By Derek Green
Whether by choice or otherwise, many of you now face the very real prospect of not just needing to practice social distancing, but being house-bound and – if you’re lucky – in a work isolation situation.
Welcome to my world. If you’ve done it all before then you probably know the drill, but if this is new to you, here’s a few tips gained from almost 20 years experience. This version of working remotely is a little different to our previous experience – especially if you are co-habitating with a partner, parents, or a collection of bored, energetic kids – so keep that in mind.
1) Decide what ‘working from home’ looks like for you
This is the most important consideration. It’s like a teacher walking into a classroom full of students on day one of term one; whatever happens on this day might haunt you forever. Set the tone, be in control, make preparation your friend.
Firstly and most importantly, you have to draw a line somewhere. Find a balance but remember – it’s easy to get caught up in your domestic home life and if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself living in some kind of work-home purgatory, never really leaving either world. If you’re great at multitasking, then this may work for you, but if you aren’t, you might find yourself staring at a glass of wine while you’re cooking dinner and realising you actually achieved very little work-wise.
Set some rules and stick to them. These work for me:
- If you can, find or create a dedicated workspace in a room or area that isn’t used for other purposes. Don’t try working from bed – you will fail. Keep music in the background, not foreground, and remove distractions like TVs.
- The dishes and washing will wait. “Yeah but it’s a sunny day, surely I can just get one load on?” No you can’t, that’s not your job today.
- When a friend or family member calls and asks “are you at home?”, answer by saying “I’m at work”. It’s a gentle deterrent and reminder that you’re doing the same thing they are – you’re both on the clock. It’s amazing how people will hone in on your sudden availability and ask you to collect their shopping or a parcel from the post office.
- Interruptions by household members. It may sound harsh, but ask “If I were at the office, would you call me to ask me this?” You love these guys, but if the answer is “no”, it means they can work it out for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, they will definitely resent you in the short term, but over time the boundaries will become clear and they will self regulate. Just don’t break the spell by initiating interaction – all your good work establishing zones will magically vanish.
2) Self discipline
Once you’ve decided on the parameters around which you will work, test them out for a week or so, tweak them if necessary, then stick to them. Remember, if you’ve got a report or assignment due on Friday at 5pm, you don’t have time to make an exception “just this one time”, and go and watch the newly released episode of The Bachelor. Good self discipline will result in good long-term habits.
3) Dress for work
Yes, you’ll need to ditch the PJs. Sure, you aren’t going to be bumping into clients or mingling with your co-workers, but dress as if you might. You will be surprisingly more focused and efficient, and less likely to be embarrassed if you’re roped into a quick Zoom or Skype session, and haven’t brushed either your hair or teeth.
4) Plan each week and day
Make a list of what needs to be done. Set up reminders on your computer or phone with tasks, actions and deadlines. Keep a piece of paper handy so you can scribble ideas as they come to you; it’s far better to get them out of your head and keep them in your new “office”. This will also help you relax after work and be “with” your household.
5) Take breaks and stretch
Get some sun in the backyard or on your balcony. Work out a ritual around making a pot of tea or an espresso coffee. Schedule time-limited social media breaks of 10-15 minutes. It’s easy to lose a day on Facebook if you get absorbed. It’s also important to make sure your setup is ergonomic as well as appealing. Focus on good posture – subconsciously you need to ensure you love this space, not hate it or dread going back to it. Indoor plants can help set a calming mood.
6) Make yourself a real lunch
At your usual workplace you might have a kettle and a crappy microwave that still has the remnants of someone’s frozen lasagna caked to its sides, but at home, you have a whole kitchen to work with. The key here is to be planned – if you walk into the kitchen at 2 o’clock scratching your head, you’ll end up eating a piece of toast and a biscuit. At the start of each week have a variety of lunch ideas ready to go – eggs, salads, soups, or left-overs are all potentially on the table. Do something relaxing while it’s heating up. Play an instrument for a few minutes, check the news, or make a couple of social phone calls.
5) Down tools at 5
The best way to ensure your routine is solid and your house-mates and families see the consistency in your activities is to work set hours. That might be mornings, afternoons, or the classic 9 to 5. Either way, turn up on time, and leave on time.
6) When to make exceptions
Of course there are times when you will drop everything – just as you would if you were at your usual workplace. You’re not going to whiff a friend or family member in need. And of course there might be the occasional…er, afternoon delight – you never know your luck. My advice? Take what you can get.
7) Adjust to the current climate
These are unusual times. There are a few new wrinkles you’ll need to add to your routine. Practice excellent hygiene and wash your hands regularly. You may be getting a lot more deliveries than usual etc, so having clean hands all day is going to be critical, especially after handling bags, boxes and other products from “the outside”. Clean things you may not usually think of, but are being touched more often now that everyone is home all the time – door handles, toilet flush buttons, taps. Conserving water and energy when you have a full house all day every day is also going to be important.
Make sure you get out each day, even if it’s for a quick walk around the block; early mornings are best. Got a dog? Even better, and remember, it may feel weird at first, or bizarrely unsociable, but give everyone you encounter a wide berth. You’ll get some strange looks from people who still just “don’t get it”, but as they say, you need to behave as if everyone you see has the virus.
If you are struggling mentally, reach out, and remember, others may be too. A great approach is to stop texting and calling, and start Skyping or FaceTiming your loved ones – see their faces and let them see yours. It may not sound much but it will make a huge difference.
Finally, stay well, look after yourself and those around you.