The government are now advising us to avoid all but essential social contact, and as many organisations implement voluntary or mandatory remote working policies in response, it means a lot of us are facing a new challenge.
Perhaps you're used to working in the office, or only work from home on the odd day here and there. Even for those used to working remotely, being forced to do so in the midst of an infectious outbreak can feel daunting and it's important to support and manage our wellbeing during this time.
Try to stay focused – it will help
Rightly or wrongly, it's likely your boss is concerned about your productivity whilst working remotely – particularly if it's unusual at your organisation. Now, whilst many of us can be trusted to get on with the job at hand during this time, it is true that you will have to battle distraction in order to do so.
At the moment, one of the biggest distractions is the news. Checking for COVID-19 updates, or clicking on news alerts as and when they pop up, is going to be hard to resist.
But employees should be wary of scrolling themselves into despair. Relying on unreputable sources for news about the outbreak can fuel anxiety, making it difficult to concentrate and putting your mental health at risk.
Remember, many news sources rely on click-bait and scaremongering for views, so schedule "news breaks" – maybe 1 or 2 a day – and stick to them. Turn off news alerts and choose your outlets carefully, ensuring they are quality sources (try Gov.uk or the World Health Organisation).
Designate a Workspace
Without a physical office to escape to, it can be hard to keep work and home life separate. Not everyone has a 'home office' and it's likely you'll be using personal equipment to get your job done.
Blurring the line between work and home can be bad news, though. It means you never truly 'switch off' and, conversely, become less and less productive. Home life can also suffer from the imbalance.
Remember, your workspace doesn't need to be its own room, but you should take steps to make if feel 'apart' from the rest of your home.
Choose an area with good natural light (avoid screens facing windows which can create glare) and ensure you have a comfortable, supportive chair. 'Entering' work might be as simple as flicking on your desk lamp or opening your notebook – whatever works for you – but this physical signal means you are 'at' work mentally.
When you are done for the day, make sure to close all tabs and programs related to your job. Turn off your lights, close your notebook, and tidy other desk items away.
They key here is to do whatever it takes to 'leave' work.
Transition in/out of Work
Lack of commuting time is often touted as one of the benefits about working from home, however, you may find it's not all it's cracked up to be after a few weeks have passed.
You see, the time between work and home, whether you drive or take public transport is important. It's wind-down time which allows us to mentally prepare for our evening routines. Many of us use this time to read or listen to our favourite music – it's a time when our brains 'switch off' and enter a more relaxed state.
Without this time, then, our brains don't always have time to hit reset and this can make it difficult to switch from thinking about that big deadline to thinking about … well, anything else. In other words, jumping directly into leisure time can make work bleed into our personal lives, and this can mean bad news for mental health.
If you can, try to think of a 'transition' activity. Perhaps, you enjoy walking the dog, or browsing for a new dinner recipe. Whatever it is, developing this as a habit over time will help your mind wind down after a hard day.
If your office is suddenly working from home, it means a lot of the social interaction you're used to getting is cut off.
For a while this might seem a blessing, after all, it means less distraction and noise! But it's important we don't forget that we need to be around others. We are social creatures and it's the random interruptions throughout our working day that keeps things feeling unique. Without them, working alone can get dull and, even worse, can feel isolating.
The key here is to maintain communication - especially with your manager/team. Come up with a plan between you for staying in touch, how often you will check in each day, and how you will communicate on group projects and new assignments.
It's likely you'll encounter new challenges as you begin to work remotely for long periods of time, and that's fine. Think about who you might normally go to for help and drop them a line. Just because you're not in the same building, doesn't change your working relationship.
With the advent of collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack, it can be tempting to stick to text-only communications, but you might find it's best to pick up the phone at least once a day. Doing so can help relieve feelings of isolation and loneliness and is likely to prevent miscommunications.
Working remotely for the first time or due for a quick refresher course? Try our Remote Working awareness course to stay safe and healthy away from the office.