My research group was proactive in their approach to the evolving Covid-19 pandemic. As of the 16th of March, we decided to stop all fieldwork and move into working from home for all staff and students, which was quickly followed by our University following suit. We have coordinated with the students to adjust their projects as necessary, essentially shutting down our lab and moving online to protect everyone as the pandemic worsens in Australia. Whilst I am seeing that many people are unsure how to handle such a situation, I am really enjoying being able to work from home. This looks like it will be the norm for the next 6 to 12 months and whilst I am unsure that David and I will stay employed in this time, creating a new and what feels to be a more wholesome routine for our lives is a very welcome change. If you’ve moved to working from home, are practising social distancing, or are in isolation, there are a few things I think are really important to do.
The first step when transitioning to working from home, in my opinion, is to ensure you have a space comfortable and suitable for your working needs that encourages productivity. Part of the problem many of us face with working from home is that we all have chores and jobs that we could just quickly knock out now and then get back to work, or we share a space with other people – family, flatmates, etc. Not only are daily chores a distraction to productivity, so is a noisy space, an uncomfortable space with your seat or setup, or being too cold or too hot. It’s recommended not to make your office space a part of your bedroom as this can disrupt your sleep routine which is essential for good health but that’s not always an option. You won’t be able to control all of these factors, but focus on the ones you can improve to try and make your work space a place you can concentrate and be productive.
The next thing to do is to develop a routine. It is very easy to get distracted by chores, by nice weather, by family or friends, by pets, but these distractions will negatively impact your ability to work. Left unchecked this could make the longevity of your job at home difficult to sustain. One way to combat this is to develop a routine and ensure the routine includes time for chores, for family, for exercise, for whatever it is that will help centre you. By carving out space in your day for those activities alongside your work commitments it can help control the distraction and increase your productivity.
For my lab group we are encouraging “regular” working hours during the week. We all sign on when we would usually start our day (some of us are early starters, others are later), let everyone know what our work plans are for the day and get going. We have placed a few regular meetings throughout the week for different things, one is a weekly update meeting, another is a statistics workshop, and another is a writing workshop, to give structure to the week. We also spend time chatting to each other, playing online games as a break from activities, share what your break plans are like taking the dog for a (socially distanced) walk. This routine coupled with connection helps to promote motivation; knowing someone else is always available and working on something helps get you into the work mindset.
This is a big change for many people and it will take time to adjust, to move past the distractions, to find the motivation especially when other things are happening in your life at the same time. One thing I’ve found helpful is to start with the easy tasks. What I mean by that is pick the things that don’t require serious focus and concentration, that are less intense. To give you and idea of what that looks like for me an easy task is data entry, I have to pay attention of course, but I don’t really have to think. A more intense task that requires deeper focus and concentration would be writing a paper or working through data analyses. So to help me get into the routine, into the workplace groove, I’m starting with the easy tasks.
You should also take advantage of being at home – I can prepare meals as breaks from work, or get that load of washing done and hung out which is also a nice break to stretch and get outdoors. This also affords me more time in the evenings to focus on my family rather than trying to catch up on the chores that can now fit into my new routine. Another great benefit for someone with MS is that I can rest when I need to rest. I’m not sharing an office anymore so if I need to lie down for a moment, or meditate, or stretch, I can do it. Everyone could benefit from a little more recovery and the current situation lends itself to that.
The end of my working week looks and feels very different to what it used to. At the end of the week I feel I’ve been somewhat productive, but more than that I feel I have the potential for great productivity as well as a more balanced body, mind, and family. This gives me a nice feeling of reassurance and a hint of control in a time of a lot of uncertainty, and helps me navigate my house as my new workplace.