children at home, discuss this with your line manager to come to an arrangement. Childcare - If you’re both at home, share childcare duties so you can each get some work done. With older children, you could establish a routine of them studying whilst you work?

If you have sole care, it is even more important that you speak with your employer to avoid additional stress.

Your working ‘day’

Set a working time and do your best to stick to it. This doesn’t just mean ‘start work at 9am’ but also, ‘stop work at 4pm’. Distinguishing between working hours and free time can help you to switch off once your working day is over, particularly when working in your home space. 
Keeping a good life / work balance is important for everyone’s mental health but especially for the duration of the lock-down. 

Be flexible. Sometimes things don't go as planned. Don't let it stop you but try again the following day.

Think positively. Count your achievements rather than your failures. Note mistakes and learn from them but don't take them to heart. 

To help avoid isolation, keep in regular contact with your manager, team and other colleagues and use the phone rather than emails. You could arrange a regular ‘virtual tea break’...

Identify your distractions and develop strategies to work around them

We all have distractions, especially when you are used to relaxing at home rather than working at home. Identify your distractions then think of ways to remove or minimise their hold during working hours as with the examples below.  

Location - my main distraction is my garden and its wildlife. Therefore, my main workstation is located out of direct eye line of a window! 

Noise - if if the house is noisy, then try headphones to give yourself or others some quiet space. Being a night owl, I often work in the evenings when my husband likes to relax watching DVDs; he kindly wears headphones when watching a movie, so I can concentrate.

Non-work calls - if you need your phone on for work. Let friends & family know your working hours so, unless the call is urgent, you can arrange to chat when you aren’t working.

Switch off electronic distractions – Unless your work involves interaction with social media, save logging in for break time or the evening... It might be tempting to have social media on in the background but remember you aren’t in your usual work space; it’s even easier to be distracted at home..! 
If the internet is your lifeline, schedule in time for this during your day, don’t let it rule your time at work.

Living alone and working from home.

DO stick to healthy work hours. If you are used to spending a lot of time with friends, staying in all the time can be difficult. Set specific work hours. Let family & friends know your planned scheduled hours and stay in touch during your free time, by phone, social media or video.
DON’T be afraid to reach out – there are volunteer groups coming together all over the country. These community services are not just for the elderly and vulnerable. Also recognised is the importance of mental health whilst the lock-down restrictions are in place.

When you’re both working from home at close quarters

Communication – talk about things. Take the time to really listen to each other & try to understand the other’s point of view. Sometimes easier said than done but try not to sweat the small stuff...if you can't let it go, talk about it together. It’s easy to sweep issues under the carpet rather than addressing them, but doing so can only trip you up later. 

Space - Give each other space. If a discussion is getting heated, could you cool off for a few minutes rather than shouting? No matter how much you love each other, the stress of living and working so close can put strain on the best of relationships, not least when we're effectively in an extended Christmas with the family situation.
If you find yourselves disagreeing more often, take a little time out in another room. Suppress if you can the need to win or be right.

If you find anger or stress is affecting your relationship, do seek help.

Patience - Give yourself and others time to adjust. It can take a while to settle into a new routine. It does get easier!

Find time for fun - don't underestimate the benefits of shared laughter. Find something everyone in the house can join in with and make time for a little fun!

Finding it hard to concentrate?

It’s normal to have some difficulty in adjusting to a new routine and the lock-down due to the Coronavirus outbreak is outside everyone’s norm. 
Do your best to concentrate on work within your set hours. Sometimes we can forget our worries for a while when concentrating on work. 
If your concerns about the virus are affecting your work, do speak with someone, whether a close friend or your line manager. There are also some great mental health resources available online from the Mind website.

To summarise
  • Discipline – Define your space and working hours and stick with it; you will adjust to the new routine.
  • Focus – Choose strategies to deal with distractions
  • Patience – give yourself & others in the household time to adjust
  • Fun - Make time for shared laughter. It really is good for you!
  • Worried or scared? – Don't bottle it up. Talk to colleagues, your line manager or someone close to you. 
Remember, we’re all experiencing major changes to the way we live. By working together we will get through to better times.