Make home working work for you

Stay home, stay active. Figuring out how to maintain a level of normality in our day.

Nicky Harverson

27 Mar 2020

home working desk

We are living in uncertain times, with our daily routines changed from moment to moment as we work tirelessly to stop the spread of this virus. Figuring out how to maintain a level of normality in our day and a balance between home, school and work is essential.


We asked Nicky (Senior Project Officer at Active Gloucestershire)  to share her thoughts and experience of working from home and how this current situation is different to anything she’s experienced before in her 20 years of remote working.


We have also put together a short guide to help you navigate through this time and to keep you moving. You can download this using the download link on this page. 


Nicky, what does working at home mean for you?

Being given the notice to ‘work from home’ honestly sent shivers down my spine. I have worked remotely for years, from sitting at hot desks in client offices to managing my team and their work from my front bedroom. I have experienced both good times and bad. The conference calls with so many voices you are not sure who said what and if the action really will be taken, to moments of sheer frustration when a line is dropped or you’re interrupted by your daughter, dad or the postman!


In all honesty, those are the moments that you can laugh about, but the more serious part to working from home is the fact that you never leave the office.


Over the past few years we have all been learning how to connect differently, working from new locations and often remote from our office. However, this pandemic has increased the speed of that transition. It has also put some people in a difficult situation where we will have to manage our work and also our children’s education.


This new reality for many is a lot to navigate.

You will find articles online to help with focus when working at home or planning your working day, but what really matters is your wellbeing. Your office will have done their best to give you the equipment needed to do your job, although I expect laptops and mobile phones were in short supply as demand far outweighed supply in the weeks prior to the enforced isolation order.


1. Schedule your day – your way

Getting a routine to your working week is going to help, but don’t be hard on yourself if it looks nothing like it did before. Building a schedule will help define your day, but be pragmatic. Without a commute it is easy to slip into starting and finishing work at the same time you would have done before. But if like me your commute is 40 minutes this could add hours to your working week.


I have set a routine that allows me to use my commute time for physical activity and catching up on some reading. My breaks are scheduled at the same time as my family so we can eat together. And when I finish in the evening I turn everything off and leave the desk, aka my dinning room table, as tidy as I would the office.  By consciously marking the start and end of my work and school day I can keep it at a distance from my home life.


In the first few days of our isolation I found that I needed to do what was in front me before I could think about work. Caring for my family came first and looking after elderly grandparents means shifting my work, so I would concentrate on making sure they were cared for first. Work hasn’t disappeared and deadlines have not been missed; others have just waited patiently for when I am able to pick work up. Equally I wouldn’t tackle the stack of emails – or in my case the end of year finances – until I’d had a cup of tea and a breath of fresh air.


At the end of the day everything will still get done, it just may not be in the order you thought it would.


2. Give yourself the best view you can

Now, when it comes to setting yourself up in the house there are a few things to consider. Of course make sure to read all the guidance on seat position, screen height and use wrist rests where possible. But what we miss is taking care of our eyes. Using technology to communicate means we can end up staring at our colleages on screen in meetings for hours on end, which can lead to dry eyes. Did you know we should blink up to 15 times a minute, but on calls like these this is often reduced by half.


Set yourself up with a view and try to sit near a window. If that’s not possible try and place a plant in your eyeline or have a picture on the wall. Use this as a centring exercise to look at every few minutes. Drawing your eyes away encourages you to blink and remember you should stand or move position every 20 minutes.


3. Be patient with yourself and others

Working from home will be new to many, but even as a seasoned home worker this is an unprecedented time. Our normal routines are up in the air, technology is struggling to keep up with demand and the nature of our work may have changed. For the next few weeks, lean towards being a little more patient with yourself and others.  


My advice is simple. Take a breath, give yourself the time to work things out and feel your way through rather than plan your way through. It can be as simple as moving your position to shift your thoughts, standing up and walking around the room you're currently working in, throwing open a window or taking a moment in the garden. We are fortunate to be heading towards spring, so the sun will be higher and hopefully out a lot more.


Give people a break and be patient with one another – they will return your call or be available to chat when they can. It just may be at a different time to normal. Set rules about when you will pick up team calls and respond to emails as others will have different working patterns to you for a while. Don’t be afraid if you see several emails come in overnight as others choose to split their work and pick up hours in the evening. That is their choice and they don't expect you to reply right away but whenever is reasonable for you.


4. Know what is important right now

We are all in the same boat, we’ve been thrown into isolation with very little time to prepare but that doesn’t mean we should feel isolated. Diving into writing long to do lists might feel good in the moment, but they can become a drain. Rather than write these lists take some time to work out what is important to you over the next few weeks and months. Think about those around you, the work that you do and the friendships you cherish. Use this time to connect with what you love doing and who you are being. You may even put those trainers back on or sign up to a virtual dance class. 


I’ve found that I needed to switch my thinking. I can no longer head out with my cycling buddies and stop for a chat over coffee and cake, instead I am resigned to a turbo trainer in the garage and a ‘zoom’ call set up between friends, seeing them all crammed into kitchen’s, front rooms and bedrooms was probably the funniest thing I have seen so far. I have also watched my daughter engage for the first time in physical activity, attending a virtual fitness class and loving it.


Know you are not alone. You just have to spend five minutes on Facebook to realise we are all winging it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember we are in isolation, not isolated – that’s a completely different thing. Whether you've its a bit of shopping delivered by a neighbour or a friendly voice on the phone, it all helps.


5. Stay active, everyday

I’ve already talked about missing out on the commute, even if it was from your car to the office, but we will also walk less in our day as we no longer head out for meetings at coffee shops or to the kitchen to make tea for your team. Find the time in your day to continue to move. Make an effort to get out for your daily dose of exercise (following government guidelines), as it will certainly make you feel less enclosed.


If going out isn't possible and you're fully isolating with no contact for the time being, consider how you can continue to get movement in your day. There are so many great online resources popping up. There are IGTV dance sessions, bonsai chi, yoga and pilates. You don’t have to miss out on your sessions, but you may have to get creative.


We’d love to hear your stories of how you're combining working from home with staying active. What have you put in place to get you up from your desk regularly? How are you taking care of your wellbeing during this time?


We can move stories are here to show what is possible and your story could be the just the thing to help someone move more in their day.  


I’ll leave you with one thought at this uncertain time and it’s something that I'm embracing – roll with it. Give yourself permission to let things simply be.


Get in touch and share your story. Follow us on social and use #wecanmove #StayInWorkOut


Looking for more resources to support employees in embracing remote working? Check out the remote readiness assessment


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Nicky Harverson
27 Mar 2020

Project Officer for Young People at Active Gloucestershire