Surviving and Thriving While Working From Home (part 1 of 2)

I have been working from home for many years now. I have gone from having a beautifully quiet space to now sharing this same space with my husband who is working full time across numerous time zones, a 6 year old I am home-schooling and a 4 year old who really needs a playground to survive and instead has transformed the house into one (I would generally be impressed by her resourcefulness and innovation if it weren’t for my constant fear of having to bring her to the emergency room).  I have learnt some lessons that have served me well over the past years and now that everyone is working from home, I thought I would share some of these and ask Signatories to share theirs as well (part 2).

Have a clear distinction between what is work and what is life. That is even more important now that most of us are confined to our homes. Make sure that you have a space that you use just for work, whether that is a room, a corner or a particular set up, and that when you are done work you leave that space. I keep my office door closed when I’m not working because if its open I think about work every time I walk past it. Take this same tip when it comes to emails. It is too easy when you work at home to be working 24 hours a day. Try to avoid checking work emails, especially at night before going to bed and even first thing when you get up. Give yourself that space.

Have a schedule. While this doesn’t have to be set in stone, and should be adapted regularly, it should be followed. Figure out when you are most productive, when you actually can get work done and when you shouldn’t be. Be flexible as a household as sometimes you will need, or want more time to work, or not to work.

Start the day with some sort of physical activity. You aren’t leaving your home to go to work in the morning anymore so it’s important to recreate that in some way. We all start the day with a walk to the University of Western Australia campus which is stunning…and empty (see above). If you were a member of a gym many are offering home workout tips and there are lots of videos online (even Olympic athletes are sharing their daily workouts on Instagram which honestly make me feel more fit just by watching them). If your university gym isn’t offering classes online, maybe suggest they have some daily exercise suggestions for home workers. If you are sharing your home with others try to all do this together.

Take your virtual communications seriously. My days/nights are filled with more and more virtual meetings. Assign an MC for regular meetings to make sure everyone is engaged. Schedule it at a time that works for everyone in their new situations. Don’t go too long, only have what is necessary and make it useful.

Take your mental health even more seriously. Mental health is one of those things we don’t think about until it affects us. We take it for granted. But while constantly washing your hands will help stop the spread of the virus, think about what you can do just as regularly to make sure that your mind stays healthy. As an institution make sure you are providing additional support for staff and students at this time and tap into many local and national organisations providing the same. Put time aside every day to do something for yourself, even if it is just a few minutes. Approach it just as you would physical activity, it is that important. Think about this as a team as well. Your priority can’t just be on what the numbers say at a time like this, think about how things feel. For some extra help sign up for Yale’s course on the Science of Wellbeing or Berkeley The Science of Happiness.

Take breaks. I start every morning with a cup of tea. By the time the tea is cold (because I usually start working and forget I made it) I know it is time to take a break which involves going back over to the kitchen and waiting for the kettle to boil again. Take breaks, and not just to do things you need to do like cleaning, shopping or obsessing over the latest COVID-19 updates. Take breaks throughout the day where you are truly taking a break (daydreaming or looking for patterns in the clouds does count). Call a friend, walk around the block (or the house if you’re not allowed outside) and take these short breaks often. The science (and probably research that your own institution has conducted) is with me on this, it will make you much more efficient.

Remember that everyone’s set up is different. We all show up at work every day, all cleaned up, and leave our lives behind us. Today, both our work and non-work lives are all mixed into one. While for some this may mean an empty house, others are trying to work surrounded by distractions. Everyone will also have a different schedule but that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting their work done. Consider the learning curve and provide employees and teams with additional support right now. Many just won’t be able to do the same amount of work or in the same way as before and we need to accept that that’s life and life is a priority now more than ever. Adjust your expectations and take the time you need to adapt.

Embrace the interruptions. We all try to be so perfect all the time, but sometimes, when you let things slip a little, they may be better as a result, or at the very least more real.  Students keep telling me stories that their new favourite classes are the ones where faculty giving virtual lectures from home are getting interrupted by an excited dog, a hungry cat, or, even better, their seven year old who absolutely wants to tell all 300 students in her mom’s microeconomics class about her drawing of a frog fairy. Just go with it.

Think about sustainability. I fully recognise that the Sustainable Development Goals are not the first thing you are thinking about at the moment, but we are right in the middle of them. Health is part of sustainability. Sustainability is a whole range of issues that interact and impact our lives on a daily basis. What COVID-19 has done in many respects is simplify things momentarily. No one is travelling, people aren’t visiting sites, most are at home. Think about the impact you are having on your own little island. How are you using resources, how are you interacting with these issues? Also think about the impact you could have through your work or in your community, to help support the environmental, social and economic sustainability of those things you impact or that impact you. Support your local businesses, your local farmers, those organisations that you as an institution work with regularly.

Don’t feel you need to cancel everything. We teach innovation in business schools every day. It’s time to do it. Think about different ways of doing what you do and get everyone, including your students, involved. Can’t meet for graduation? One University in Japan even had robots handing out degrees. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or even look pretty (or involve robots), it just has to bring people together in a new way to share and learn and inspire.

And last but not least, have a bit of fun with it. Find ways to continue to make emotional connections with those you work with. Have a virtual birthday party for a colleague during a coffee break. You can now set up your office however you like, no rules. Open the window, listen to music (there are lots of live concerts at the moment online). Think about what is behind you when you do virtual calls. I’ve recently upgraded my back wall with modern art pieces created by my 4-year-old. If you are really missing office noises, there is now even a soundtrack of office noises you can play out loud.

While the world outside is hurting right now, your office, your home needs to be, now more than ever, your sanctuary. Turn it into the space, physically and psychologically, that you need right now. This too is what sustainability is all about.

Tomorrow I will be sharing some tips from Signatories including the views they have from their offices. Next week we will go back to focusing on how schools are embedding the SDGs into their curriculum, even now with COVID-19 restrictions.

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