Top tips for working from home

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Thousands of people are likely to be working from home for the first time this week due to the coronavirus outbreak. So, what’s the best way to stay efficient and keep your spirits up?

In short, get set-up for your day: wake up on time, get dressed, set-up your workspace in the right way to be productive, get moving and take regular breaks, stay connected and adapt your working style to ensure you work from home effectively.

10 top tips to effective home working

1 – Set up your workspace in a quiet comfortable place in the home, away from distractions if possible. NHS advice is that you should adjust your chair so you can use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor.

2 – Get dressed for your day – this maintains the physiological connection to work and creates a business mind-set.

3 – Set ‘to do lists’ for each day, as you would in the office.

4 – Use Skype for business, where possible, or other video channels – turn your camera on! Calling or video conferencing people and having a conversation can be much more stimulating and productive than a chain of emails.

5 – Check in with your People Manager and wider team daily, but keep communication proportionate. Many people tend to over-communicate when working from home – either wanting to ‘be seen’, or overcompensating. You know if you’re on task and being productive, so don’t waste energy on worrying about appearances.

6 – Put the radio on at a low volume; have some background noise to create the atmosphere

7 – Keep hydrated – even mild dehydration creates impairment in thinking and decision-making.

8 – Take regular breaks from the screen to avoid stiff muscles or eye strain and have a defined lunch break to recharge your batteries. Many home workers recommend the Pomodoro Technique, a method of time management which breaks your working day into 25-minute chunks. Each ‘chunk’ is followed by a five-minute break.

9 – Ensure that you do some exercise during the day to promote feel-good hormones and mental well-being – outdoors, if possible, but indoors could also work well. Being cooped up/static without stopping for a break can mean your productivity levels drop, you become more tired and less motivated.

10 – Keep your eye on the time, work reasonable hours and set a definitive end to your day and plan a relaxing activity to look forward to after you have completed work.

Look after your mental health while you’re at home

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Infectious disease outbreaks, like the current Coronavirus (Covid 19), can be frightening and can affect our mental health. While it is important to stay informed, there are also many things you can do to support and manage your wellbeing during such times.

Here are some useful tips:

  • As more organisations move to online working, human connections are more important than ever. They are important to support your mental health, reduce feelings of isolation, and enable you to feel connected with colleagues while working remotely.
  • Staying at home will mean a different rhythm of life, a chance to be in touch with others in different ways than usual, so think of the positives: Skype for business, other video platforms, e-mail, social media channels or phone are all ways of being close to the people who matter to you.
  • Make sure your wider health needs are being looked after such as having enough prescription medicines available to you if required.
  • Create a new daily routine that prioritises looking after yourself. You could try reading more or watching movies in your down time, having an exercise routine, trying new relaxation techniques, or finding new knowledge on the internet. Try and rest and view this as a new if unusual experience, that might have its benefits.
  • Try to keep positive and visualise a time in the future when life will return to normal.

Avoid speculation and fake news

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Try to avoid speculation and look up reputable sources on the outbreak and follow the Government’s advice:

  • Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety. Having access to good quality, live information about the virus can help you feel more in control.
  • The government website is a good place to start.
  • Follow hygiene advice such as washing your hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds with soap and hot water (sing ‘happy birthday’ to yourself twice to make sure you do this for 20 seconds). You should do this whenever you get home or into work, blow your nose, sneeze or cough, eat or handle food. If you can’t wash your hands straightaway, use hand sanitiser and then wash them at the next opportunity.
  • You should also use tissues if you sneeze and make sure you dispose of them quickly.
  • Stay at home if you are feeling unwell.

If you have mental health concerns

  • If you’re feeling anxious or isolated, remember that support is out there:
  • If your organisation has trained Mental Health First Aiders or Champions, make a note of their contact details, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with them if you need to. They can use their skills to support anyone struggling with their mental health by signposting them to the appropriate support, both in and outside of the workplace.
  • Speak to your HR team, Mental Health First Aiders or Employee Assistance Programme or other lifestyle applications provides, such as ‘Lifeworks’.
  • Mental health helplines:  The Samaritans offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day on 116 123.

Combining working at home with childcare

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If you’re a parent working from home at the moment, ensuring that your children are occupied during school closures will be key. It’s also important to manage expectations – yours, your Manager’s and your kids’. You may not have a straight number of hours to work non-stop. But you can still do your job well. 

Top tips

1 – Make a plan with your manager. You may need to adapt your work routine around childcare and perhaps respond to requests via email more often than phone. Prioritise – it’s not going to be possible to do everything.

2 – Make a plan with your children, in ways they can understand for their age group. Where possible, there needs to be a good discussion about how this is going to be very different for you and them. Be honest about what you need to get done and let them help create a schedule – they’ll buy into it and be more settled than if they’re told what to do and how they can help.

3 – If you’re one of two parents at home, master the art of ‘tag teaming’. Set clear allotted times to work while the other parent entertains the children. Flexibility and teamwork are key.

4 – If you have an office (preferably with a lockable door), teach your children to respect an ‘unavailable’ sign on the door when you’re in a meeting. Otherwise, set up your own workspace and invest in noise-cancelling headphones or a headset and microphone with an easy-to- access mute button.

5 – For younger children, make the most of sleep time. Work efficiently when your little one naps in the day, before they wake up in the mornings or once they’ve gone to bed for the night.

6 – Think about what can make your child feel safer, calmer and happier? More reading, calming activities, speaking to them quietly and confidently, more cuddles and physical reassurance.  Put those things in place and it will help both of you destress.

7 – For school age children, invest focused attention at allotted times. Factor in certain times in the day to fully engage with your child with short activities. This should encourage them to engage in independent play or homework afterwards.

8 – Keep them moving. At school, children have regular activity – playtime outdoors and sports lessons, for example. Integrate exercise into your day – practise sport in the garden or download dance and fitness sessions to follow together.

9 – For teenagers it is all about negotiation – right from the start, get involved and ask to see their schoolwork, help them access online resources – being part of their world can really help. Ask them what their plan is and remain connected to how they are feeling.

10 – When monitored, online games can be a positive way for teenagers to engage with friends. Encourage them to use Skype/other social media or make old-fashioned phone calls to family.

Useful resources

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Whilst we need to be mindful of keeping screen time within sensible boundaries, using technology to help occupy children, at the same time as educating, stimulating and interesting them, is a win-win situation. The following are links to potential online resources that could help:

  • Red Ted Art Easy arts and crafts for little ones
  • The Imagination Tree Creative art and craft activities for the very youngest.
  • Toy Theatre Educational online games
  • DK Find Out   Activities and quizzes
  • Twinkl This is more for printouts, and usually at a fee, but they are offering a month of free access to parents in the event of school closures.

For senior school students:

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