7th December 2020
Author: Dr Jo Edwards, Director, Lucidity Solutions Ltd
Back in January, I wrote a guide to being productive. Top tips included not working nine-to-five, having things going on in the background, and procrastination. What with all the changes in the last few weeks, January now seems like a lifetime ago. So, having worked from home for the past 5 and a bit years, I thought it might be useful to revisit these tips to help you cope with WFH without thinking WHAT?!
Flex it out
The first and most important thing to know about working from home is that time becomes meaningless. For some people – like me – it’s a wonderful perk not to have to struggle with a commute and a set time to start or finish. My dislike – and sometimes actual pain – at getting out of bed means that the more relaxed I can be in the mornings, the better my whole day is. And if I can get off to a good start, then good work flows from that. However, I know other people who definitely aren’t the same, and this lack of defined start and finish can be a real challenge.
So, before you start thinking about anything else, figure out which type of WFH-worker you want to be. If you’re more comfortable being flexible with your time, starting and finishing according to your workload rather than the clock, then talk it over with your employer and see what you can put in place. If you need a stricter schedule, then set yourself a fixed start and end time – and stick to them.
There are caveats, of course. If you’re embracing flexi-WFH, you’ll need to be flexible yourself when it comes to meetings and deadlines. If you’ve set yourself a timetable, be mindful of how other things might have an impact – other members of your household, for example, or simply feeling a bit up and down because of all the current uncertainty. I can definitely vouch for the benefits of taking each day as it comes.
Over the years – and over the past few weeks – I’ve read a lot about how important it is to create a workplace at home that’s free from distractions. Not only do you need a designated workspace, you also need to ignore all the household chores, social media and the TV. I can safely say that my WFH style is quite far away from this ‘ideal’.
I am lucky enough to have a spare room in the house, which is my designated office, but this has only happened in the last couple of years. I also don’t use it all the time, instead working at the kitchen counter, or on the sofa. I often take a break to do the washing or pop to the shops. And I always have something on in the background. Usually, that’s the radio or the TV (the ER box set has been a lifesaver!). In the last couple of weeks, it’s the noise from the other people in the house – my partner and daughter, neither of whom are used to being cooped up.
And I can’t think of many people – especially those who live with others, be they parents, partners, kids or housemates – who could thrive in such a sterile environment. So put the radio on, embrace the odd appearance from an interloper on a video-conferencing call and let distraction be your friend. It might be the only thing that gets us all through this.
We’re going to need a bigger boat
On day four of lockdown, I snuggled on the sofa and watched my favourite movie of all time, Jaws. It’s given me a lifetime phobia of sharks and open water, but it’s such a great movie that I watch it at least once a year. I love the writing, the acting and – yes – even the special effects. Lockdown day five saw me being really productive, crossing things off my list, volunteering for tasks and even having time to watch a webinar on coronavirus and small businesses. What’s the connection? Well, I really believe in the power of procrastination.
If your work involves any element of research, evaluation or writing, then you’ll understand the necessity of thinking time. There are two major downsides to this. First, if you’re spotted sitting and thinking, people tend to assume you’re not doing anything. The online movement trackers some freelance sites use definitely don’t appreciate it. And second, you can’t necessarily allocate specific time to thinking about a particular thing. I find that my best thinking happens at random – when I’m out for a walk, when I’m trying to get to sleep, or when I’m watching a movie. I’ve learnt that the best thing for me to do is to allow myself to procrastinate. If I don’t have an immediate deadline, then I won’t force myself to think about anything in particular. Because procrastination takes my mind away from the immediate problem, it means that, when I do get round to it, I can be much more creative about the approaches I take and get the work down much quicker.
A new thing that we’re all thinking about now is video conferencing. For many of us, this has been a regular activity for some time, communicating with clients around the country and the world. For those new to the party – or new to doing it at home – there’s definitely some tips that might help you prepare.
