• Michelle Wallace

Working from home? Here's some help

Updated: Mar 18

With the announcement that all of Ireland’s schools, colleges and child care facilities are closing until March 29th, some of us are facing the prospect of working from home for a long period of time and many will have to somehow feed, entertain and parent kids at the same time.

I understand it’s going to be a big challenge for some people who aren’t used to it and an even bigger challenge as the daily juggle just got a mega boost.

Enabling and championing flexible working has been a passion of mine for several years. Personally I’ve been working from home (at least part-time) for about 15 years (long before working from home was hip and trendy). There are a few things that I have learnt along the way that I know can help you to get in the zone and maximise this time.

Coronavirus aside, this isolation period can actually be a great opportunity to test the waters, and find out whether working from home is something you would like to do long term.

Benefits of working from home:

  • No commute

  • Reduces congestion (did you see the satellite images from China during the lockdown?)

  • No sitting in traffic 

  • Get an extra hour or two for the kids, go for a walk or stay in bed! 

  • A better work/life balance 

  • Save money

  • Flexible schedule

  • More productivity (this is a biggy - while productivity increases, attrition for business decreases but as this stanford study shows, isolation has to be actively managed)

However, if you have just been introduced to the idea of working from home due to the Coronavirus lockdown, you may be feeling a bit lost.

That’s why I am going to cover topics like how to stay focused, how to keep up communications and save your sanity!

First things first

1. Although you are working from home, you still need to get in that frame of mind

You can’t just wander down to the kitchen table in your PJ’s at any hour of the day and expect to feel productive.

I recommend preparing for work at home, the same way you would prepare for work at the office. Get up at the usual time, shower, do your hair and makeup, shave, get fully dressed (shoes and all) and get to business.

As tempting as it is to keep your house slippers on, or slap on a pair of tracksuit bottoms, getting dressed up in your normal workwear is going to help you get into the proper frame of mind. It also helps to set up boundaries and separate your work life from your home life.

Once you’re finished your working hours, you get to take your shoes off, jump back into your cosiest clothes and enjoy your evening away from the hustle and bustle of ‘the office’.

Helping to set important boundaries between work and home life.

2. Set the scene for yourself - set up a workspace

Let's face it, everyone in Ireland is probably going to work in front of the TV on day one, but the novelty will soon wear off and if you want to get really good work done, you’ll need to set up your workspace.

I’m really lucky to have the ‘shed’ as my office space, but I only set it up in the past couple of years. Before that, I have always worked within the house.

In a situation like this, most of you are probably going to be working from your kitchen table, so here are some tips to set the scene.

  • Clear the table. Don’t sit where you can see the kitchen. Keep your back to the room (this helps to eliminate distractions - or before you know it you’ll be pulled into popping on a wash, cleaning out the fridge).

  • Leave the TV off.

  • If you need to drown out the background noise coming from the kids or housemates, play classical or instrumental music. Music with lyrics or the radio only adds to all of the other distractions going on around the house.

3. Create a schedule and stick to it

When you are working from home, your day isn’t always scheduled or set up (especially if you’ve got kids at home), the same way it would be in an office.

In the beginning, you may find it harder to focus without your office environment, so break up your day into bite-sized pieces. If you can master your schedule, you may even find that you can get all of your work done in less time, because you don’t have the same work-related distractions, such as meetings, office chit-chat etc.

If you do have kids around the house, work this schedule through with your partner. You can each take turns taking the kids out to the garden or for walks to that you get focused time.

Once you have created a schedule, share this with your team and let them know what hours suit you to work. Be strict with your schedule, it’s easy to slip into working later or lacking focus during working hours but that blurs the lines between work and home, try to keep it separate as much as possible or you’ll start to feel overwhelmed.

4. Create a to-do list

List the one, two or ten things you want to achieve every morning. Ticking them off is motivating and helps focus the mind.

5. Set an alarm for 15 or 20 minute intervals

If you find that it is quite difficult to concentrate when you work from home, set your alarm for 20 minutes, decide what task you are going to complete in that time and you will start flying through it!

Having a ‘mini deadline’ can really help to speed up your workflow and keep you focused.

6. Break up your day and walk it out

You will naturally find that you walk more when you are at the office, whether that’s just getting up to go to the water-cooler or to a colleagues desk on a different floor, or maybe you walk as part of your commute to work. These short bursts of exercise keep your body moving and stop you from feeling sluggish throughout the day.

When you are working from home, you are going to need to make a conscious decision to stand up and move your body, whether that’s just walking around your house or doing a lap of your street.

The ladies here at Digiyell all have Fitbits and every hour when we get that notification that tells us how many more steps we need to get in, you would want to see us launching out of our chairs and marching around the shed! I’ve also been running up and down the stairs in the house to get the heart pumping every now and again.

