Winston Churchill worked in his pyjamas but that doesn’t mean you should. Bond University workplace expert Dr Libby Sander and Australian psychologist of the year Dr Peta Stapleton have some tips for those working from home in the age of COVID-19.
SEPARATE WORK AND HOME LIFE
Peta: If you can physically separate (your home office), then that’s the first step. You could even have your office in the garage.
Keep to a structured timetable. It’s much easier to work later or quit earlier because you’re not in your physical workspace.
Ask someone else in your house to make you accountable to that. For me it’s my husband. Otherwise he’ll still be sitting there at 8pm working which he would not normally do in the office.
At the end of the day, turn the computer off and walk away from that space.
Libby: Use headphones to block out any distractions. There can be a lot of noises in our home environment.
Focus on the three most important things to get done today. What meetings do I need to attend? But be realistic. The kids will come in.
If we don’t detach emotionally and mentally when we leave work, that can lead to stress and burnout and poor sleep.
Close your computer, reflect on the day, plan your next day and then go and do some physical activity, talk to a friend or get engaged in a hobby that requires you to concentrate and that will help your brain switch off and detach emotionally from work.
Libby: Winston Churchill used to work in bed in his PJs and John Lennon tried to change the world by staying in bed, but research suggests that for most of us, putting clothes on other than our pyjamas helps us assume our work identity.
And besides, if you’re doing a Zoom call and you’re in your PJs, it could be a little bit awkward!
Do your hair, have a morning cup of coffee — the things you would normally do to get into work mode for the day.
Peta: Start the work day at the same time you normally would.
Do your hair and get dressed. Just those small things will change your mood.
Set the timer for when you’ll have your lunch break.
My daughter has set her phone to go off at her normal school morning tea time, her lunch time, and she’ll have that dedicated break which I think is fantastic because it makes her school day quite normal.
AVOID FEELING ISOLATED FROM COLLEAGUES
Libby: It’s really important to communicate more than we normally would because we don’t have those chances to go for coffee or bump into each other in the hallway.
Using video conferencing is much better than emailing or messaging. Check in with people at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day.
Peta: Technology is amazing and we need to use it for all it can give us at this time.
(The people I work with), we are staying in contact all the time, not only with online team meetings, but also by ringing each other as colleagues to have personal contact, even if that’s a five-minute chat once a day.
And you can Facetime family and friends in between so you still feel connected.
TURN ON THAT CAMERA
Libby: Before coronavirus, a lot of us using video-conferencing would keep the camera off.
At the moment I would say we’re not seeing each other and social isolation is a really big issue, so having the camera on is important.
You also don’t want people thinking, are you in your pyjamas? Are you doing something else and not really engaged in this call?
SET UP A HOME OFFICE
Libby: A lot of us don’t have a separate home office these days, or even a separate work space.
Thomas Wolfe, the American author, he was six foot six, he used to work using a refrigerator as a stand-up desk.
That’s not ideal and working in bed or on the couch is not ideal either.
Try to have a work space that’s flat, that has an ergonomic chair and as few distractions as possible.
Fresh air, natural light if you can, and a space you can walk away from at the end of the day.
Being at the kitchen table surrounded by piles of washing is not ideal.
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
Peta: Balance is an unusual word to use during this time and maybe we need to be more flexible than balanced.
Maybe we can’t exercise the same way that we’re used to or do our meditation routine when the whole family is home.
What we can do is check in with ourselves.
How do you feel? Are you noticing any signs of low mood or disconnection and what might you be able to do to conquer that? And most of the time that will be reaching out to somebody else.
THERE ARE POSITIVES IN WORKING FROM HOME
Peta: People are reconnecting with family and physical activity outdoors.
There are more online meetings that normally might not have occurred in the workplace.
We’re hearing stories that come late Friday afternoonwe’re all having drinks together via Zoom and everyone is really enjoying that hour of connecting and talking in a way they wouldn’t normally do in the workplace. We’re engaging more online than we would in person.
Libby: There’s a lot of research that shows working from home has many benefits.
People who work from home are better able to manage their work-life responsibilities, they’re more productive, they tend to be more committed to the organisation, there’s less absenteeism and less turnover.
Since we’ve been working at home, people are communicating more.
There’s a real habit in the office we have of sending an email even if someone is three feet away from us.
We’re getting closer to our colleagues than we do in the office.
Dr Libby Sander is Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Bond Business School. Dr Peta Stapleton is Associate Professor of psychology at Bond University.