Coronavirus (COVID-19): Working from Home

As the current position is for people to work from home where possible, many of us will have suddenly found ourselves and our teams at home trying to work. This guide is designed to help you look after your mental health and wellbeing during an extended period away from your normal office.

Changing situation

This is an evolving situation and it will be important that we have the individual and collective resilience and flexibility to deal with these challenges.

Your work may change during this time, either in volume or in the types of tasks you carry out. You may have recently started a new role and this has disrupted your induction and learning. It’s important we all keep communicating during this time and safeguard our health and wellbeing

Working from home  

Working from home presents new challenges and opportunities that mean we have to approach work differently. The good news is that it may give you more choice and control over how you work and your workstyle. 

We are currently in a public health crisis but it may help us develop new practices and habits that could improve the way we work long after this crisis has passed. 

Here are 10 tips to help support you in this transition.

Be kind to yourself and others

Cut yourself some slack, being thrust into a new way of working can be difficult to begin with. Understand that the current situation is far from normal circumstances. A lot of us may be experienced in working from alternative locations but not to this extent. Take into account your own circumstances and that of others. You may be juggling childcare, looking after others, making a community contribution whilst trying to work and stay productive.

Take a few minutes at the beginning of meetings to have some conversation and find out about each other’s working situation such as potential background noise from children, pets and interruptions. Be kind to each other, and if you feel a colleague is struggling with the situation or feeling isolated, reach out and try to help – a quick call could make a difference. Consider virtual ways that your team could have social interaction eg online quiz breaks, group chat  applications for informal team catch ups etc. Try to acknowledge birthdays, important events and achievements and share within your team.      

Look after your mental health and wellbeing

Looking after our mental health and wellbeing can help us deal with and manage difficult times. You can support your mental health by being aware of the things that can cause you poor wellbeing and the activities and resources that can help to address this. It’s important to remember to take care of your mind as well as your body and to get support if you need it. Take time to be social and interact as people often miss the social aspects of being at the workplace. Talk to others, make use of the wellbeing advice and support on this website.

If you’re concerned about your mental health, consider contacting the Inspire Employee Assistance Programme dedicated NICS staff helpline number on 0808 800 000.

The Health and Safety Executive NI (HSENI) have also produced a helpful leaflet.

Create a work space

Set yourself up for success by designating a space in your home for work. You don’t need to have a fancy home office but a big part of working effectively from home is making it feel like work. Choose a suitable space in your home that you can concentrate in and minimises distractions. 

Do you need a window looking out on the world to gather your thoughts?  Are you someone that needs to scribble down ideas on post-its and stick them up on a wall or spread them out on a table? Consider how your workspace will look and sound on an audio or video call. Will there be a lot of background noise? Are you ok with what everyone else on the video call will see behind you? Remember that your home has now become your work setting so be professional; for example don’t wear any attire or display any pictures, posters or emblems that would not be permitted or appropriate in your normal office setting.

Think about what kind of workspace best suits your workstyle and has the things that you need. HSENI has advised that Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Risk Assessments do not need to be carried out while you are temporarily working at home because of COVID-19. You should nevertheless still take steps to minimise the DSE-related risks to your health when working at home.   

Remember to follow the guidance in relation to the use of portable devices and adhere to your business area's policy for document security.

Get the right tools and technology

Think about what tools and technology you need to do your job well and seek them out. Liaise with your manager and IT Assist to try to ensure that you have the IT kit and software/applications that you need and you know how to use them.

Make the most of IT and what can be made available to you. Choose the most appropriate technology for your work and interacting with your colleagues/clients/customers/stakeholders, for example Jabber instant messaging, softphone, telephone and video conferencing. 

Technology choices can be confusing but don’t give up. Use the online guidance and resources available and learn by doing and sharing knowledge with your colleagues. 

Establish a routine

Get yourself into a productive work routine. Taking the time to understand your workstyle and business needs will help you plan your approach. For instance, are there times of the day you feel more productive than others?  Do you like background noise, music or prefer working in silence. Do you feel more motivated taking multiple small breaks or a longer break mid-day? 

Get dressed as this will help you switch between work and home life. Use a daily to do list, chunk your work up into realistic and achievable tasks to stay focused. Schedule the most demanding tasks to the times when you’re most productive and the more routine work to the times that you’re not.

Build in time for daily routines, like answering emails, regular team calls or administrative tasks. Make sure you take breaks and have lunch. It is important to take time away from your work space to reenergise and clear your head. 

Stay connected 

Make time to talk and interact, don’t make yourself more isolated than you need to be. Communication and collaboration is even more important when working remotely. 

Ensure that the contact details for everyone in your team are up to date.  Agree ways of working with your team, how you will keep each other updated and how frequently. Stay in conversation, contribute to team chats and group messaging. Schedule regular check-ins with your colleagues and manager in relation to objectives, deliverables, upcoming and daily tasks. 

Share information about what you are working on, be clear and concise, state what progress you have made and don’t be afraid to raise concerns about important milestones and deadlines. Be mindful, remote conversations can be misinterpreted due to the absence of eye contact, body language and tone so bear this in mind. 

Try to keep a positive mindset, be flexible about how you interact with others and think innovatively about how you carry out your work tasks. You could even consider having a virtual break/lunch with colleagues or friends to catch up informally.

Generate trust

Maintaining trust with people we can’t see is challenging particularly if you haven’t worked this way before. Remote teams like any other team work most successfully when they have developed meaningful, trusting relationships. 

Focus on what work has to be delivered rather than always being available online. Communicate mutual expectations and trust your team. Make sure you know what you need to do and by when by agreeing with your manager on a regular basis what your deliverables and deadlines are. 

Depending on the nature of your work you may need to agree tasks on a week to week basis. If your work is being carried out over a period of time agree to give your manager regular updates on your progress – this will give your manager assurance that you are on track, provide an opportunity to discuss any issues that come up and will also help you to identify any additional help/resources you may need. Ask for support if you need it and remember that you are not alone.

Maintain a work-life balance

Don’t let the line between work and home get too blurred. Try to make that mental shift between home and work by setting a start and end time to each workday. 

While it is easier to vary your working day at home and it can be tempting to constantly check emails and work long hours, set out clear boundaries and try wherever possible to stick to these – know when to log off. If you can, close the door on your workspace and clear everything away as you would do were you in the office.

Aim to finish each day with something that is not related to work such as exercise, your favourite pastime, meditation or reading. Stay in touch with family and friends over the phone and/or on social media.

Look after your physical health and safety

Make sure to get time away from your work space. Get up and move, do some stretches or get some fresh air. Exercise, even a short walk within the confines of your own garden if you have one can help boost your creativity and mood. Do something that gets you moving; your daily exercise, you could take a walk, do household chores, Pilates, Yoga or a virtual exercise class. Other useful suggestions can be found on the Public Health Agency website.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), your department has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees including those who are working from home so far as is reasonably practicable.  

Be positive and keep perspective

These are unusual times but try to keep things in perspective. Remember that this is temporary and try to focus on the positive aspects of agile and remote working, such as having more time with your family, to learn a new skill, or take more exercise. 

Work reasonable hours and use time you have saved in not travelling to and from the office to do something you enjoy and that matters to you. If you are working from home with your family, loved ones or pets, spend time to get an emotional recharge and inspiration from them when you need it.

This is an evolving situation – this guide will be continue to be updated and revised.

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