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Top tips on how to adjust to homeworking during lockdown

By Roisin Willmott OBE FRTPI, RTPI director of Wales and Northern Ireland

Before the RTPI opened our Cardiff office in 2019 (ironically a year to the week before the virus made us take on different arrangements), I worked from home for 12 years. I’m sure many of you have worked at home for the odd day, but for a longer period it can be quite different. Here are some hints and tips that I have used to help me in the past to help you make some adjustments.

Homeworking has many advantages but it also carries well-being risks over a longer period, such as isolation or lack of boundaries between home and work. This will be more heightened now with fewer opportunities to leave the ‘office’ during the coronavirus lock down.

When we go to work in an office, we perform a series of rituals that help us transition from our home life to our work life such as travelling to and from the office, but we lose these when we work from home, this blurs the boundaries between home and work. Here are some ideas to help set boundaries when working from home:

  • Get dressed for the day. Prepare yourself as you would if you were travelling into an office, there’s probably no need for the power suits though.
  • Why not walk to and from work? Even if it’s just around the block. Walking before you start work (i.e. sitting at a desk) helps warm your joints up and helps prevent problems developing. But please take note of the latest current Government advice. Alternatively try an on-line yoga or exercise class.
  • Take a lunch break just the same as if you were in the office, so ensure you take time away from your workstation; do something to switch off, or get some fresh air.
  • Try and set up an area that is specifically for your work and try not to use it for other matters out of working hours. You will be at your workstation for potentially some time, so make sure your seat provides you with the right support (a hard dining room chair, for example, can lead to back problems if sat on for a length of time);
  • Resist releasing your home address or home phone number for business purposes, mainly for security reasons but also with maintaining boundaries.
  • Take regular breaks – get up and walk around (in the office you probably get up quite a bit and this helps stretch out your joints and keep the blood flow moving). Remember to rehydrate as often as possible by drinking water or making yourself a cup of tea, much as you would in the office.
  • Shut the office door at the end of your working day (even if that is metaphorically) and leave it shut until the next day.

Plan against distractions as much as you can – it will be more difficult in the current situation with potentially numerous members of the household at home and even home schooling taking place.  Explain that just because you are working from home, you are still working, and they should avoid interrupting you unless it’s urgent.  It may take a while to educate your family but it’s worth the effort.  This includes your pets – as much as we love them, they can be a distraction.

There will also need to be a balance struck for those living in shared houses with competition for the dining room table and wifi.

Technology, whilst making working from home easier, does make the transition from work to home more difficult. It can be tempting to have a quick check of work emails or telephone messages outside working hours. Turn your phone and PC off outside working hours and don’t check messages.

Keep a paper note of key telephone numbers e.g. line manager, and IT support, for events such as your IT or internet breaking down or electricity cuts, so that you can get help or advice when you are off line.

It will be more important, particularly for teams who are not used to being remote to each other, to set up arrangements for keeping in touch. Why not set up a regular team conference call? It can be easy to let these slip due to other commitments but don’t underestimate the value of time with your colleagues. There are a range of channels available for 121s or team meetings including email, phone, Microsoft Teams (this has a tool where you can work on the same document together, which is an added bonus), GoToMeeting, BTmeetme, Skype and many others.

It can be easy to forget the social benefits of daily interaction with colleagues and dislocation from workplace culture can be a risk when you work from home. If you have a quick question, pick up the phone and call someone just like you would pop over to someone’s desk if you were based in an office. If something goes wrong, don’t sit and stew on it.  We all need to let off steam sometimes and if you need to do so, ring one of your colleagues. The important thing is not to internalise it or let it get on top of you.

Happy homeworking and stay safe.

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