March 18, 2020

Working from home

Filed under: adventures in the world of today,articles,bloggery,living in the future — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 2:20 pm

Desk bike and elevated monitor

I’m incredibly lucky that my current role is primarily working from home. That is even more true in the current crisis where there are many people who don’t have that luxury; who have customer facing roles, roles in industry or entertainment, or laboratories; or thousands of other jobs I probably have never thought about. But I am primarily a desk worker in a professional services role, with a career in the creative arts also as a desk worker. As such I have spent a lot of my life working from home.

So it occurred to me I could share my top tips with people new to this working environment. These are what works for me and feel free to ignore any or all of them if they don’t work for you. But I hope they will prompt you to think about what could work for you, to try new ideas and get your home office functional and perhaps a bit better than that.

Set up a dedicated work space
This could be tricky if you don’t have a lot of space in your home. The ideal situation is a home office but not everyone has that luxury. Have a look at the spaces you do have. Can a corner of your kitchen or living room be repurposed to become your new home office? Even if you have to pack it away at the end of the working day to make room for other activities, consider what space you could use during usual working hours. A kitchen table is a good height for a desk – although consider other advice in this post about avoiding uncomfortable positions and repetitive strain.

Get dressed
This may seem counter intuitive. Isn’t part of the fun of working from home that you can do it in your dressing gown? Yes and no. For me, wearing a dressing gown never makes me feel as though I’m at work. It’s okay for a quick email or jotting down an idea. But as you begin your new working from home life, get washed and dressed. Comfy clothes are fine and if you feel liberated from dressing up in business attire feel free to embrace your athleisure wear. Alternatively if you don’t feel like yourself without putting on makeup and wearing your suit, that’s okay too. But get out of your nightwear, you will need clear divisions between work and home life, boundaries are your friend.

Plan your week
If you’re an organised person you’re probably doing this anyway and now looking at a calendar full of cancelled meetings and endless seas of “working from home” perhaps punctated with “conference call”. I start my week with “thinking and planning time” as I consider what’s coming up, where I need to go to offsite meetings, when I’m on calls and when I’m doing design or serious work that requires a lot of concentration like stats or some kinds of strategy. Start filling your diary with plans for carving up your work into different chunks. It keeps your brain active and engaged to move from one type of work to another. Keep a record of your colleagues’ hours and use their calendars to plan 1:1s or team standups to catch up with them. Plan in breaks – I’ll discuss these in more detail next.

Take breaks from your desk
A sedentary lifestyle was not, as it turned out, very good for my health. Desk work can make you unfit and it’s bad for your posture too. Plan some breaks in your schedule. Tea breaks are good, just for a change of scenery and a chance to adjust your posture. Try to get some extra steps in while you’re about it. If you have a garden or access to outside space; go outside and get fresh air. Get steps by going up and down stairs or walking back and forth through your home. Resist the urge to start doing a lot of domestic jobs but it’s okay to put a load of laundry on or hang one out – it takes five minutes. Do some stretches, touch your toes. Don’t go directly from your computer screen to your phone, disconnect if only for five or ten minutes. Any longer than ten minutes starts to become a distraction; read more about avoiding those further down.

Ergonomically assess your workspace
Working at a desk can be bad for your posture. Even if you have a good desk chair, have you adjusted it correctly? Is your keyboard at a good angle for your hands, is your monitor the right distance away? Search online for how to create a healthy desk set up and do your best to emulate it. If it’s not working, keep adjusting. Take those breaks I mentioned and use them to stretch and correct your posture.

Take lunch breaks
It’s very tempting to work through lunch but whether you’re in the office or working from home this isn’t a great way to be. You will work better if you do take those breaks. Take a half hour or an hour’s lunch break to step away mentally and physically from your work. Personally I’d also advise against the easy sandwich option. It doesn’t take long to cook a stir fry or assemble a buddha bowl. I got very bored of sandwiches in my days of grabbing a quick lunch and they weren’t good for me either. This is all easier if you have time to meal prep. One relatively easy way of doing this is make an extra portion of every meal you make for dinner and save it to be heated up for lunch later in the week. (Not necessarily the next day, freeze it and wait until you’re excited to eat that meal again.) If your work permits it, try to get a bit of exercise in during that break as well – at least on some days.

Manage distractions
It can be nice to have the radio or the TV on in the background while you work. It is a sort of company. But if you end up paying more attention to what you’re seeing or hearing than to your work, then you’re not really working. That’s especially true right now when the news is frightening. I personally like Radio 1. I like chart music and you get regular news updates as part of Newsbeat which is one of the better news programmes and works hard to offer mental health advice along with distressing news.

One big distraction that’s not easy to manage is kids or pets. Dogs need to be walked, kids need entertainment, even my cats are demanding when I work from home. The best advice I can give here is to figure out a plan. How much will you have to step away from work? What is an emergency, what is important, what is urgent, what can wait? Enlist your family in figuring this out. I was trained at age five at how to call an ambulance and by seven I knew how to take a proper telephone message (you need name and number even if you get nothing else). Your family, pets and other responsibilities are not the enemy taking you away from work. Especially right now, they are your loved ones and a source of strength. Think about how you can benefit from them (in those breaks you’re supposed to take) and not find them a burden.

Drink water
I really wonder if anyone is well enough hydrated. Water is good for you. It’s good for your health, it’s good for your skin, it’s a way to stop and think and be mindful of yourself. Keep a bottle of water on your desk and drink from it. As soon as it is empty, go and fill it up. Drinking regular water has been transformative for me.

Stop at the same time every day
When working from home you can get on a roll and keep going and going and going. If you don’t have kids or a partner or pets is there anything to stop you working through the evening and working into the night? even if you have all those things maybe they don’t feel able to stop you. So you need a cut off time. At 5pm or 6pm or whatever time works for you, stop working. Dismantle your home office, shut down or send your computer to sleep, walk away from the keyboard and that tantalising project. It will be there waiting for you tomorrow and you can return to it refreshed.

I hope some of those tips were useful. Please do comment with your own. I’m sure there’s plenty of other advice around. Let’s share our learning when we can. I’m also currently collecting information on teleconferencing, webinars and online teaching so share those links or ideas too.

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