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Top tips for working at home productively and harmoniously

With the rapid spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, many offices around the world are being closed in an attempt to ‘flatten the curve’ of the infection. If you’ve never worked from home before, this can be a little daunting. Fortunately, a mixture of technology tools and innovative thinking can help you make the best of the situation. Here are the best tips from our experience and from others worldwide as to how to survive and prosper in the new way of working.

1. Use right set-up:

  1. Crank up communication: The BBC suggests this so there is clear communication with your boss – and make sure you know exactly what’s expected of you.
  2. Ask for equipment you need: laptop, printer, chair, Internet connection, etc.
  3. VPN connection – some will need this level of security.
  4. Keep a dedicated office space, if at all possible.
  5. Have a separate work phone number.

2. Working hours and rules:

  1. Treat it like a real job, maintain regular hours: PC Magazine says “Set a schedule, and stick to it…most of the time. Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to call it a day helps many remote workers maintain work-life balance.”
  2. Schedules and routines:
    1. Create a morning schedule.
    2. Schedule breaks and take them in their entirety.
    3. Leave home: at least once a day go for a walk, etc. to free up your body and brain cells.
    4. End of day routine: have a routine that closes the day; don’t meander working all through the evening by, for example:
      1. Sending a ‘close off’ email at the end of the day.
      2. Routinely review your day and prepare for the next.
      3. Shut down your computer.
  3. Socialise with colleagues – this can be done via video links.
  4. Take sick days off when you really are ill: keeping going because you are at home can prolong the illness/stop you recovering
  5. Don’t stay glued to your computer screen. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive has advice about screenwork on its website. This includes a note that short, frequent breaks are more satisfactory than occasional, longer breaks: e.g., a 5-10 minute break after 50-60 minutes continuous screen and/or keyboard work is likely to be better than a 15 minute break every 2 hours. That doesn’t mean you have to stop working completely, as HSE also notes that informal breaks, that is time spent not viewing the screen (e.g. on other tasks), appear from study evidence to be more effective in relieving visual fatigue than formal rest breaks.
  6. Over communicate: PC Magazine says: “Tell everyone who needs to know about your schedule and availability often. When you finish a project or important task, say so.”

3. Video calls and meetings:

  1. Take meetings virtual. Meetings are a crucial part of the success of any business, whether between a specific department or across different areas of the organisation. Just because you are working from home, that doesn’t change. Today’s modern video call platforms, such as Zoom or Google Hangouts, offer a way to connect colleagues in a way that is streets ahead of the old conference phone call. They enable many participants to join live streaming calls, with the ability to screen share letting participants share visual ideas, presentations and works in progress. As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, Google is making premium paid features in its Hangouts Meet platform free to use until 1 July, while Zoom has lifted time limits on its free product for users in China.
  2. Show up at all meetings and be heard. PC Magazine recommends: “it’s a good idea to attend optional meetings sometimes, too. Be sure to speak up during the meeting so everyone knows you’re on the call. A simple, “Thanks, everyone. Bye!” at the close of a meeting will go a long way toward making your presence known.”
  3. Dress appropriately – there is no need to be excessive, but attending video meetings in your pyjamas is ‘unproductive’
  4. Don’t have pointless meetings, and don’t allow anyone to dominate unnecessarily/unproductively
  5. Remember that every aspect of video meetings can be recorded – any asides that you may get away with in a physical meeting room will be picked up on mic. Try to avoid negative comments about colleagues completely - but if you must vent your frustrations, ensure you have muted your microphone!
  6. Practise good etiquette: Sirin Kale in The Guardian: You wouldn’t openly browse Twitter during a meeting, so don’t do it in a video call.
  7. Treat each other like humans. Sirin Kale in The Guardian recommends: “Like any technology, video calling is neutral. It’s about how you use it. Don’t drone on, waste time, or speak for the sake of it, and you’ll get the most of video calling software. And remember: if you are watching Netflix instead of working, always put your microphone on mute.”

4. Health and wellbeing:

  1. Try to focus on staying positive and enthusiastic. Loneliness and feeling less motivated when working-at-home is a problem: Last year a study of 2,500 remote workers by online brand development agency Buffer found that loneliness was the second-most reported challenge, one experienced by 19% of respondents. Loneliness can make people feel less motivated and less productive.
  2. No gym? No worries! Exercise is an important part of a healthy routine and fighting off lethargy. Just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean that has to stop. While those who can afford to may have gym equipment already at home (I’d imagine that adverts for Pelaton bikes will increase during this period), this won’t be the case for most people. However, a quick google shows that there are a variety of things you can do in the comfort of your own home to keep fit and get those endorphins flowing, as this blog post from Lloyds Pharmacy highlights.
  3. Human beings are social creatures - keep in touch. Just because you are working from home, or in some cases self-isolating, doesn’t mean you should stop interacting with colleagues and friends - speaking to other people and hearing their voices is important. Catch up with colleagues at the start of the day on phone or video. And keep in touch with friends too, surprise your best mate with a call at lunchtime to see how they’re doing. As the late great Bob Hoskins used to say in the old British Telecom adverts, it’s good to talk.


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