Our tips for remaining productive, healthy and sane during the coronavirus pandemic
The idea of rolling out of bed and going to work (at home) in your pyjamas may sound idyllic, but when you’re invited to an impromptu video conference, you may decide it’s time for a rethink…
System Concepts has long recognised the business and employee rewards that flexible working, including remote/home working, offers. But being asked to work from home on a regular basis during the coronavirus pandemic may be a new and daunting idea for some. To help you, we’ve collated some tips to help you work efficiently, effectively and without feeling cut off from the world.
Remaining focused and productive
Some people thrive on silence and a lack of disruptions to remain focused, while others are used to the ‘buzz’ and pressures of a busy office to stay motivated and productive. If you fall into the latter camp, you may find it difficult to concentrate when left to your own devices at home. To help, try to replicate the office environment as much as possible.
Get dressed each morning. You don’t have to wear your normal work attire, but you do need to change your mindset from relaxed pyjamas to alert business time.
Stick to your usual working hours, sleep times and break times to provide structure to your day. Maintain a structured meal plan; with a proper breakfast, lunch, and dinner away from where you’ve been working.
Ideally, you should have a dedicated office space with a door that can be closed to those you live with. If a designated office space is not possible, then try working in different parts of your home to break up the day and keep your mind focused.
Use natural daylight, especially after lunch, to keep you alert and work-orientated when you’re feeling tired. Though don’t fall into the trap of working outside on lovely sunny days – it’s hard to read the screen and you’ll quickly find yourself napping or whiling away the day without realising.
Set yourself a ‘to-do’ list at the beginning of each day/week, to keep you motivated, with achievable deadlines to stop you procrastinating or getting side-tracked.
Although it’s important to stay connected, leave yourself time between calls and virtual meetings, and turn off instant messengers to focus on your to-do list.
Just as you do when you leave the office (hopefully), switch off your work emails and calls at a set time so that your personal time remains as such.
Similarly, set boundaries with the people you live with (including your children) and put your phone on airplane mode to avoid getting distracted, particularly if you have a tight deadline or lots to do.
Use sound-blocking earplugs, headphones or earmuffs to distance yourself from the familiar world around you and aid concentration.
In contrast with the above, working from home gives you flexibility and sometimes it might be worth using this to your advantage; by changing your hours to suit personal requirements or to dial into overseas meetings.
Adopting an ergonomic posture
In line with Government guidance, many people continue to work from home. Many people are unable to achieve an ideal working set-up, as they lack the workstation equipment they are used to.
So here are some simple steps you can take to help optimise your posture and improve your comfort when working at home.
Work at a desk or table with adequate knee/foot clearance so that you can sit/stand close to your laptop.
Use a separate keyboard and mouse with your laptop.
Position the keyboard and mouse directly in front of you within easy reach.
Position your laptop so that the top of the screen is level with your eye height. If you don’t have a laptop riser, use a box file or some books to raise your laptop. Or plug in a separate monitor if you have one.
If sitting, use an adjustable chair. Use a rolled-up hand towel for extra lower back support, if needed. If your chair is too low, sit on a cushion to raise your seat height.
Maintain a good posture; if sitting, try to ensure that the small of your back is supported, your shoulders are relaxed (not slumped, not elevated), and that there is no unwelcome pressure on the back of your knees. If standing (e.g. at your kitchen worktop), keep your legs, torso, neck and head approximately in line and vertical – don’t slouch, lean or twist to the side.
Don’t sit or stand for too long – change your posture every few minutes and take regular micro-breaks away from your laptop.
Preventing isolation and promoting positive mental health
Being at home for prolonged periods with the same members of your household (partner, children, housemates or pet gerbil) for company and having no one (else) to talk to, for trivial matters, impromptu conversations and advice, can quickly impact your mental health if you’re not careful. Thankfully, digital services are available for efficient business and social communication and interactions.
As it’s not possible to see your colleagues face to face, make use of instant messaging options (e.g. Teams and Slack). Schedule regular team catch-ups to reduce the mutual feelings of isolation and give each other the opportunity to ask the “silly little questions” that seem too trivial to email or call someone about.
Similarly, use video conferencing tools (such as Zoom, AnyMeeting or WebEx) to help the whole company or team feel connected, or for important meetings with clients.
Avoid guilt-tripping yourself or mindlessly working longer working hours – everyone needs a break during these uncertain times. If you feel you need to do more and you’re healthy enough to do so, then consider helping any key workers you know by cooking for them or delivering groceries to them – both of which can be quite therapeutic.
At the end of the working day, you may wish to switch off from it all using social networking apps, such as Houseparty or Discord, to connect with groups of friends to chat, play games and unwind together.
If Government social distancing rules allow it, try to get outside for a short walk, cycle or jog over your lunch break or before or after work. Otherwise, make use of your balcony, garden or even just open your windows for some fresh air and a slight change of scenery.
Eat healthily – avoid relying on microwave meals and delivery orders. If cooking isn’t your forte, perhaps enrol in an online cooking class or watch some cooking tutorials.
Use headspace or mindfulness apps, white noise machines, or audiobooks to help you sleep or just take your mind off things. Avoid spending the entire day using technology – perhaps now’s the time to finally dedicate yourself to that new hobby you’ve put on hold for too long – learn to sew, do basic DIY or play the guitar, or even just sort out and back-up all those thousands of photos that are maxing out your phone storage capacity.
If you’re a leader or a line manager, taking time to look after yourself, means you’re better equipped to support others.
Looking after your colleagues
While it’s important for people to look after their own wellbeing, employers can also support employees during this uncertain time. Employers should consider ways in which they can maintain communication and offer support, for example:
Encouraging employees to have downtime by logging on and off at their usual times and avoiding sending emails outside of normal working hours. On the flip side, employees who have additional responsibilities during this time, such as caring for dependents and home schooling, may benefit from a more fluid way of working.
Holding your usual team or company meetings virtually to stay in touch and provide important updates. Many companies are also holding virtual social catch ups at the end of each week to replace their usual Friday socials.
Making sure employees on furlough remain engaged and included by inviting them to social events and staying in contact with them.
Educating line managers on how to recognise the signs of stress, even when they’re not face to face, such as seeming less engaged with work, not joining calls or meetings, a drop in work quality or missing deadlines, changes in their tone of voice and attitude, increased time off sick that isn’t related to Coronavirus or perhaps reporting an increase in ill health such as headaches or musculoskeletal discomfort such as back or neck pain.
Making sure that employees are made aware of support that is available to them, for example your employee assistance programme or other wellbeing programmes, contact details of mental health first aiders and reputable free resources. Charities, such as Mind have dedicated pages.
Providing employees with information and assurance on plans to keep them safe when lockdown measures are eased.
We hope these tips help you through these uncertain times. System Concepts was already well set up for remote working, so we’ve found it relatively straight-forward to transition to home working and adapt how we provide support to our clients.