7. Turn off notifications

Mobile phones: If we’re really honest with ourselves, I think this is something we could all be working on whether it’s in the office or at home. Particularly with what is going on in the world at the moment, we are being bombarded with news and WhatsApp messages (even as I am writing this I am seeing loads of messages popping up on my phone).

Turn it all off, silent notifications, delete the apps off your phone, disconnect it from the internet, leave the phone in a different room - just do what needs to be done to keep the distractions at bay.

You can even turn off email notifications, slack notifications or other messaging tools when you need to do focused work. You only have to check them 2 or 3 times a day at set times.

This gives you really focused pockets of time to get your work done. If it is REALLY urgent, somebody will be on the phone to get through to you in no time.

8. Communication is key

Although I am well used to all of the communication tools that are available online, it may be new to some people, so let's run through a few of your options.

Zoom is fantastic! It’s an online conferencing tool that allows you to use 40 minutes of free video conferencing at a time. If you need to talk for longer than 40 minutes you could also consider tools such a Skype, Whatsapp video calls and Facetime.

We are all a bit reluctant to pick up the phone these days, it often feels easier to type out a message or an email, but picking up the phone and talking to people is more important than ever before.

It’s good for your mental health to make those social connections throughout the day. Seeing someone's face, connecting with their expressions, laughing with them. It all plays a part in our human need for social interactions.

9. Arrange regular check-in calls

If you work as part of a team or work closely with your clients, arrange a time of the day that suits everyone to have a check in call. It only has to take 5 or 10 minutes, but it allows you to reconnect with the people around you. It doesn’t even have to be about work, but it’s important to check in and make sure people aren’t feeling overwhelmed or isolated.

Thankfully, my team here at Digiyell are completely set up to work from home. We use tools such as Zoom, Slack, Google Drive, Email, Trello - all of these online, cloud applications, that are enabling us to work whenever we want, wherever we want. These tools are invaluable for keeping our business alive during times like this.

If you are an employee who is working from home and you are not too sure how to use these tools, ask your employer about the support that is available to you and what information you need to know to communicate with your team effectively. There are loads of tips online and guides in youtube too if you don’t have some support to help you.

Working from home with kids…

Let's start by saying, it’s not easy, but you can do it! Here are a few tips to get you going.

1. Kids are always hungry

It doesn’t seem to matter how much you feed them, they are going to be hungry again in 10 minutes! I recommend preparing food in advance and having snacks at the ready that they can take themselves so they don’t have to bother you. Feed them a huge breakfast and have fruit, crackers, rice cakes, crudites that they can pick at instead of coming to you.

Continue to make lunches the night before like you’ve always done so that lunchtime isn’t a scramble to think of food ideas.

Batch cook dinners so that when you are juggling hours and working into the evening for lost hours during the day you can pop a homemade meal into the oven with no fuss.

2. Have plenty of activities setup

I know this is really hard because you need to find a balance between having activities that they can do without the need for lots of supervision. Pulling the paints out is probably not a good idea if you are trying to get your work done.

Consider activities that they can do on their own, that they are not going to get too frustrated with. It’s easy to rely on the ‘digital babysitter’ that is Youtube or Netflix, but if you can, try to minimise time on screens, especially because we don’t really know how long this isolation period is going to go on for, and ideally we don’t want our kids to be zombies by the end of it - lord help us!

There are some incredible tools out there and right now loads of local businesses are pulling out all the stops to support parents. Support your local businesses by helping them build their online presence at times like these when their physical business may be closed. In my local area the local kids music group Singaling are hosting live music sessions on their instagram for kids to join in. Ronnie Walsh is posting work out vids to keep little ones busy. The local book and gift shop Forever Amber is making up craft baskets to deliver to your door. As well as a host of online resources available to download and print.

3. Work in shifts with your partner

If your partner is working from home as well, working in shifts gives you both focused time to get your work done.

Funnily enough, there are a number of studies that show that working from home is actually far more productive than working in an office. If you and your partner can create an agenda with focused bursts of work time, the two of you are likely to get all of your work done in half of the time that you would usually get it done in.

4. Out of sight, out of mind

I know it’s not always going to be easy, but if you can stay out of your kids line of vision, do it! You know the drill, the moment they see you, they will be clinging to you. Try to dodge them, even if it’s only for 20 minutes at a time. Think of it as an extended game of hide and go seek, they just don't know they are playing 🤭

It’s a difficult time for all of us right now, so let's stick together and help one another. If you have any questions about working from home (kids or no kids), you can let me know in the comments down below, I would be delighted to help in any way I can.

Stay safe, stay healthy and let's try to keep Ireland’s businesses going!

Michelle Wallace

Managing Director, Digiyell

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