It’s been four months since China first reported to the World Health Organisation on December 31 that it was treating a number of unusual pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan. These cases were subsequently attributed to a virus called Covid-19 or Coronavirus. China reported its first Coronavirus-related death on January 11 and since then the virus has spread to almost every country in the world, infecting upwards of 3 million people and killing over 234,100 people as on May 1.
Governments worldwide announced a number of unprecedented steps to combat its spread – from travel bans to border closings to compulsory quarantine for travellers from overseas and also complete lockdowns. Several companies across the world, including Google and Twitter, asked employees to work from home as part of this global effort.
While many of us are familiar with working from home, it is an entirely new experience for many others. In this blog, we advise people who may be new to the whole business on how they can best go about working from home.
Not doing this is a common rookie mistake. If you haven’t worked from home before, the urge to work out of your couch all day will be quite strong. If you succumb to temptation, your back, wrists and neck will soon make you pay. This is why you must designate a proper workspace for yourself. If you don’t have a study table or dining table to work from, you can get creative. A friend in Australia, for instance, put together a makeshift desk using two bar stools and a shelf from one of his closets.
Here’s another person who got creative with her workspace.
Seating is important. Ensure you have a comfortable chair. Your posh lounge chair might give your living room a magazine look, but it probably doesn’t give your back and arms enough support for you to work out of it eight hours a day.
Freelance editor Anne Chan learnt this the hard way. After over a decade of working out of an office space, Chan started working from home in 2016. She sat on her couch with her laptop for a few days before she realized she needed a proper workspace because of the strain on her back and wrists. She then converted one corner of a room into an office, which she furnished with a table and a height-adjustable office chair.
“I didn’t do this just for comfort,” said Chan. “I realized I needed a separate space to work in because my entire home had started feeling like an office. Now, when I’m in my study, I’m in ‘office’ and am diligently working. When I’m out of there, I’m at ‘home ‘and I can relax.”
For this reason, ideally, your office space should not be in your bedroom.
Those who remember the viral video of a kid marching into her father’s study while he was being interviewed by the BBC might want to lock doors if there is the risk of such interruptions while you are on a call with colleagues or clients.
Having said all of the above, we do acknowledge the fact that some of us simply don't have the kind of space at home that allows us to keep our personal and work space separate. Don't feel too bad about that. These are extraordinary times. It's good enough that you are working from home.
One of the biggest advantages of working from home is that you don’t have to dress up (unless you are participating in video conferences). Many people take this to mean they can work in their pajamas.
The internet is divided on this. Some say it’s best to dress for work as if you are actually going to office (Buzzfeed says you could even wear shoes at your home office – we disagree because who really wears shoes at home?) while others say showering and wearing fresh clothes does the trick for them.
Consulting strategist John Williams says sticking to an office routine – showering every day before starting work and wearing clean clothes whether track pants or casual office wear – works well for him. “Showering puts me in work mode,” he said. “I don’t really care if I wear tracks or formal wear after that. It all depends on whether I plan to go out later to work from a coffee shop or to meet a client. But, of course, I am avoiding going out at the moment.”
No one works every minute when in office, and you don’t need to do that at home either. Take regular breaks. Walk to your balcony or garden so that you get some fresh air. If you don’t have either, look out of your window. Research has shown that taking regular breaks increases productivity and creativity. It also helps you vastly improve focus.
Whatever you do, don’t eat lunch in front of your computer and certainly don’t eat lunch while scrolling down your phone, catching up on all the depressing Coronavirus news from across the world. In fact, now may be the best time for you to learn to eat mindfully – when you truly pay attention to the food that you eat instead of shovelling it down your throat robotically. A mindful lunch break will help you be more focused when you resume work.
It’s important to keep to a routine. If you follow the 9-5 routine in office, stick to that while working from home. Work might spill over sometimes, but ensure it remains the aberration, not the norm.
Chan says she was often tempted to carry on working much after her workday ended but avoids doing that now after realizing the negative impact it was having on her well-being. “I’m the type of person who likes to finish all pending work no matter what the deadline but I soon realized I was often working late into the night trying to finish things,” she said. “This means I didn’t get time to cook, relax or exercise. I was eating takeaways and didn’t get much exercise, which wasn’t good for my overall well-being.”
Since many people are now self-quarantining and are unlikely to have after-work plans (and if you do please cancel them) do remember that it doesn’t mean that you keep working until it’s time for bed.
Log out of work at the designated time, shut down your computer and clear your desk at the end of your workday. Then go outdoors if you can (garden/balcony), read a book, complete household chores, walk your dog, watch TV, cook, play with your kids or talk to your partner. All this will go a long way in keeping you physically and mentally fit while you and the world rides out the Coronavirus pandemic.
In normal times, experts advise people who live on their own and work from home to keep in touch with colleagues, go to the gym or meet friends after work so that they do not feel isolated. But these are not normal times.
Now, unless you are an introvert, the prospect of not meeting colleagues and friends indefinitely because of Coronavirus-related concerns might sound horrifying to you. You might also be concerned about how friends, parents and grandparents are doing and want to check in on them. The best thing you can do for now, however, is to stay away and catch up with them by calling or texting them.
Connecting with people has several benefits. Being in touch with colleagues, for instance, keeps you connected to work and is great for team cohesion and productivity. Getting in touch with family and friends will help you build a virtual community of support – and don’t we all need it right now? At the moment, many of us are overwhelmed by the amount of bad news online while others are anxious (as we all are) that a cold or sore throat might be Covid-19.
If family or friends are anxious, talk them through it. Tell them to get their Covid guidance from reliable sources like the WHO or local government sources and NOT WhatsApp forwards! (We can’t believe that needs to be spelled out).
There have been reports of baby boomer parents resisting staying at home, with their children reading them the riot act in a role reversal of sorts. Reiterate to friends and family that we must all contribute to stopping Covid-19 and reducing the stress on hospitals worldwide by flattening the curve, and that means self-isolating.
All in all, don’t stress. Do remember, we are all in it together.
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