When I set up originally as a small business, I worked mainly as an associate with another strategist based in London. We talked most days of the week on Skype. He had a background at the BBC and you could tell – he was always well presented and – usually – backlit. Whilst I’ve never really followed his approach to any great extent, I do always make sure I’m a) fully clothed and b) fully visible (although the light in my office can sometimes be quite dark!). These are the basics.
Once you’re presentable, get into the habit of turning your mic off if you’re not speaking, turning it back on when you want to say something, and keeping the fact that you’re on video firmly in your mind. I’m loving the different scenarios I’m seeing as people find different spaces to work in, but remember that other people can see them, too. If you’re not comfortable letting people into your private space, why not embrace a virtual background instead of turning your camera off. Part of the reason for video calling is to see each other’s faces! And most of all, don’t worry about interruptions. Anyone who’s ever been on a Zoom call with me has met Sooky, my wonderful black cat. Most have met my partner. And lately, they’ve also seen my daughter. Don’t get embarrassed, don’t hush them up and don’t apologise.
Whatever you do to make sense of the new normal, give yourself the space to lower your expectations. We’re all muddling through, sometimes happy to be at home, other times struggling with the enormity of it all. Expecting to get as much done as usual – for work or around the house – just isn’t realistic. Take time to find your own way through, either by using my tips or by finding out what works best for you.
And, if all else fails, at least you’ve not been caught on camera in your pants or your PJs. Yet. When you do, just remember that it’s ok to shout WHAT! Just mute your mic first!
Jo completed a joint honours degree in English and Philosophy at the University of Leeds in 1996 and a Master’s in Renaissance Literature at the University of Sussex, graduating in 1999. This led to a DPhil, also at the University of Sussex, exploring the representational techniques used by early modern French travellers and writers to describe and comment on the New World. Somehow, this took Jo into a ten-year career in higher education, with roles spanning strategy, policy and planning, and then to establishing her own ethical business consultancy, Lucidity Solution Ltd. In her spare time, Jo enjoys reading, sweary sewing and flinging axes.
Coronavirus resource hub
We have brought together a number of free research resources, blogs and other information related to coronavirus and epidemics more broadly.
Blogs and news
We believe everyone can make a real impact. Explore all our latest blogs and news.
Democracy in the age of digital feudalism
Author: Jakob Linaa Jensen, Danish School of Media and Journalism, Denmark @jakoblinaa The platform economy of the Internet…
2nd September 2020
New age and blended learning-views
Author: Ananya S Guha A lot is being discussed on online learning. Some argue that this will come to stay, while others say that because…
17th August 2020
Poverty: still a story of our times
Emerald’s Associate Publisher Sanna Zahoor talks to Goof Buijs – Manager at UNESCO Chair Global Health and Education – as he highlights the…
6th August 2020
An open letter to the leaders of HBCUs: How to sustain and support a successful future
Author: Johnny D. Jones, EdD, PhD Historically Black Colleges and Universities play an important role in US higher education, and make a…
5th August 2020
Decolonising the business curriculum in the era of Black Lives Matter
Authors: Dr. Leon Prieto and Dr. Simone Phipps The killing of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breona Taylor, Eric Garner, and many other…
29th July 2020
Racial inequalities in the accounting profession
"There are no easy fixes, and the journey will be long and hard, but it is a necessity if we wish to exist equally together" Author: Dr…
6th July 2020
The future of work landscape: one version
Author: Organisational expert Karen Jaw-Madson is principal of Co.-Design of Work Experience and author of the Emerald title Culture Your Culture:…
1st July 2020
Creating the Cinema, Memory and Wellbeing project toolkit
Authors: Professors Lisa Shaw and Julia Hallam, University of Liverpool In this blog, Professor Julia Hallam and Professor Lisa…
8th June 2020
America cannot be great when Black lives do not matter
Images of violent police clashes with protestors from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and Minneapolis in between, can easily be mistaken as riots in any…
5th June 2020
Using emotional intelligence to manage libraries in times of economic crisis
Gary Shaffer of the University of Southern California provides some valuable advice for library managers on how the management of relationships is…
4th June 2020