A survival guide for working from home

There’s no doubt that COVID-19/Coronavirus has changed the way we’re going to be working for the foreseeable future, in particular with our office-based colleagues being asked to work from home when they can.

For many, this will be the first time you’re having to do so. With this in mind, here are a few tips on how you can survive working from home and keep your mental health in good shape.

1. Routine and structure are key

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The easiest thing to do is to treat working from home (WFH) as an opportunity for a lie in followed by “working” from your bed or sofa in your PJs.

Don’t fall into this trap!

Not only will sticking to a routine ensure you stay productive but, at a time when big changes are swirling around us, having a daily routine means you’ve got something in your life that you can control and will hopefully ease any anxious thoughts.

Treat your day as if you were going to the office – and no, I don’t mean sitting in your car for half an hour and recreating traffic-related road rage.

Get up on time, have a shower, get dressed, and power up your laptop to get cracking at your usual start time.

And as tempting as it is to stay up watching the late-night rerun of Shaun of the Dead (probably on ITV2 again tonight), make sure you get to bed at a decent time to give yourself a chance of a good night’s sleep.

Avoid reading the news last thing at night too as this won’t help you to switch off.

2. Have a break

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…and finish on time!

When you WFH you can fall into the trap of just staring at your screen for hours on end, ploughing through your work. Or carrying on working that little bit longer at the end of the day to finish something off.

But it’s important to make sure you take regular breaks to rest your eyes, stretch your legs, and to just refocus your mind.

Vowing to yourself that you’ll finish on time also means you’ve got an end goal and will break up each day. Unless you need to keep your work phone on for operational reasons, switch that off too.

3. Dedicate a workspace

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If you’ve got the space to do so, try to have a dedicated workspace away from where you’d normally spend time when you’re at home.

This could be sitting at the dining table, or making use of that spare room you never knew what to do with.

I live in a small flat so I’ve just bought a new desk that will clip on to my existing shelving units.

Wherever you work, make sure your back is supported and you’re well lit – in fact, one plus of WFH will hopefully mean less artificial light and more spring/summer sunlight!

4. Turn off the TV and play some tunes

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WFH can be very isolating – if you’re like me and enjoy the company of other people then the silence can sometimes get a bit much.

Avoid putting on the TV – as much as I love watching a bit of Phil and Holly, the TV is a visual distraction that will make focusing on work a lot harder.

Instead, put on a music radio station or a playlist – it will fill the silence but you won’t have constant talking in the background interrupting your thoughts.

If you’re stuck on what to listen to, my Spotify playlist All About That Brad has over 21 hours of my favourite songs – stick it on shuffle and see what you think. Or come up with your own!

5. Avoid too much news

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I’m a total news junkie and even on a normal day (remember those?) I’d be checking BBC News every hour or two.

We’re living in an unprecedented and unpredictable time so it’s understandable that we want to know what’s going on right this very second.

Yes, there are big changes going on but, realistically, how much will have really changed in the last hour that will affect you?

Try to limit your news intake – perhaps have a read over breakfast, maybe over lunch, and catch up on the government’s daily briefing at the end of the day. Even those three times might be too much!

Don’t forget, if you really want breaking news then you can set up alerts on your mobile to get information as it happens.

If this is all getting too much or if you don’t cope well with breaking news then go the other way and turn those notifications off and restrict yourself to visiting trusted sources of information at times best suited to you.

6. …and only read trusted sources

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On Wednesday, Twitter was going crazy with the news that Prince Phillip had died from COVID-19.

He hadn’t.

I have no personal connections to Buckingham Palace but, as far as I’m aware, he’s still alive.

That’s just one example of the literally thousands of bits of misinformation, fake news, unreliable sources and hearsay doing the rounds right now.

Think carefully about which sources you get your information from – social media and group chats are rarely the place and will often fuel anxiety and rumour.

BBC News is great for factual news.

The World Health Organization has a great page on busting myths around coronavirus.

If you’re worried about your health, the NHS website is the best place to go.

7. School’s out…

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…for who knows how long (correct at time of going to press).

Keeping our little ones entertained while we carry on working is going to be tricky, but it is manageable.

If they’re old enough, have a frank conversation with your kids about how you need to keep working using language that won’t scare them. If you’re able to work in a room separate to them then this will help them to understand the boundaries in place.

Giving children a routine during times of uncertainty will not only help their mental health but also set expectations for them too. Explain work means work and not hanging out but that you can share frequent breaks together.

Where possible, plan activities that don’t require supervision. The BBC have a wealth of educational programming available for children of all ages, as well as tons of information webpages children can learn from. YouTube is also a great resource for kids to keep active or learn a new skill.

Make sure you communicate with your manager too about what you need to make the situation manageable and what support you need. And if you’re joining a call, let the others know your kids are home so they’re warned if this happens.

8. Stay in touch

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Look, let’s be clear here – nobody knows how long this is all going to pan out for. It could be a couple of weeks, it could be a couple of months, it may even be longer.

But self-isolation and social distancing don’t mean zero contact with people from beyond your four walls.

Pick up the phone instead of sending an email. Switch on your webcam if you’re having a Skype conversation with people in your team (see above about getting dressed…)

We’re living in a great technological age, so when you’re not working you can video chat with friends and family. FaceTime for Apple devices is simple to use if you’re contacting someone with another Apple device, but if you’re not sure then WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger do a great job too.

Ask how other people are getting on and let others know if you’re not coping, especially your manager so that they can help you.

Now more than ever it’s so important to keep communicating.

If you have a health problem then stay in touch with your doctors and consultants. If you’ve got addiction issues then speak with your sponsor. Follow the official NHS and WHO advice.