Tips for working at home during the coronavirus pandemic, with kids

Laura Ross
Marketing Executive/Editor | Business West
19th March 2020

With most companies advising staff to home work if they can to avoid further spread of COVID-19, finding positive ways to work from home successfully is essential. Companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Twitter have rolled out mandatory work-from-home policies and local businesses are following suit.

All of our circumstances and how we live and work are now different – our ways of working, our teams, our culture, our homes, our families…the list goes on. The business landscape has also changed radically. 

Whilst many of us have some experience of homeworking, businesses are having to react quickly to keep up with this major shift. While we used to perhaps work a day or two at home each week, to focus in on core tasks, that was before all this change and critically when all businesses were functioning as normal. Now with the huge swathes of staff now working from home every day, the cultural change is massive. The circumstances are now very different. And how much sticks, only time will tell.

So how do we respond to this? Well, it’s going to take time for us to adapt to this new way of working. But we’ll get there. Technology will be key to keep communication going and we will need to change the way we work to establish routines and minimise distractions.

Like many businesses, all Business West staff have been advised to work from home this week. We’ve had years’ of experience of homeworking so were fortunate in that we were already set-up and prepared. So I thought I’d share some of our tips and experience and let you know what helps us to stay on track and keep productive, well most of the time anyway! Read on to find out more.

Set a routine

Ditch the pyjamas and get dressed every day! It’s tempting to go from bed to desk, but not recommended. Starting with a clear, written plan for the day followed by checking in with your team. This is invaluable to keep you motivated and on track. Working in 45 minute-1 hour chunks followed by a short break can work well too.

Find some time during the day to take a break and do some exercise. Enjoy a quick walk or jog morning or lunchtime to clear your head as long as you are not self-isolating or try yoga or a workout video from home. Setting a timer to remind yourself to get up and move away from your computer – a stretch and a walk about can bring clarity and focus when you return to your desk. 

One team I know, Chamber member business, Bristol Energy dials in every morning for a half hour team catch up to keep the team connected and focused. My husband and I are now both working at home together, so we need to manage workspaces and respect each other’s space when we need to dial into meetings. We try to get out for a daily walk together to keep ourselves sane. Everyone will find their own routine/set up that works for them during these unprecedented times. 

At the end of your working day, write your ‘to do’ list for the following day, turn off your computer and tidy your papers. Close the door and mentally shut down for the day before consciously switching back into home mode.  The important thing is to create some distance between work and home time.

‘Communicate, communicate, communicate!’

The words of our Marketing Director, Mary Martin today. None of us know how long social distancing will last, but we are confident that home working will work well as long as we keep communicating as a team and across the business. 

Our routine is to log onto Skype every morning. We send instant Skype messages and use video calls internally. We can mark if we are available, busy, unavailable or in a meeting. We keep our shared calendars up-to-date so people can see what we’re up to.

Finding the right communication method for your team is essential. I have friends at firms who have WhatsApp team groups which are constantly pinging with new messages and becoming a real distraction. So getting the balance right to suit your organisation is key. Be prepared to adapt and feed back if current communication methods are not working.

Picking up the phone is often quicker and more effective than sending an email.  We also use shared platforms to communicate with colleagues or clients. We are increasingly using LinkedIn messaging to reach out to clients – it’s much more instant than email. We use Powwownow for shared conferencing but there are plenty of other options on the market. Skype, FaceTime or Zoom is also invaluable for video chats with clients.

Importantly, maintaining your mental health and making sure you keep in regular contact with your teams and clients is essential. Equally, having said that it is also key to be able to switch off communication and focus in on tasks – see next section.

Minimise distractions

With the news changing by the hour at the moment, it’s hard not to get sucked into the latest updates on coronavirus. Try to minimise the amount of time you spend looking at recent developments by setting times in the day to catch up on bulletins otherwise it becomes distracting, overwhelming and not good for your mental health. Ignore the hoovering, washing, tidying and stay away from the fridge/food cupboard!

There are so many apps, channels and comms methods out there so work out what’s in it for you, prioritise the methods that work best for you and decide when to switch off to focus. For example, try to keep LinkedIn for set time periods in the day – perhaps just half an hour each morning and afternoon. It is easy for social media to suck you in and find you’ve lost time that isn’t necessarily productive.

I like to write notes at my kitchen table away from a screen and looking out at the garden. I can then put those thoughts into practice on screen. Depending on what I’m doing, music can help me to zone in and focus, too. Having the cat on my lap seems to be a positive distraction.

Focus in on getting tasks done: projects such as writing that blog you’ve been meaning to do or finish that report. It’s the perfect time to knuckle down and finish that task. If music helps you to concentrate, or putting your phone on silent or marking your Skype as ‘unavailable’ will help colleagues understand you don’t want a distraction right now. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘can I get back to you on this later?’ for non-critical questions.

What about the kids?

For those of us with kids, the announcement that schools will be closing on Friday 20th March to minimise coronavirus spread is filling some working parents with dread. Some employees express being more scared of home-schooling than they are of COVID-19. How are parents going to work, home school and isolate? It’s not an easy challenge, especially with no quick end in sight.

Supporting working parents is a major shift for business too. It seems to me that companies will have to continue to be flexible with workers, to trust that their staff will do their very best to do their jobs well, work their hours and manage their kids in these unprecedented times. It might mean workers showing some flexibility too, working some hours in the evenings or weekends. Is this a leap of faith too far for some employers? Like everything at the moment, this will evolve as we respond to this major cultural shift.

In conclusion, working from home is different for everyone. What might work for me might not work for you. But by having a routine, minimising distractions and communicating with your team and clients by multiple platforms makes it much easier. As an optimist, I’d like to think that these fundamental changes in working patterns could well be a catalyst for positive change for the future but only time will tell. 

So, let’s start a conversation…what homeworking tips can you share? What doesn’t work for you? Share a picture of your workspace. Please add your own tips and comments to this post.

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