Tips for Working From Home Effectively | Mental Health First Aid

Tips for working from home effectively

By Kathy Bond - Workplace Engagement Manager

Kathy Bond MHFA

Working from home

In these times of the Coronavirus and COVID-19, working from home is becoming more common and there are advantages, and some real challenges to working from home. I personally both love it and hate it. I have put together some information that I have found helpful, hopefully you will too. Some of these tips are from friends and colleague, and some are from my personal experience of completing two on-line/distance degrees.

Establish your environment

Although it may not be possible to have a home office, it is important to set up a dedicated space to work and, that the set-up is ergonomically sound. Working from the couch or bed can negatively impact your body physically, and I find my pillow or the TV to be ‘loud’ distractions from productivity. There are a number of reliable resources for setting up a workspace that can help you do this. It is also helpful to keep your workspace tidy.
Here is one example from www.mayoclinic.org.

Working from home

Working from home cats

Tired kittens, Clementine and Peaches, after ‘helping’ me with my work.

Establish boundaries

Establishing boundaries is important across all areas of life and working from home is no different. If others are home as well, be clear with them that you are working and cannot be disturbed. This can be tricky with school closures as children don’t always understand this. If possible consider working reduced hours and spend time engaging meaningfully with your kids. Unusual times call for unusual measures, calling on Netflix to ‘babysit’ is okay if this works for you and your family. Your furkids may be even trickier as they are less engaged by TV. You may need to shut them out of the room if they insist on helping you type. (As I type this my two foster kittens are wreaking havoc on my working space!)

Establish boundaries with yourself as well. Shower, dress and brush your teeth every day before sitting down to your workspace. I do enjoy a PJ day, so I plan to allow myself ‘PJ Fridays’. It is also important to take regular breaks to stretch, move around and eat. Move away from your work space for meals.

Engaging with your team mates

Set up times to meet with your teammates regularly. Using video conferencing software is a great way to do this. With many of these programs you can share screens and it can almost seem like you are in the same room. A daily check-in is a great way to stay connected and help motivate everyone to stay on task.

Using an instant messaging platform, such as slack, is another great way to stay in touch. Your daily contact should not be all business, if you were in the office you would likely check in with your colleagues about their weekend or the movie they saw last night, so continue to do this. Some ways to do this include setting up lunch dates using video conferencing (this is not a working lunch but a social lunch), share photos of your workspace/pets/garden/kids.

At MHFA Australia we use Zoom video conferencing and we have started playing Zoom bingo with the boxes including things like “the call dropped out” and “child or animal noises in the background”. So far, I have gotten four!

Pexels by cottonbro

Working from home in these times of the Corona virus and Covid-19

Working from home. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Stay motivated and focussed

For some of us, this can be the most challenging part of working from home. Here are a few ideas that I found helpful when completing my PhD (and plan to implement when I struggle to stay motivated now).

  • Use noise-cancelling headphones to block out background noises (people, animals, neighbour’s renovations).
  • Play ‘background’ music, I like playing trance music, but others may like classical or ‘elevator’ music.
  • Set a timer for a period of time and work solidly for that time, then take a 5-minute break, get a cuppa or go to the toilet. Then set the timer again. The Pomodoro technique involves cycles of working for 25 minutes and taking a 5-minute break (a Pomodoro) then after 4 Pomodoros taking a 15-20 minute break. During the longer breaks take a walk (if you aren’t self-isolating) or do some home-based exercise, make yourself a healthy snack or count your toilet paper rolls (if this doesn’t stress you out).

Some advice for managers

This will be a challenging time for many of your staff and it is important to acknowledge this challenge. Communication and structure will be paramount during this time. Set up daily times to touch base with your staff via the phone or video conferencing, and regular messaging from leaders is important. Provide structure for setting priorities and provide regular ways of reviewing this. We have instigated a daily email from our CEO, at least once-daily meetings with our direct manager/team and a weekly workplan that is reviewed every Friday.

Remind your staff of supports available to them - this may be free meditation apps, EAP services or other members of staff (e.g. the mental health first aid officer).

Working from home. Photo Pexils by Christina Morillo

Self-care Photo Pexils by Madison Inouye

Encourage and practice self-care

Now more than ever it is important to look after yourself. Eat healthy snacks/meals, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep and practice good sleep hygiene, exercise, meditate, be mindful, be kind.

One of our values here at MHFA Australia is “We enjoy what we do and look after our own well-being and each other as we work.” To do this we have agreed to the following core behaviour “I will speak up if I need support or I think someone else might need support.” If you are struggling and need help, ask for it.

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