The current COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we work – much quicker and on a bigger scale than anyone could have imagined only a few weeks ago. For some of us, working from home is nothing new and something we have already had to master in the past. For others, it is a new experience, fraught with many questions, challenges and niggling issues to fix along the way. Eg is that microphone working? Why is the internet so slow? How do I stop my cat from hopping on the keyboard every five minutes?
Once you have jumped these first hurdles, the real challenge you are facing is likely to revolve around how to make this work in the longer run. As the new scenario of remote working and social distancing for everyone (and self-isolating for some) is likely to be here for several weeks or even months, you will need to create a new normal – finding a new routine and a different way of getting things done in a way that is sustainable and meets your personal and professional needs.
Below are some tips for you to consider to ensure you stay productive and well in your new working environment away from the office:
- Stay connected. This is number one on the list for a reason: working remotely does not mean working in social isolation. Keep reaching out to colleagues and peers at least as much as you would normally do, using the many options modern technology affords us to collaborate, communicate and interact with each other. If you work in a larger team, consider daily check-ins with everyone to start the day together. And to avoid missing out on the normal chit-chat in the office (which really is the social glue that holds together relationships and teams), why not scheduling a five minute video call to say hello during morning or afternoon tea time?
- Get out of your pyjamas / gym gear. It may be tempting to slack off a bit on the personal presentation front, but you will make it harder for yourself to remain motivated and in the right mindset to get work done. We don’t only wear professional business attire and keep ourselves looking kempt and tidy to impress others; we are also sending a message to ourselves by modifying our appearance. Being dressed appropriately will help you stay in “work mode” – mentally, emotionally and behaviourally.
- Don’t sit on the sofa. Or work from your bed. In other words, behave as if you were in the office. Make sure you have a dedicated and practical working space, ideally in an area of your home that is comfortable and separate from personal activities and family life (especially if you have other family members at home with you). Take some time to set up a suitable work station if you haven’t worked from home before, and make sure you have access to everything you need to work productively, down to the paper clips and stapler.
- Make a plan for each day. What do you want to achieve today? Having a plan for the day ahead is always useful because it keeps you on track and accountable, but it may be especially important when you are working on your own. Not having others around you can make it more difficult to stay motivated and follow through with tasks. When planning your days, I encourage you to make use of the flexibility that working from home offers us. For example, it may now be easier to schedule tasks which require your undivided attention and focus during the best time for you to do this, when you are naturally at your most alert. Experiment and see what works, but always do so with a plan. Pro tip: Share your plans for the day with your team or a trusted colleague, this will help you stay on track.
- Continue to use and follow your bring up system. It probably is even more important to not ignore your bring ups and calendar as you will not have the usual checks and balances from your team or colleagues.
- Stick to a work schedule. Especially in times of heighted uncertainty and rapid change, having a routine helps to create stability and predictability in our lives. If you always started work at 8.30am, keep doing so. Have your lunch break when you usually have it (even it feels awkward!), and log off at the usual time. Don’t forget to schedule in regular small breaks to stretch, get some fresh air and take your eyes off the screen.
- Set firm and clear boundaries. This is something that many people struggle with in the best of times, but now is the time to set, communicate and protect your personal boundaries. For example, if you were in an office, you wouldn’t allow your work to be constantly interrupted by personal phone calls and emails, visitors or homework. Don’t change the rules now because you are working from home. On the other hand, just because your new work desk happens to be at your home doesn’t mean you never get off work again. As much as possible, clear your work away (physically as well as mentally) when it’s time to log off, and make sure the line between work and personal life doesn’t dissolve. As much as you need to ensure that you have adequate space and time during the day to work productively, it is equally important to protect your home life from becoming enmeshed with work.
Understandably, having young children at home while you are trying to work poses additional challenges and distractions. If you are looking for advice and suggestions on how to manage this situation, have a look at this useful article by Kate Avery from Kare Lawyers.
If you would like to learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out to the QLS Solicitor Support service on firstname.lastname@example.org or p. 3842 5843 to speak to someone in a judgement-free and supportive environment.
Rebecca Niebler is QLS’s Organisational Culture and Support Officer, QLS Solicitor Support (QLS Ethics and Practice Centre)
23 March 2020