Tips for working productively at home

Friday 20 March 2020

In a short space of time, the phrase ‘flattening the curve’ has become part of everyday vernacular. Physical distancing is considered one of the most effective ways that we can all do our part to help each other stay safe from coronavirus.

Things might become a little hectic in the foreseeable future, particularly if multiple members of the same household are working from home, and even more so if children are staying at home too. Throw into the mix different home layouts, the complexities associated with adjusting to working remotely, and the individual temperaments of household members and there is a real possibility that routines will be disrupted.

To assist, we have put together 10 tips to help you get through the emotional, practical and productivity related pressures that you might experience when working from home.

  1. Pre-empt, prepare and plan from start – At the start, have a discussion as a household (include children if relevant) about: individual expectations; individual strengths; potential difficulties/challenges, and ways that you will overcome these. Include children in the planning and preparing of the home. Discuss everyone’s jobs and roles. Use this as an opportunity to be on the same page. This discussion is essentially an informal ‘household contract’.
     
  2. Be empathetic– Talk with all members of the household (include children if relevant), about the situation and what this will mean for them. This is an important step in creating a supportive and understanding space for each other. Use this is an opportunity to explore and better understand each other’s fears and concerns, but make sure to keep things in perspective when doing so. Most children are already aware of coronavirus and have seen people wearing facemasks. So, it is best not to avoid talking about it with your children, as this would contribute to heightened anxiety and worry for them. In an age-appropriate and calm way, talk with your children about how they are feeling, and also use these discussions as opportunities to inform them of the facts. SchoolTV has a brief video guide for parents discussing coronavirus with school-aged children and adolescents.

    If your children are also at home, include them in setting their daily routine. Get them up and changed out of their pyjamas at their usual time. Make sure to structure downtime in between their schoolwork. They are likely to spend more time than usual in front of a screen, but do not let it get out of hand. You will notice a worsening in their mood, behaviour and sleep if they are getting too much screen-time.
     
  3. Set up structure and maintain a routine – In order to remain effective and productive, try to stay as close as possible with your normal routine. This might look like waking up at your usual time, going for a walk before the day starts, showering, eating breakfast, writing out your to-do list, and then getting stuck into work. To tackle work-life balance, turn off work-related notifications when you are on a break and switch off work devices when the workday is done. People will probably be working at different hours than usual. Discuss with your colleagues what flexible work arrangements mean for the team, and agree on acceptable timeframes for responding to matters. In most cases, just because you have received an email at a time that works for the sender, it will not mean that you need to respond or action it immediately. To minimise procrastination, prioritise your work, minimise distractions and focus on completing the items on your to-do-list. If something is boring you, it might be worthwhile getting that task out of the way first.

     
  4. Create working spaces – Even if you are used to working from home, chances are that it is unlikely you are used to sharing your space with multiple people. Figure out where everyone will work from and where work/school stuff will be stored at the end of the day.
     
  5. Practice and familiarise – To effectively work remotely, practice and familiarise yourself with the programs, technology and equipment.
     
  6. Give each other personal space – You are unlikely to be used to being in the same space together for prolonged periods of time. To minimise squabbling and resentment, create spaces in the home for time-out and/or personal space.
     
  7. Stay active – Exercise and staying active is one of the most effective ways of managing stress and improving mental health, sleep and concentration. Children will also experience heightened frustration and boredom if they are not given the opportunity to be physically active. There are some great online exercise, yoga, mindfulness and meditation resources. Some of the 7-minute exercise apps are a great way to break up the day and to involve everyone in the activity, all without needing any gym equipment.
     
  8. Make time for family activities – Do some activities together and try to have meals together as a family. Children are used to being in social environments, being stimulated with a range of activities and having opportunities to physically explore their surroundings. They may also be struggling with the changes to their routine, the environment and separation from their friends. Be prepared to cook with the children, play board games with them and help them out with schoolwork. Children will not understand your need for quiet. The more that you resist giving them your attention, the more likely they will act-out to get it. Often once you have satisfied their need for your attention, you will more than likely be able to return to your work without them feeling frustrated. As a compromise, consider setting activities up for the children in the same room/space that you will be doing your work.
     
  9. Stay connected with ‘outside’ people – Maintaining good social connections is important for your mental health and wellbeing. Schedule times throughout the day to speak either via phone or video conference with colleagues. Make use of technology which enables you to let colleagues know when you are available/unavailable to talk, when you are away from your desk etc. Talk about how you are feeling and ask colleagues how they are feeling. Outside of work hours, make time for friends on social media or via the phone. Help children find appropriate ways for them to remain connected to their friends.
     
  10. Be kind but not complacent – This is a process of readjustment for everyone. You might experience unexpected difficulties, and similarly, you might also notice surprises. We are often more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. Reflect on and learn from your experiences. What is going well and what is not working out as planned? What changes need to be made to improve things. Be kind and supportive of one another but don’t let issues fester. Now is the time to practice compassion towards yourself and others.

Miriam Wyzenbeek is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and the Law Society of NSW’s Wellbeing Coordinator.