It’s not easy, this enforced working at home. Even those of us who have worked remotely since day one (hands up our lovely team) have been struggling with lack of space, incoming family members into our workspace and our previously well-behaved WiFi networks getting disrupted.
Luckily we have been able to bounce back quicker than most as we were already deep in the swing of working at home, which minimised the trauma involved. However, we know it’s really getting to people generally, so we thought we’d share some tips and experience to help you work successfully from home – despite everything.
You don’t have to have a proper meeting every time!
Working remotely has always been challenging as it cuts social contact with the people with whom you are working. We have team members across different countries and some of us we don’t physically see each other more than once a year, so we are in the habit of video chatting daily to just gossip over coffee, as well as those regular planning and client meetings calls.
It works to help us to connect and bond, which makes working easier as we understand each other better, and is something we would strongly recommend you do if you aren’t already.
Look after yourself
Looking after yourself is important – you can’t possibly function properly and look after everyone else, let alone effectively fight the virus, if you don’t look after you. Remember WHY we are in isolation and make sure you prioritise your health so if – more likely WHEN – you catch COVID-19 you are in the best shape possible to fight it off.
Let’s start with pyjamas. As in, get out of them! Working at home can really mess with your head and the best way to help yourself concentrate and deal with the way time morphs when you don’t physically leave the house is to make sure you look your usual self – that is, the going outside you. That means getting properly dressed even if it doesn’t mean getting suited and booted. You will also be on video calls, remember, as well as looking in the mirror, so brushing your hair/shaving/putting our make up (delete as appropriate) will help you like your face better and feel more like you.
Food and drink
Then there’s diet. There’s a lot of challenges to eating well when working from home, especially when you are in lockdown and your supply chain may be disrupted. The first is obviously boredom eating and the resulting weight gain, which when you are locked in the house is almost a given (unless you are religiously working out at home) and weight gain is going to make you feel depressed as well as not being healthy. Ditto overdrinking whether from stress or boredom. The other trigger to be aware of is the ‘treat’ mentality i.e. you feel that because it’s all so disruptive, stressful and challenging that you really need a treat – perhaps hourly!
My way of coping with the lack of exercise inherent with working at home in normal times is that I usually do a couple of days of the fast diet (famine eating, no carbs or fats) and eat normally the rest of the week, plus make sure I have two to three days of no alcohol. This also works for now, especially when people are trying to be frugal and make their supplies last as long as possible.
I’m gluten intolerant so making sure I have what I needed meant our supply chains were already pretty much set up. Therefore we have managed ensure most things are now on delivery, which is a blessing as it also reduces the risk of contracting the virus by limiting unnecessary contact.
If you are struggling with getting home delivery (supermarket slots are challenging to say the least), explore local suppliers, many of whom at pivoting to cope. Our local market greengrocers, Fishers of Newbury, are now running a warehouse pick up and delivery service, for example, and nationwide Wellocks, who normally deliver to restaurants, are supplying boxes to people via restaurant and hotel outlets. Picking up groceries or medicines can also be a challenge, but many local communities (many with groups on Facebook) have set up neighbourhood support offering help, and companies such as Any Van are also offering a supermarket click and collect service.
This is obviously also very important, even more so when you are coped up all day long. Frustrating as it is not going to go hiking, to the gym or play sports, you still need to exercise, so if you don’t have home gym equipment, sign up to home exercise classes via Insta and YouTube and if you have kids, get them involved. A lot of personal trainers are also offering virtual classes instead of face to face sessions.
Whatever you do, make it fun, as this helps you stick at it and will also help your mental health.
On the point of having fun when exercising, we also have a dog, which means obligatory three mile walks (luckily still permissible). It also means fresh air and beautiful views and at least seeing other people at a distance, all of which is good for our mental health.
He is also a great help in the office…well, he thinks he is anyway!
Get Creative to Beat the Blues
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so get creative and prioritise things that make you feel better. Being outside can really help, so not only go for a walk, but if you can get out in the garden, do so, and think about ordering seeds or reach out to local nurseries and garden centres for plants, many of whom are getting decimated because of the disruption to their logistics network.
Food-wise we’ve been mixing it up and experimenting with different cuisines and creating new dishes from what’s in the box or available in store, the store cupboard and freezer, which is fun and keeps things interesting. Everyone gets involved and it means we also feel like we are travelling a little, even if just via our plates.
Carving out your own space – mental and physical – is essential. Even when working at home normally it can all get a bit much if the children or other adults are in the house, and this is hugely amplified now if you have family members who HAVE to all be together 24/7, especially if someone is ill. Everyone needs at least a bit of solitude (some more than others) and when everyone is crammed into a single space this becomes even more crucial.
Whether you adjust your schedule so you have the living room at different times of the day, make bedrooms into bedsits, zone off space so everyone has their own area, or have an rule that no one interrupts when someone is reading a book or magazine, just do what you need to do to make sure everyone has the mental and physical space they need.
Looking after yourself also means making sure you have comfortable office furniture (working on the sofa will eventually wreck your back) and good internet access.
