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Suddenly find yourself working from home? Sounds like a dream come true – except that your workload likely hasn’t changed – it’s probably more, if anything, which makes the next week (and likely many more) sound more like a coordination nightmare. Here are six tips to stay focused as we navigate these uncertain times.
1. Set up everything you need
Take everything from your office. No one knows how long we will be at home. Ensure you have a quality internet router with high speed, a reliable computer, any additional hardware or software you would use in the office, headphones and sufficient stationary (maybe a whiteboard, to keep your workload visual?).
If your office is dependent on fixed, heavy-duty workstations, set up remote desktops.
Find a quiet space that is safe from mosquitos, preferably with a window, fan and access to filtered water (you will be drinking a lot more water at home than usual). Make a standing desk with a stack of books/boxes and add a plant to improve air quality. You’ll be spending a lot of time in this space, so invest in it.
2. Structure your day
Get out of bed at the same time as you normally would and use the time you would spend commuting to get some exercise in – do a bodyweight circuit, go for a walk/run or get in some yoga stretches, then shower and dress as you normally would. Power dressing works at home, too.
Set out what you want to achieve, prioritise and put dedicated time slots against each task. Ensure to add breaks, which you can also combine with brief exercise sessions. I use breaks as rewards – I take them as soon as something is ticked off the list.
Finish on time. Maintaining discipline is crucial at home. There are no office hours, so it is easy to over-work. You will be more productive if you start and finish on time, and spend the rest of your evening with your family or friends (real or virtual), or pursuing a hobby.
3. Make meetings count
Virtual meetings can drag even more than in-person meetings, particularly if the first 15 minutes is spent with “who has joined the call, who can hear me?”. Keep meetings smart; minimise attendees, ensure everyone has downloaded the meeting tool in advance, note joining times if lateness starts becoming an issue, send an timed agenda to all in advance, delegate issues which do not concern everyone to smaller groups, have a live list of actions open and finish on time.
Do not underestimate the importance of meetings though – have them regularly, particularly if you manage a team – they are a great way to forget about the distance. Remember to mute your microphone when you are not speaking.
4. Ensure everything is shared
Share your calendars, upload everything to shared drives and clean out your email inboxes. If you haven’t already, introduce Google Docs and Sheets – you will never get this much support for adoption.
Set up online collaboration tools and chat groups. Test a few out with your team. What matters is not the platform, it is that the team finds it easy to use.
Share other things as well – how you are coping, what organisational tools you are using, music that you are listening to, books that you are reading. In uncertain times, we all need extra support.
Team leads, start a practice of sending out an email every day when you log-in and before you log-off, indicating progress, and to-dos for tomorrow.
5. Stay healthy
It is easy to snack all day, overeat, have less proper meals and move less when you are working from home. Set up your kitchen with healthy snacks and eat consciously.
Get up and move regularly, and ensure you are comfortable – we usually do not have access to ergonomic office chairs when at home, so keep an eye on your posture.
If your office generally maintains specific lunch time and snack breaks, try maintaining the same routine at home.
6. Be conscious of privacy
Calls, video conferences, emails, and chat threads can be recorded, shared, and misconstrued. Remember that you are accountable for anything transmitted on a company server. If you must share something personal, do it over a personal channel such as your mobile phone (although remember anything can be screenshotted and shared). Be careful of accidentally leaving your camera or microphone on.
If you are using remote desktops to work directly on office computers from home, remember that everything that you are doing is visible by anyone who might be physically present in your office.
We will all be using file transfer and cloud services more often. Check your office rules about using third-party services to transfer and store proprietary files.
Don’t hide behind your screen; try to ensure at least one video call per day. Take 5-minute breaks as you would when in the office, and use them to have a quick check-in on your colleagues to keep morale up. If an email or message is unclear, pick up the phone. Misunderstandings can escalate quickly in virtual discussions, particularly on sensitive topics and often because someone misses a nuance/act of body language that would be obvious in person. Regular social contact is crucial – you never know how hard a colleague may be taking the isolation.
If any of these tips helped you, pass it forward by sharing this article. Spread awareness, not fear. For more, visit: http://www.brac.net/covid19/index-en.html
Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh is the head of programme and enterprise communications, BRAC Communications.