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Working virtually- the new normal?

My top tips for successfully working from home.

I’ve been working from home as a self-employed consultant and coach for over 20 years and trained and supported global, virtual teams. I’m lucky I have a dedicated home office with a good sized desk, office chair, large monitor and space for files and books. Here are my top tips for working virtually from home:

1. Are you sitting comfortably?

If you are adjusting to working from home at short notice during lockdown you may still be working on the kitchen table or balancing your laptop as you sit on the sofa. With the likelihood of home working extending for months if you haven’t got a good ergonomic set up now is the time to get organised to protect you neck, back and eye sight as well as your mental health.

My top tips for working ergonomically:

  • Work in good natural light if possible with equipment positioned at right angles to the window an LED lamp can help both mood and vision

  • Avoid working all day on a laptop - use a laptop kit consisting of a separate keyboard, mouse and stand

  • Ensure desk/table at a suitable height to allow space for knees and legs

  • Sit well back and if the chair is too low use cushions to raise yourself up and or support your back

  • Position the screen roughly at arm’s length and the screen top just below eye level, if you are using a small laptop or a tablet, you may need to bring it closer

  • Try to sit at the correct height with your elbows level with the top of the work surface and your forearms horizontal. If you have a mouse, keep it close to your keyboard

  • If you really have to sit or the sofa or bed, don’t do it for too long. Vary it with other postures and move around regularly

2. Get organised

Home working often means more flexible working. No longer needing to catch a specific train each morning or rushing to miss the traffic and grab a parking space, we can easily become less disciplined with start and finish times. The lack of a commute also means less distinction between work and personal life which can impact our ability to get focused and switch off.

My top tips for working productively:

  • Set a regular start and finish time for your working day and stick to it

  • Keep up your standards of personal grooming and dress (at least from the waist up) to ensure you feel professional and of course look good for video calls

  • No eating at the desk/table - have breakfast before you start and break for lunch

  • Chunk working hours and allocate to different activities such as admin tasks and “deep” work depending on your levels of concentration and energy at different times of the day

  • Manage the transition at the end of the working day - log off, walk away and do something that gives you some personal space before engaging with friends or family giving you time to reflect on the day, switch off and transfer your focus to personal life

3. Take a break

Two big challenges of working remotely are procrastination and hyper focus. Working at home means that many of the distractions at work our removed. With fewer interruptions you can get totally absorbed in a task. This sounds good but intense concentration for a long period of time not physically changing position, resting our eyes and getting dehydrated can be detrimental.

My top tips for keeping focused:

  • ·Try the 20:20:20 rule -every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Following this rule is a great way to remember to take frequent breaks

  • Another proven time management technique is the Pomodoro Technique® developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. This breaks working time into 25 minute chunks (called a Pomodoro) separated by 5 minute breaks. After 4 Pomodoro’s take a longer break of 15-20 minutes. Having only a short period of time to get something done helps focus the mind so we avoid distracting thoughts or wasting time scrolling though social media posts or just staring blankly at the screen

4. Keep talking

When people are asked what they miss most when they stop working, the majority say it is their colleagues and the social aspects of work. But it is not just the social benefits that working face to face brings. Having the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, talk things through, ask questions and get other people’s reactions is essential for creative thinking, problem solving and good decision making. Working from home and being isolated from our line manager, team members and clients can lead to a number of negative impacts.

My top tips for keeping engaged:

  • ·Agree with your manager how and how often you want to communicate. Do you like spontaneous phone calls or prefer scheduled meetings? Do you prefer to receive an email if someone is giving or asking for information or do you like to discuss it? Both the amount of contact we need and how we prefer to communicate depends on our personality and working style as well as our role

  • Even if you prefer things in writing don’t just rely on emails and messages – make an audio or video call and talk

  • Develop a weekly schedule of regular 1:1 and team catch ups

  • Set up opportunities to meet for non-business discussions such as virtual coffee or lunch breaks, team quizzes or online games

  • Use your status to indicate when you are available and set “do not disturb” so colleagues know when to contact you

  • Recognise when your energy, motivation or confidence is low and be proactive contacting people who can help you feel connected, solve a problem or just make you laugh

So if you are sitting comfortably, feeling organised, managing your time, taking regular breaks, you can continue to be productive and effective working virtually and sustain it long term – just keep talking.




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