Coronavirus: Ten top working from home tips

18/03/2020 Andrew

Coronavirus: Ten top working from home tips

How do you ensure your wellbeing when working from home?

As the Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) pandemic takes grip, many companies around the world are implementing mandatory or voluntary working from home. Whilst this may be usual for some, others may find working from home more of a challenge. Especially given the additional complicating factor of the need for “social distancing”. Corporate wellbeing initiatives are becoming ever more popular in the workplace, but what about when you’re working from home because of the Coronavirus?

Even if you’re an old hand, working from home because of Coronavirus might feel like a whole new world. It’s probably happened suddenly and there’s also currently a lot of uncertainty. It might be for a longer period rather than the odd day here and there. Importantly no one is sure how long the government social isolation guidelines will last. As most, if not all of your colleagues are involved, you can’t necessarily socialise in person outside of work either.

So, whether you’re dealing with working from home for the first time or its something you’ve done many times before, here’s some advice. As corporate wellbeing experts, here are our ten top tips which  we believe could help.

1. Get ready for work

Whilst this might seem obvious, you may be tempted to stay in your pyjamas all day, don’t. You may feel more comfortable like that. However, you’re much more likely to have a much slower (or later) start to the day. As what maybe worse, you’ll probably be much less productive if you don’t have your ‘game head’ on.

So, while you don’t need to get dressed up, the simple act of dressing signals your brain that it’s time to wake up and start thinking about work. Part of getting dressed is also taking care of your appearance. Do what you would normally do on a workday like have a shower, brush your hair etc. Again, this has the effect of encouraging your brain to wake up and think positively and professionally.

It is also important in the age of video conferencing to project a business-like image to your colleagues, customers and partners.

2. Select an appropriate place to work

One of the big challenges when it comes to working remotely is keeping your work and home lives separate. If you never fully disconnect from work, your work productivity will suffer, and your home life can take a hit as well. Even if working from home as a result of the Coronavirus is not new, its a great time to review your arrangements.

If you’re used to going into an office each day, the separation between work and home is physical, and you want to try to recreate that as much as possible with a designated physical workspace at home. You may scoff at the idea of a separate room for a home office if, like me, you live in a small apartment. I’m writing this in the room that is my office, kitchen, living room, and dining room all in one. Your workspace doesn’t have to be its own room—in my apartment, it’s a corner—but it should feel as separate from the rest of your home as possible.

If you’re working at a table you need to use outside of work or a room you spend a lot of time in, pack up your work each evening to make the end of your day decisive. When I worked remotely in my last job, I was working on my personal computer, so I’d make sure to close all the tabs and programs related to my job as soon as I was done for the day. The key here is to do whatever you need to do to “leave” your workspace.

Finally, think about your privacy. If you’re at home with a partner or with kids, you must try and create some space between yourself and them. Don’t be the next Professor Kelly and his now very famous BBC TV interview.

Coronavirus working from home

3. Think about your health and safety

The UK’s Heath and Safety Executive lay out strict policy about the workplace and how it must be adapted to take care of you whilst there. These regulations do apply to working from home meaning that employers and employees have the obligations to ensure that homeworkers have the right equipment for the job. With Coronavirus these are, however, extraordinary times so you need some flexibility when working from home.

Try to make yourself comfortable with a chair you can sit in for eight hours a day. Ideally, it should be an adjustable, work style chair. In which case ensure that you configure for yourself. If not, the chair should provide you with enough support, so that you can use it for long periods of time. And, whilst it may be very appealing to use the opportunity to cuddle up with your dog or other pet, its not good idea for several reasons.

coronavirus working from home

When it come to what you work on this would ideally be a desk. However, if this is not available a table will do. Make sure that you have enough space and that your laptop and screen are aligned properly to you. Using a laptop in the wrong position over even a short time can lead to discomfort and possibly long-term injury.

Good natural lighting will help not only your eyes, but also your attitude. Avoid dark rooms – a window with some sort of a view is ideal, as this also gives you the opportunity to exercise your eyes occasionally. Make sure that you turn away from your screen every 20 minutes and look at something much further away for at least twenty seconds. This will help you avoid eyestrain and associated headaches.

4. Build transitions into (and out of) work

Your morning commute not only gets you to work—from one physical location to another—but it also gives your brain time to prepare for work. Just because you’re not traveling doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carve out equivalent routines to help you ease into your workday.

Maybe you usually read or listen to music on your commute. You can do that at home. Or maybe you can spend some time with a pet or loved one. You can even add in a workout (preferably at home because of the new Coronavirus, but see what is being recommended where you live) or spend some time on a hobby (again, make sure it’s appropriate given the health recommendations where you are).

At the other end of the day, the evening commute does the reverse. The homeward journey allows you to unwind from what could have been a stressful day and get ready for what is hopefully a relaxing evening. Its never great taking your work home with you.

When you are working from home this is more difficult and is why demarcation between work and home is even more important. Give yourself something that will signal the end of work and serve as a buffer. Maybe take your dog for a walk if you have one, alternatively plan some other exercise.

5. Manage your time effectively

Just as you need to define and then separate your physical workspace, you should be clear about when you’re working and when you’re not. You’ll get your best work done and be most ready to transition back to the office if you stick with your regular hours. Plus, if your role is collaborative, being on the same schedule as your colleagues makes everything much easier.

