Working from Home

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Ducks on a river at sunset
And.. relax

Now that most of us are working from, we’ve prepared a short guide to how to manage it, with advice on how to stay healthy and look after yourself

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government’s order that all but a few essential services switch to working from home, has meant that the living room is the new office for many people. On top of all of the other stresses and anxieties that we will all, inevitably, be dealing with in the coming months, all of us will now have to adjust to a very new way of life.

For most people, working from home involves a radical change in the way that they think about their work and homelife. Coming home from the office after an exhausting and possibly stressful day can be real source of relief. Likewise, going into work often serves to structure most people’s days and give them a break from the hustle and bustle of home-life.

Although some adapt easily to working from home and find the lack of structure liberating, for others having their home become their workplace can be a real shock.

There is no guarantee that the transition will be smooth for everyone, but there are ways to find structure and even enjoyment in your new domestic worklife.

With this in mind, we present our guide to working from home during the pandemic, and how you can make the best of it.

Set Boundaries

Maybe it’s the dining room table. Maybe you’ve had to get creative and repurpose an ironing board as a standing desk. Whatever the solution for your space, try and have a clear, designated work zone you turn up to each morning. This will of course be easier for some than others, but boundaries will help you focus when it’s time to work, and relax once the day is over.

Cat on bed
Cat on bed

Working from bed is a clear no-no. You may think that the luxury of working from home is that you can do it wherever, and however, you want. But, once you turn your bed into an office you’ll find it impossible to separate work and free time. Just think of your partner having to share a bed with you and your work folders! What starts of as a lifehack can quickly turn into a house colonised by work documents and computer cables.

What’s true of how to use your home space is also true of how to use your time. You may think that being able to work from home means that you can pick and choose when you work, but try and stay within the parameters of the working day.

Some people do the boring, administrative, work within their workday and then save the more fun stimulating work for the evenings. This sounds appealing, but it can lead to burnout as the admin piles up and the creative tasks become a burdensome to-do list.

Part of any sustainable working schedule is a healthy work-life balance and during the pandemic you won’t get as much time to leave the house as you’re used to. Separating work time from non-work time can be one way of getting a break from what could easily become a pretty claustrophobic environment.

Dress the part

Anyone that has ever thought about the benefits of working from home has imagined themselves rolling out of bed, unwashed and in their pyjamas, at 8:45.

After leisurely leaving the bed room you might imagine yourself meandering to the kitchen to make yourself a coffee just before 9am when you wipe the sleep from yours eyes and look over the morning’s emails.

The time spent avoiding the morning’s traffic jam, thinking about what to wear and packing your lunch can be exchanged for time in bed.

As alluring as this may sound, avoid the temptation. Get up early and go through your normal morning routine: shower, eat a healthy breakfast and settle down in your designated working area. If you don’t, you’ll make it harder for yourself to focus on the task at hand and feel like you actually have work to do. As we said earlier, the most important thing to do is set boundaries. Without them you’ll find yourself spending all day on twitter or social media. Which reminds us…

Designated break times

You normally take a break in the middle of the day at work, so take one at home. Breaks not only help you to relax, but they also help you to be more productive when you do go back to work.

Be careful about how you spend your break. If you’d normally go for a quick walk at lunchtime, use this part of the day to get in your allowed outdoor exercise. And again, stick to your boundaries. We really can’t say it enough. There is a slippery slope which starts with a twenty-minute viewing of your favourite Netflix show during a slow period and ends with you binge watching. Your house is normally where you relax but remember you are at work and doing the things you normally do when you’re relaxing can lead to you forgetting that.

Pick a place with a view

This is another one that many of us don’t have very much control over. But, if you can, park yourself up somewhere with a view. Don’t sit up against a wall, or in the darkest, dingiest corner of your home. Find somewhere near a window so you can see some trees or open sky when you look up from your laptop or desktop.

We may not be able to enjoy the first days of Spring in our usual way, but it’s still possible to take pleasure watching local birdlife enjoy the new peace and quiet, or noticing the growth of new flowers from our windows. Your body (and sleep) will thank you for it too – sunlight helps us maintain our circadian rhythms, keeping our body in time with the day.

Tech will save us

A desk with several computers and phones
Too much?

We all know that laptops are not particularly great for using long term, because the force us to sit in crouched positions that can lead to back problems and RSI. If you have one available, try and work on a desktop instead.

