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TIPS FOR WORKING FROM HOME DURING CORONAVIRUS

For many of us, working from home is another challenge we must deal with as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.

Although many Australians as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak already know the rewards and challenges of having to work remotely, if you’re new to the full-time couch commute, now’s the time to set up healthy habits.

“This is my first week working from home, and I’ve actually been quite productive,” says Sydney senior business analyst Claire O’Brien. “I’ve made a home office in my bedroom, and we’ve got the usual company social media and Skype set up, so our team can communicate face to face. I’m sticking to my regular work hours, going for short walks and taking breaks to do an occasional load of washing or have a coffee. So far, it’s working for me.”

Unlike Claire, technical writer Sam Wells isn’t new to a home/work environment. “I’ve had years of experience working from home, but I’ve never really nailed it,” she says. “I work long hours, I raid the fridge, I forget to connect with other people and I can get stuck in my own head for days on end. Working from home takes discipline and good self-care to do well.” 

Clinical psychologist Dr James Champion weighs in: “Some people will have a working style that may benefit from working from home. Others might experience substantially more challenge. Everyone will have different coping reactions to these changes of events, and that’s okay.”

As organisations and individuals respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by practising social distancing and encouraging working from home to minimise the spread, Australia moves into a new way of operating. The good news is that despite significant disruption to business as usual, there’s a lot we can do to make this a time of workplace wellbeing.

MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR BODY

Take the time to set up a healthy workspace at home. Putting your computer and screen in an appropriate place, adjusting your work chair, using a mouse, reducing glare and cracking open a window for good airflow are some of the basics.

Talk to your organisation about making sure your home space is safe for your required work tasks. Under Australian Work Health and Safety laws, your employer is still responsible for your safety in the workplace, even when that place is your dining room table.

MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR HEAD 

Before COVID-19 hit our shores, one in two Australians reported feeling lonely on at least one day of each week. And with many more of us now skipping our daily in-person dose of colleagues and co-workers, it follows that heightened feelings of loneliness and isolation are a risk.

Loneliness is a sense of being disconnected,” Dr Champion says, “but we can still have digital ‘chats around the water cooler’. We can have coffees with co-workers over Skype or Zoom and coordinate lunchtimes to get on the phone.

“Talk about the things you normally would, and keep it light,” he says. “This week’s episode of Married at First Sight is a really healthy conversation topic in our current context. Keep the ‘corona thing’, where possible, to the side.”

Social media can help us feel connected, but there’s also a lot of alarmist messaging on these platforms to keep at arm’s length, Dr Champion adds. “I wouldn’t use social media as the only way to stay in touch.” Refer to federal and state government sources for your virus updates, he advises, and reach out directly to friends and colleagues for positivity and normality.

MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR FAMILY  

Thanks to COVID-19, an increasing number of Aussie families are exploring what it means to have parents and kids stuck together at home all week, and parents juggling these work and home life responsibilities may feel the extra pressure.

“Your kids will need more and clearer visual reminders that you’re at work,” says Glenn Fleishman in his book Take Control of Working from Home Temporarily. “Signage will help, either in front of you on a table or on a closed door.

“Expect interruptions, especially from younger kids or children who may need your time and comfort during the best of times and who may be scared or out of sorts right now … You will lose productivity in the process, and you should try to accept that upfront.

“However, depending on the age and personality of your kids, you may also have to lay down the law quite firmly about what constitutes an appropriate interruption.”

Don’t be afraid to talk about the coronavirus with children, urges the Australian Psychological Society. Providing opportunities to answer their questions in an honest and age-appropriate way can help reduce any anxiety they may be experiencing.

MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR TEAM

Unprecedented though they may be, the business challenges of COVID-19 present leaders with a unique exercise in organisational change. Regular communication based on the most reliable sources of information, such as the Department of Health's website, federal government support for business webpages and the state government's guidance for workplaces, is key.

“I know my company is taking its guidance from the relevant bodies, and they are taking appropriate action,” Claire says. “They’re not ignoring the pandemic, they’re trying to keep business going and they’re also doing everything they can to protect their staff. We’re being given clear facts and reasons for decisions –­­­ they’re doing a good job.”

“I’m also aware that leaders have their own challenges to face,” she adds. “Gone are the days when people expected leadership to immediately have all the answers. We’re in this together, and even our most senior decision-makers are having to adjust.”

MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU  

Follow these tips when you’re working from home, to help you get the most out of your day:

  • Regularly get up, stretch and move around. Sitting less and moving more helps reduce a raft of health risks
  • Prioritise healthy sleep. For a start, keep electronic devices out of the bedroom
  • Stick to the same work hours as you usually would. Start, have lunch and finish at your regular times
  • Give yourself three action items for each day so that when you log off, you have a clear view of what you’ve achieved
  • Consider setting up a buddy system with a colleague and checking in with one another as needed
  • Take advantage of the mental health resources available to you through your employer; from organisations like Lifeline, Headspace, Beyond Blue; or through your GP.

First published in April 2020

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