If you live with other people, this separation is even more critical. Communicate with the people you live with to establish boundaries so you can cut down on distractions during the workday—and then disconnect and give the people you care about your full attention. Having a separate time and space to work will allow you to be more present in your home life.

Taking breaks is a vital part of your time management. Schedule time every 45 minutes to an hour to get up, move around and maybe make yourself a cup of team. This will allow you to focus better when you’re working and avoid physical and mental fatigue.

6. Remember to be active

In addition to you ‘leg stretch’ breaks, you should build time into your day to get some exercise. Whilst you shouldn’t try and run a marathon, unless of course you’ve run a few before, some activity will help. Not only with this break up the day, it will also replace any physical activity you would normally have as part of your normal work routine. Whether this is walking to working and from the office, getting between meetings or finding lunch.

Coronavirus working from home

7. Feed your brain

At work, eating is often a social exercise. You gather with you colleagues either to go and buy food, or you maybe eat together. This is often an important milestone in the day and an opportunity to catch up about work, home or shared past-times. The absence of this trigger sometimes means that you just forget to eat.

According to research summarised in the Harvard Business Review, not eating as well as what you eat significantly affects your productivity. The lower your productivity, the less you will achieve and the less fulfilled you will be. Maintaining a positive attitude when working from home due to the Coronavirus is key for mental health and wellbeing.

Most things that we eat are converted by our body into glucose. This provides the energy our brains need to stay alert. Therefore, we tend to lose attention when we’re running low on glucose. However, some foods (such as bread, pasta and sugar) release their glucose quickly giving a burst of energy followed by a slump. Fatty foods are harder to digest, so divert oxygen away from brain.

Coronavirus working from home

The answer then is to select healthy foods such as vegetables, fruit and lean protein rather than unhealthy alternatives. Its also good to plan – think about what you’ll eat and when. Eating little and often will help you keep your energy levels at optimal levels all day.

Setting aside time to up with a colleague. When she’s working remotely, she often “gets lunch” with colleagues and friends by setting a time to chat while they eat. (And you should definitely still take a lunch and step away from your work. These breaks are vital even if you’re not leaving your home.

8. Avoid obvious distractions

Distraction is one of the big challenges facing people who work from home—especially people who aren’t used to it. That means that whatever you’re usually thinking about getting home to after work is now with you. It’s human to get distracted. But you need to be wary of how much you let yourself get distracted.

You probably already take a few breaks throughout the day at the office, and that’s fine to do at home, too. Using that time to throw in a load of washing is fine, but try not to look at your new work arrangement as an opportunity to finally clean out that closet or anything else that takes a lot of sustained focus.

Right now, one of the biggest distractions is the news. Coronavirus updates is going to be at the front of your mind when working from home. Whilst it’s good to stay informed, you want to avoid getting yourself or anyone else into an anxious mess. However, if you do need to keep in touch, save your news update until after you finish work.

9. Keep in touch with colleagues

If you don’t usually work from home, chances are there will be some challenges if you must suddenly start because of the Coronavirus. The key to steering through these is communication with your line manager and any direct reports. Either before you start or as soon as do, develop a plan that lays out frequency and nature of regular communications. In particular think about any changes existing or new assignments and how these can be discussed. Do the same with anyone you usually work collaboratively with throughout the day.

This plan is likely to change as you go. And that’s OK. This is a new situation for everyone. So, make sure to change the plan if problems come up. You’ll also encounter unique challenges as you try to do your job remotely, which can vary greatly depending on the type of work you do. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the same people you would usually turn to for help—even if you’re not in the same building as them.

And you don’t have to stick with only text-based communication.You might find it’s best to check in with your boss and colleagues over the phone or through video chat. This will cut down on miscommunication and break up some of the social isolation that can come from working from home.

10. Think about yours and your colleagues wellbeing

Be mindful of your own and your colleague’s wellbeing. The working from home because of the Coronavirus pandemic has unsettled large parts of the population. We’ve spoken about communicating about work as well as socially, but its also important for you to provide support to your colleagues and them to you.

When the whole office suddenly starts working from home, you’re cutting off a lot of the casual social interactions you’re used to having throughout the day that help you feel less lonely and break up the monotony of work.

Combat this by talking with your colleagues throughout the day through Slack, calls, text, Zoom, or however your company communicates. If you usually ask your colleagues about their weekends, keep that up. If you’d usually comment to them about a specific topic, reach out. These little interactions go a long way.

You can also schedule morning video call kick-off’s or if you want to be agile: scrums, with your team. This way you make space for that first thing chat and hear about what happened last night. Also, make time to speak throughout the day.

You can also check in with colleagues about this project or that TV show you both like. Lots of us are feeling anxious and uncertain right now, and suddenly being isolated at home can amplify these feelings. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a colleague just to ask how they’re doing. The mental health charity Mind has some great advice.

All this doesn’t just apply to the workday and people you work with. You may not be able to meet up with friends for dinner after work. However, you can organise a group of people to discuss a book or similar. Or maybe just to catch up over Skype or Google Hangouts. You don’t even need to plan that much. You can watch TV shows at the same time and message in real time. And Facetime your mom, will you? When the world is freaking out, it’s more important than ever that we reach out, connect, and take care of one another.