Don’t panic if you haven’t worked on a desktop since the noughties though. There’s no need to invest in a tonne of cash in a new computer if you’re not expecting to work from home for a long time. Set your laptop in a higher position, mayb on a few hefty books, or a tilted stand. Invest in a separate keyboard and a mouse and your spine and wrists will thank you for it. Your eyebrow should be level with the top of the screen so you can sit without slouching.

Remote Access to the Parliamentary Network and Parliamentary Apps

From the Office 365 Portal, Members and staff can access pretty much all of the things that they would be able to access from their parliamentary computers including: Word; Excel; Outlook; Calendar; Skype for Business, ACT; IPSA Dashboard; internal ‘people’ directory; OneDrive; SharePoint; OneNote; PowerPoint; MemberHub; LexisNexis; the Commons and Lords Libraries; PDS; and more.

All Members and staff are able to use Office 365 from parliamentary machines and also on your personal devices. If you haven’t already accessed it, the first thing you will need to do is set up Multi-Factor Authentication on your mobile phone – check this guide on the intranet. To install Skype for Business, please see the instructions here.

Once you have done that, read this guide for details of how to log in.

There is information on how to set up a Skype for Business meeting here, and a how-to video here.

You can find further information about working remotely on the intranet.

Do not go out and buy Microsoft Office! All Members and Staff are entitled to download a licensed copy of Microsoft Office for free onto their personal devices using their Parliamentary credentials. For further information, please see this note.

If you are not already using OneDrive and SharePoint, then you should be! OneDrive is your personal drive, where you can store all your documents and then access them from wherever you happen to be working. SharePoint is your shared drive, where you put all the documents you share within your own team.

Stay Connected

Someone in a video call with friends
Video can be a good way to stay in touch with friends

Working at home, and working at home whilst isolated, can be terribly lonely. But, in the age of social media and video services it doesn’t have to be. Reach out to your colleagues throughout the day – they’re also stuck at home and probably missing your (in)famous water cooler jokes (ok, maybe not).

There are now dozens of programmes that can help you keep in contact with your workmates.. If you live alone, or even if you miss seeing your colleagues, they can be a fantastic way of feeling like your back in the office. One suggestion that we’ve heard from colleagues is that you could eat your lunch with a video call open so you can recreate the lunchroom environment that you’re missing.

A little email asking how they’re doing and making light chat can really make a difference to your day, as well as theirs. You could suggest the manager sends a team email thread to say good morning to everyone at the beginning of the day and another one at the end of the day to say good night. Your colleagues will really appreciate it and it’ll help you to set up and keep to your own routine. Did we mention, you should have boundaries?

However you should be careful about the tools you use on Parliamentary devices. Free voice and video call apps, such as Zoom, are unsupported and unaccredited by Parliament and carry an increased and uncertain level of risk. You should use only accredited tools for parliamentary business, and read this guide to the risks of other tools you might use for personal conversations or in your constituency work, or if other organisations ask you to use them for meetings they are hosting

Leftovers

Stew cooking
Stew cooking

At work you may normally have popped out to a local café, or restaurant to grab a quick bite during your lunch. This won’t be an option whilst working from home, unless of course you decide to order take away during your lunch breaks. If you don’t want to do this however then leftovers are your friend. You can save a lot of time during the workday by cooking enough in the evening to have leftovers for lunch the following day. This might seem a tad monotonous, but it’ll save you a tonne of time which you can spend doing yoga, going for a walk, or whatever else it is that you want to do during your break.

Don’t forget to leave the ‘office’

Wash your hands screensaver
Wash your hands screensaver

Ok, so we know that you can’t go off to the theatre, pub or cinema after the end of a working day but this doesn’t mean that you can’t leave the desk. If you’ve created a designated work space then pack it up at the end of the day. It may seem like a bit of a hassle but not seeing your work computer and folders staring at you from across the room whilst you bite into your lasagne will really help you to strike up a healthy work life balance.

Also, try and go for a walk and get some light exercise during the day. Try having a default activity that you do during your breaks so you can use it to break-up your own day; if you have a dog, you’ll already know there are mental and physical health benefits of having to go for a walk each day no matter what.

As well as going outside to exercise during your breaks and at the end of your workday you can also squeeze in some gym time during your breaks. There are dozens of really wonderful online yoga classes, for both the gurus and gormless among us, so you could use your breaks as a chance to pick up a new hobby in the thirty or so minutes you have before you have to get back to work.

Or tune into new online classes. We love the breadmaking course set up by Breadahead, at 2pm every day on Instagram Live. Check out the websites of your favourite theatres, publishers and galleries too. Lots of them are making content available for free to help us all stay entertained in this strange time.

Useful links

Written by JB Oduor