Optimise Your Internet
In 11 years of full time working at home, and 15 years part time before that, I have never known the network to be so glitchy but guess that is inevitable given the sheer volume of people WAH. Hats off to the engineers helping keep our internet working – to my mind they are as essential to our economy and health as our hard-pressed NHS staff! If your internet is really struggling there are things you can do to try and speed it up and also things you can do to relieve the pressure according to OFCON.
Ease up on data
Everyone and their dog are using Zoom or Skype at the moment and if your internet is struggling you’ll notice that the video stutters and people will sound like they are underwater. So knock off video in meetings (I heard that sigh of relief!), switch to using the 4G network on your mobile instead or – steady – pick up the landline to make calls.
Try and stagger when people are using data too and go analogue where possible. So use the radio for background noise, rather than streaming Spotify, for example. Don’t let the kids watch a video on High definition when you are trying to make a business call on Zoom or download a movie when you need to create a brochure on Adobe.
Or just get them to do some drawing or read a book instead.
Switch off stuff
Like the microwave, for example. Microwaves use the same frequency as WiFi so switching them off at the wall can help, and if you have other stuff connected to the WiFi that is just idling, like tablets or speakers, disconnect them too.
Move your router
According to Ofcom “Cordless phones, baby monitors, halogen lamps, dimmer switches, stereos and computer speakers, TVs and monitors can all affect your WiFi if they are too close to your router.”
This could lead to a whole new chapter in office Feng Shui, however, as while you should make sure your ‘router is plugged straight into your main phone socket and the cable isn’t tangled’, you should also position it as ‘centrally as possible and away from walls and up and off the floor’, and ‘use the ethernet cable as they give faster speeds than WiFi’… I will need to see pictures. 😉
You can also get a second router positioned strategically or try a signal booster. Plus make sure you clean out the cache on your laptop regularly (and always keep it clear if you are a mac user – they hate being overloaded with data), reboot your router regularly and make sure your network is password protected so no one else can hop on it and slow it down, which also leads us on to …
Be Security Conscious
Cybersecurity is likely to become a real issue for businesses now forced to work remotely because when there’s a crisis you can guarantee there will be someone trying to profit off it. Already there’s been a rise in phishing and people scammed in to entering sensitive data into a bogus Office 365 site. It’s as essential as washing your hands when it comes to keeping you safe, so if you are new to this WAH lark and haven’t really thought about it yet, please get up to speed on how you can carry on working safely.
Your IT department should have issued WAH directives, but failing that at the very least make sure security updates are done as frequently possible and that anti-malware scans are set up to run automatically. Passwords should be set up on everything and changed frequently, and you should ensure backups are secure and encryption tools used to store data.
Establish a Routine that Works for You
Experience has shown me that one size does not fit all. I am a segregator who needs a beautiful and dedicated office space where I can shut the door if necessary (my children when younger knew that they were not allowed to open it unless there was an emergency, such as blood or fire). My business partner is an integrator who works best from her kitchen table at the heart of her vibrant family in their French farmhouse.
I work best from 6am while my life partner is sleepy in the morning but he is happy to work late in the evenings way after I’ve started yawning. We shared an office at least one day a week previously but are now working together fulltime during the Covid 19 crisis, so that’s meant we have to work round each other’s schedules and routines, something you may well be sympathising with!
We are both often on calls, so we check our dairies every morning to avoid clashes – or one of us relocates if that’s impossible. I like the DAB radio on in the background (it’s been part of my work routine forever) so he wears headphones and listens to his music if it’s annoying him. If his calls are back to back and I need to concentrate, I switch to headphones. We sometimes have lunch together but more frequently take it at different times and we try to avoid talking much about work or the news during the day – at least then we have something to talk about at dinner time!
It’s also important to try and divide your time into specific segments – trust me when I say it can become impossible to switch off from work if you don’t. Also make sure you have time scheduled to be on your own as well as social time with other people – seeing someone else’s face even on a digital device gives you a real lift.
I would also add that changing the routine through the week helps you keep a tab on what day it is and that is likely to be increasingly invaluable as we get further into lockdown. Sticking to a menu plan (chips and cold meat on Mondays or fish Friday, for example) can help, as can setting specific evenings for different things – in our house Monday was Cinema Night (now film night), Wednesday is Date Night, while Friday is Social Night (down the pub beforehand, now virtual drinks on HouseParty).
Finally make sure you take some time out – to stretch, do some yoga, get your hands dirty in the garden (or plant a window box), smell the flowers, look at the sky, read a good book, play a game, go for a walk, cuddle a cat, hug a human (if you have any to hand), volunteer your time and help your community so you can feel like you are doing something to make a difference.
Mostly, try and stop fretting and obsessing over stuff you can’t change. Refocus on enjoying your life right here right now while being sensible, maintaining your health (mental and physical) and continuing to be productive. We are living through extraordinary times and no one will ever forget this period, yet this too will pass. And who knows, by the time it does you might even have learnt to like working at home as much as we do!