What we’ve Learned Working from Home during a Pandemic

Whether the dog is barking, next door is having renovation work or maybe you’ve got a leak, we’ve all been challenged one way or another by working from home (WFH). Let’s not even begin to discuss those of us who are juggling parenting responsibilities too.

It’s fair to say that we’ve all had to adapt and find ways which work for us. With lockdown restrictions easing for many we’ve gathered our team and asked them what they’ve learned over the last few months about making the most working from home.

Sarah, Director of Sales and Marketing: ‘Meal planning and breathing’

It sounds a bit left-field but spends time planning meals, including lunch. If you’re thinking about work, running the house, sorting shopping, looking after pets and whatever else there is to do, by planning meals you’ll reduce the stress of what to make, and reduce food waste. I’ve also tried to keep a separate working and ‘living’ space in the house. Even if it’s just using a different side of the sofa if space is limited – psychologically you can separate work and relaxation by keeping those areas defined. Ultimately don’t put pressure on yourself to be glued to your computer and phone the whole day. Just as you would in an office, take breaks to get drinks and get some fresh air when you need it or take time to just do three minutes of deep breathing; eyes closed and focusing on your breath can bring down stress levels, help to balance your mind, and keep you focused for longer. Something we could all benefit from!

Kerrie, Account Manager for PerpetuityARC Training: ‘Natural light and GIFs’

I find working in an area that has plenty of natural light is key; moving my desk to face the window helps with my concentration and helped me to feel less ‘boxed in’. There’s something about natural light that I find positively affects my focus. Plus, looking outside is much more interesting than looking at four walls.

Making time to check in on colleagues in a non-work capacity is another thing that has been hugely important for me, and I always try to use humour. Speaking as a parent with a young child at home, for me, it’s nice to be able to talk about something non-work/child-related that just gets me out of the perpetual ‘working mum’ mindset. If we were in the office you would get a break from ‘home mum’ and ‘work mum’ but at the moment all of those lines are blurred and crossing so having a 5-minute chat ‘water cooler chat’ with a friend or colleague really helps me to not go insane. I like to send GIF’s – there’s nothing like a well-timed GIF – to add humour and light-heartedness to a busy day. You don’t know what type of difference a message or call can make to someone. Whilst we’re all socially isolated, having a friendly relaxed chat with someone could be exactly what they need. And when you reach the level of having an entire conversation in GIFs, then there is no further you can go.

On a side note I’ve decided if this ever happens again (lockdown / global pandemic) you’re best to sell your children, re-home your pets and divorce your husband…

… Joking.

Keeva, Learning and Development Manager: ‘Shake it out’

There a number of things I would say I’ve learnt. For me, the key one would be to remain in contact with your team using FaceTime / Skype / Zoom / Teams – seeing your colleagues each day brings a sense of normality and inclusivity within the business. It’s important to make sure nobody feels marginalised right now, especially if there are redundancies happening.

I would also say make time to move. When I hit a roadblock with work, I like to walk away from my screen for a few minutes and stretch or do a quick exercise. It takes my mind off the problem I’m facing and gives me a few minutes to think about something else, not to mention it’s good to move often if your job requires extensive hours of sitting. Often, when I come back to my computer after a stretch, I’ve found a way to deal with the issue I was facing and move forward. I’m more focused and motivated to continue working. If your job doesn’t allow you to do this, try to make time to exercise regularly after your shift, even if it’s just 10 minutes. It’s proven that 10 minutes of brisk walking is enough to increase our mental alertness, energy, and positive mood so it really does make all the difference.

Gus, Group Director: Dress to impress

It sounds ridiculous given nobody can tell but I always dress properly for important video meetings: shoes, trousers, and formal shirt, as opposed to flip flops and a formal shirt (we know you do it). Dressing properly will put you in the right mindset to do business – it sets the tone even if your colleagues can’t see below the camera. It also makes a nice change to joggers and an oversized fleece jumper.

