If someone told you in January that you’d be able to work from home for months on end, dodging traffic and those many daily hassles in the process; it might have sounded like good news. The reality, of course, is not always quite so enjoyable.
It’s one thing working from home voluntarily, with the comfort of knowing that you can still pop into the office every few days. But as the world adjusts to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most significant changes is enforced home working and the challenges it throws up.
Even before quarantines and social distancing measures became the norm, many experts debated what remote working does to your mental health and productivity. So, if the COVID-19 lockdown has forced you to work from home, I thought I’d share with you today a few things I’ve learned that has helped keep me sane and reasonably productive.
Dress for the job
Fashion doesn’t exist when the world is on lockdown. Still, psychologists recommend you get dressed for work rather than joining those Zoom video calls in your PJ’s. You can make certain adjustments, no tie for example and jeans rather than trousers, as after all you’re only seen from the waist up. The critical point is that you’re not merely keeping up appearances, being in a cut-down version of work attire, helps put your brain in work mode.
Routine and structure
Try and structure your day as standard; this really helps to make the quarantine period tolerable, and that starts with your sleep, so resist the urge to hit the snooze button. Some variation is needed, so for example, take your daily exercise when you would have been commuting to work.
An alternative is to try and structure your day based on your body clock. So, depending on whether you’re at your best listening to the dawn chorus or you’re more of a night owl, you’re likely to be more productive when you are naturally at your mental sharpness.
Create a workspace
Do what you can to physically separate your working space from your living space, especially if you have kids at home, as even a minor distraction can kill your concentration and increase your error rate. Also, having a dedicated work area is more akin to a typical office environment, which helps improve your productivity.
There is a concept known as ‘refuge and prospect’, which says that humans are the happiest working sat with our backs to the wall with a view of a window. A room with a view of nature has the effect of reducing blood pressure and stress hormones, which increases your ability to focus. It certainly works for me, especially the natural light.
Don’t turn up the heating.
Research shows both mildly cold and mildly warm environments increase human metabolism, and this counterbalances excess energy intake. You remain alert, and your stockpile of Jaffa Cakes will remain high.
Protect your mental health
As if a lethal pandemic wasn’t enough to trigger anxiety and depression. A UN report in 2017 found that remote workers are more likely to experience high-stress levels than office workers. Challenges include misinterpreted emails, work bleeding into family life, which can often mean you clock-up addition hours.
As well as switching off the laptop at the end of the day, make sure you do something which genuinely gives you pleasure. For instance, watch your favourite programme on Netflix, read a book or ‘phone a family member or friend to catch up.
Arrange virtual meetings
A commonly told joke at the start of the pandemic said that one thing the coronavirus would teach us is whether all those meetings could have been emails after all. I think that we’re all starting to realise that many pre-COVID-19 meetings were not essential. Meetings often only occurred because they’d been scheduled, rather than being arranged for a specific purpose.
But now, they’ve become essential, and not just for much-needed human contact. A face-to-face virtual meeting will minimise misinterpretations and prevent time-wasting chains of emails; they can also be beneficial with motivation. There’s plenty of technology available, Skype, Slack and Zoom, to name but a few.
Don’t forget that we are social animals and part of the reason we go to work is that we love being with other people. So, don’t just use Zoom for meetings, using virtual spaces to meet up can be good for you.
Pre-lockdown, a lot of the time we spend interacting at work is not actually about work (don’t tell your boss). Interaction is likely what we miss when we are self-isolating. So, I would recommend meeting colleagues or friends on-line for regular coffee breaks and a chat, and you know it makes sense.
Try learning something new.
However highly you are motivated, work is likely to slow down for many people during the pandemic so fill the time with learning something new. It could be work-related, such as an IT course, maybe a language, but do something to keep yourself cognitively active. You might never get this kind of window to learn something again, so use it.
If you would like more detailed information on some aspect of UK Tax, send me an e-mail and I’ll be pleased to advise further.