WFH life! (Top tips from a remote worker)
Updated: May 4
I work from home only going to venues to speak, train or coach, and this last year, this has also moved online. While my extra adaptations including having to purchase a computer capable of streaming (rather than just word processing), a flexible webcam and a LAN cable, the rest of my set up was, thankfully, in place. These are my tips for keeping your sanity while working remotely, as well as tips for leaders of teams (still) working from home:
- Try to keep separate places for work and home life (ideally a clearly defined space for work) If you cannot physically separate, consider having your workstation on a tray, or something that can be moved easily when you use the space for living. The separation is important both physically and mentally to avoid the "blending" and thus diluting of enjoyment of two fulfilling areas of your life. This is especially important if you work in the bedroom, because a good night's sleep is best achieved if you can "switch" our of the adrenaline pumping professional mindset into the relaxed one.
- Keep a routine where possible – work times, break times, “close of day” times. This can be especially helpful with children at home. Consider keeping a timetable that the family sticks to (whiteboard organisers are an easy purchase) and perhaps even ask your children to set the times (and negotiate what suits). You are modelling your conscientious behaviour, and they will remind you to take breaks.
- Be organised – Linked to point 1 - try to not to “muddy” your behaviours – when you are working work, when you are at home, turn the laptop off! The essence of this tip really is that while we do need to respond to the demands of a global workplace (eg. crossing time zones), rather than trying to respond to something in bed at 3am your time, it can be beneficial to move into the working area.)
- A change of scenery can help re-invigorate you. While it is now sensible to be somewhere less populated (under normal circumstances, being able to chat is great), moving into a different area of the house, or the garden if possible can be enough to energise you.
- Self discipline also applies to rest time…just because you are working from home doesn’t mean you are “at work” 24 hours because you sleep in the same place. Utilise the "out of office" notification.
- It's OK if your cat turns up in your zoom call once or twice!
Life happens and we're all dealing with it. While of course having a workspace without distractions is preferable, it is not always realistic. Don't get caught up with focusing on the distraction, try to acknowledge it and move on, or excuse yourself to manage it.
- If you are furloughed - consider training
It is possible to continue training during a furlough, so if you aren't spending that time on DIY that has previously been put off, or considering new opportunities (perhaps even your own business), training is an excellent way to remain active within your field, keeping your mind and skills up to date. Train also for where you can see your organisation (or field) going. For example, those in the automotive industry may consider updating their knowledge of electric cars.
Top tips for LEADERS of teams working from home:
For organisations who have been able to send teams home - and may be considering this approach as a long term strategy, here are some tips to come through this strange time, hopefully stronger than before.
1. Be clear on what is expected of your teams
One of the biggest criticisms of the government in response to COVID-19 is that at times they are very unclear in their direction. Leaders should not just be “present” but they are expected to lead. Make it clear to your teams (as far as you can) what you expect from them and what the channels of communication are. If there are new protocols in place for things like timesheets, or other operating procedures, make sure everyone has access to what they need (or knows where to find it). It is OK to respond to new information, as long as it is exactly that - a thought through response with a view to future consequences, not a knee-jerk reaction.
2. It may be OK to maintain a skeleton staff - just don't work them to the bone
Especially in organisations where machinery or technology is needed, you will need to maintain a staff – sending as many people who can work from home, home, this also improves the safety of those still coming in to work as they will be in contact with fewer people too. But, be mindful not to overwork the teams you have on site. Consider rotating staff, or even furlough - and perhaps negotiate this with teams as well, rather than just department heads where possible. Rotating teams, where possible will also give everyone a chance to ensure their work skills get practice.
3. Keep regular contact with your teams
This does not mean you have to brief them daily, but having a WhatsApp group, or a forum set up where information can be disseminated quickly and directly from you (so there is less chance of crossed messages) can be helpful. Instruct your teams that this is the one place that information will be posted (and stick to it) and they know that they don’t also have to keep checking email or texts or other means of contact.
4. Try a “virtual water cooler”
This doesn’t even have to be for organisations – I have one of these set up in my friendship group. It’s simply a place where we share “funnies” to keep ourselves positive (good for the immune system) when we cannot meet face to face. No-one “chats” (we all can contact each other directly for that) – but we share things which made us smile, and it reminds us we’re not alone.
5. Encourage positive mental and physical health
If you have briefing circulars, it doesn’t hurt to include simple ways teams can keep physically and mentally healthy – if nothing else, it releases the pressure on the NHS who are otherwise occupied. (Drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org to receive mine - which are free, personal, daily check ins - rather than a "subscribe to" newsletter just for the duration of lockdown).
6. Praise work as “normal”
If you can also maintain motivation regularly by thanking teams and recognising their efforts.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt