The last year has been a real challenge for us all. The Covid-19 pandemic has left many of us dealing with the twin issues of both working from home and potentially doing so whilst significantly isolated in our personal lives as well as professionally.
We caught up with our inspiring MD, Peter Clark, who has degrees in Psychology and Occupational Therapy along with decades of experience managing mental health and psychological rehabilitation, to discover how we can all stay sane through isolated home working:
Staying Sane in Lockdown.
I’ve spent my career supporting businesses and their employees through the most difficult points of their careers due to the health issues they are experiencing, including stress anxiety and mood issues.
Today I’m sharing seven tips for staying sane through isolated home working.
Communication is key.
This is a uniquely shared experience. Everyone you communicate with, be it customers, those you report to or your direct reports, are all experiencing the same stressors. Open and honest communication is still the best way to both set and manage expectations.
If you have any concerns about your home working environment or the way it may be perceived during meetings, be sure to talk about it. Firstly, your employer may be able to help you and secondly, it may not be an issue. We’re now used to interruptions from children, pets and partners popping in and out of the room. I’ve spoken to people who can be really anxious about this and whilst it’s important that we do what we can to maintain professionalism, saying at the beginning of a meeting ‘my dog is here with me, apologies in advance if he makes any noise’ is not unprofessional, rather the opposite. You’ve identified a potential issue and addressed it early. Very professional in my opinion.
If you are a manager, schedule regular catch up conversations with your employees. If they live alone they may be feeling really isolated right now – but those living with families have their own struggles and challenges too. Nobody is immune to feeling overwhelmed. In addition to those scheduled calls set aside more casual drop in time where members of your team can drop in for a virtual chat if they feel they. With access to Skype, Teams, FaceTime and other virtual video calls, you can create the near as possible to face to face, rather than a phone call.
If you live with others and haven’t worked from home before, they are likely to see a side of you they haven’t seen before. Talk to them about the differences between ‘work you’ and ‘home you’ so they are not shocked the first time they hear you having a serious work call.
Accept that the stresses you are feeling and the difficulties you are having are being experienced through all levels of the business. Talk with your manager about them. They might be able to help. At very least they will be able to explain how they feel the same way and what they are doing to manage it.
Set Boundaries (and stick to them)
Unless you’ve specifically agreed otherwise, your work hours have not changed. Whilst I’m sure your employer would appreciate it, there shouldn’t be an expectation for you to start early or finish late just because your office is now in the room next to your bedroom.
This goes both ways though. Yes you are still entitled to a break but having Netflix on in the background whilst you work is a distraction which will slow down your productivity. Work still needs to be treated as work and home as home. Whilst this division can’t be made by geography, it needs to be made by time. Log on and off at the right times, don’t be tempted to take a longer lunch whilst convincing yourself that you’ll work a little later, the evening is your time and some clear structure and routine is beneficial.
Make clear to your partner or others you live with what is expected of you in a normal work day and that you will need to work just as hard as you do in the office. This also goes both ways. A quick chat with your partner whilst you make a cup of tea for both of you is fine, you would normally do that in the office with a colleague and human contact throughout the day is very important for both of you. If you’re both working from home, how about a lunch date?
At the time of writing, government advice states that we can all go outside once per day for exercise. Whilst we can…do it. This doesn’t mean you have to start training for a marathon - a short fifteen minute walk is better than nothing. It’s an opportunity to clear your head, get some much needed vitamin D and burn off some of those extra quarantine snack calories. Exercise is vital to our psychological wellbeing and the opportunity to be outside when options are so restricted must be taken when it’s possible.
Work this exercise into your schedule at a time that works for you and your employer. See my earlier note on communication and talk to your manager about it. I find that my productivity peaks after a bit of fresh air and exercise, so going out for a run during the morning means I’m going to get a lot more done in the afternoon. If this is the case for you, discuss it. I guarantee your employer wants and needs you to be as productive as possible right now. If this means being a little more flexible than before, accommodating a request for you to take you break earlier in the day so you can go for a run may be agreed easily.
Limit the amount of news you watch.
Whilst it’s important to stay updated on the current situation and be aware of any changes to government advice, fixating on growing infection and death rates is both unhelpful and unhealthy. The only thing we can do to minimise how bad things are going to get is follow the government advice and stay as healthy as we can. I personally am limiting myself to the daily government update for COVID related news and otherwise trying to avoid it as much as possible. I’ve also turned off news alerts for my phone. If anything important happens, I will hear about it soon enough, I don’t need to be told every fifteen minutes about unemployment rates, the latest unwell celebrity or every infection and death toll milestone.
If you can avoid watching news during your working day then do. It will prolong the day, making it take longer to get through the tasks you need to cover and is unlikely to be useful to your work processes.
Try not to go too far down the social media rabbit hole.
Social media is a fantastic tool for staying in touch, particularly in these difficult times. It’s also the easiest way to blink and lose four hours. Even now when our choices are limited in terms of how we spend our time, we need to monitor, and try to reduce the time we all spend staring at a screen.
Try to limit both the time spent and the type of content being taken in. Right now, fifteen minutes laughing at funny cat videos is preferable to a two hour, poorly researched, youtube documentary on pandemics and how we’re all doomed.
Avoid social media completely if you can through the working day. It is a huge distraction which, regardless of your usual dedication, will take time away from your work which is neither fair to your employer or yourself.
Do something new…together if you can.
The downturn many businesses are seeing is a huge worry. It is also an opportunity to really clear out that to do list. Is there a project that constantly seems to drop off the bottom of your weekly list but may improve efficiency for you or your team? Why not give it some attention now?
The same applies to your personal life. Always wanted to learn Spanish or how to Salsa? Guess what, you may have time now if you remove your usual commuting time or are furloughed. You can put that time to positive use and living in the digital age there is unlimited online resource to tap into. My wife and I are currently picking up a Lego project. Something we’ve never done before which means we are spending time together working on something new, having fun and laughing. A great opportunity here to discover something that you might love.
Keep to a routine… Now more than ever
Knowing what comes next and acknowledging each achievement along the way helps to build resilience at a time when we really need it. Set reminders throughout the day to keep on track with tasks. Make time to interact with the colleagues who would normally support you, and that you would support. Take regular breaks but stay on track. These are unpredictable times. Take comfort, however small, in those things which still can be predicted and the fact that we are all in this together.
Change is inevitable. We are in the biggest period of change our generation has ever seen. We must support each other to stay healthy, sane and productive. Some days will be easier than others but this too shall pass.