As a director, these last few months have been a challenge both professionally and personally but taking some time to pre-plan the working week has been one of the things that has really made a difference during this lockdown. It’s kept me focused, and often, sane. Every day I wake up and know exactly what I have on that day, at what time/s so I can be prepared and have one less thing to worry about. I’ve created a daily routine (one that includes wine/alcohol on specified days and specific times – a must!) which, granted, on some days doesn’t always go to plan, but knowing how my day looks before I sit down at my desk helps me to be better mentally prepared and immediately brings down my stress levels. Plan in a way that works best for you: whether that’s taking 10 minutes at the end of each day to plan the next, or making a ‘to-do’ list on a Sunday evening in front of the TV, this organisational skill is a really good habit to form, no matter the circumstance or job. It almost feels like I’ve become my own PA!

Andrew, Group Sales Manager for Tavcom Training: A good chair

It sounds obvious but chair choice is important. Make sure you have a decent office/desk chair if you can. I spent the first few weeks on a dining room chair, and it became very uncomfortable after 8 hours or so. So, I went back into the office and stole my proper desk chair. Much better!

Also, I find using the ‘commute time’ for yourself to be enjoyable– wandering around the garden with a cup of tea is quite relaxing.

Mark, Account Manager for Tavcom Training: Organise my day

I have had to adapt. I am someone who enjoys the social aspect of work; that ability to be jocular with my colleagues, bounce Ideas off fellow workmates, visit our learners in the training centre and cement our relationships. But obviously, because of COVID-19, this hasn’t been possible. Going from seeing colleagues and learners every day to nothing is a big adjustment; not having access to the same level of social interaction can feel incredibly isolating, especially as someone who lives alone. The adjustment has been hard, and some days are better than others.

But the one thing I have found to be helpful for me is to organise my working day, even if it’s just a rough outline of what I plan to address on that day. For example, start with a morning coffee then move on to answering emails, process orders and online bookings, follow up on overnight sales leads, more coffee, address quotes and/or classroom bookings, LinkedIn networking, and so on. All the time making sure that the phone is being answered in a swift and timely fashion and queries are being dealt with. All in all, I try to make my days as full as possible, then they seem to run themselves.

Amina, Senior Administrator for Tavcom Training: Find what works for you

There a few things I’ve tried and tested over the last few months that have worked best for me:

Firstly, keep warm but not too warm – our kitchen where the table is, is cold and difficult to heat so when I need to, I wrap my legs up in a spare quilt and wear warm socks and slippers. When it’s hot and sunny outside the kitchen is cool but by about 15:30 it becomes too bright, so I retreat to the bedroom and work the rest of the day in there.

Secondly, take screen breaks. In the office, there are interruptions and distractions going on all day but at home, you can literally look at the screen for hours. I like to set an alarm to remind myself to get up, do a few stretches, star jumps, skip around the garden with the dog, and make sure I close my eyes for 30 seconds or so to rest them.

Thirdly, pack everything away at the end of the day. Tony – my husband – set me up with a bijou Neptune home office on day two of lockdown so we could have our kitchen back in the evenings. Packing everything away helps with mentally separating ‘work’ space from ‘home’ space and gives us our home back.

Ultimately accept it is going to be really frustrating at times. Communications are not as great when they aren’t facing to face and people will be less aware of all the other stuff going on in your life so might appear inconsiderate or uncaring. If I start to feel angry, I take a few deep breaths and then go back over what’s upset me. Sometimes viewing what’s been said from the other person’s perspective helps other times, especially with emails you can find a different meaning by re-reading something. If all else fails there’s always tea, toast and a cuddle with the dog or ringing your colleague for a rant, which works even if he’s the one who’s wound me up!

For me knowing this isn’t going to last forever has helped and the best bit is definitely spending more time with Aoife (my spaniel), even if she does sometimes start snoring mid-conversation…

It’s clear that each one of us has adapted to this situation differently, some have found it more of a challenge than others. And yet, not having to go to the office every day and face that one-hour commute can offer surprising opportunities to develop a better work-life balance, and to tailor your own working day. Opportunities which otherwise we might not have gotten. After four months of working from home, maybe we’ll all come out of this understanding our working habits and therefore working a little better than before.

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