The COVID-19 outbreak shook us all up back in March, and we packed up our desks and retreated to the safety of our homes to try and carry on every day business as much as humanly possible.
At that time I shared my top tips on home working, having been lucky enough to be someone who had been successfully working from home for 12 years, alongside running a chaotic household of teenagers, animals and a ridiculously busy lawyer husband. It was always a challenge, but Covid has certainly pushed us all to the limit. We have survived and are nearly getting used to the ‘new normal’.
In my experience we can all take some positives from the last few months but it’s been tough. I thought it was a good time to reflect and share my top tips on home working and looking after your well-being at the same time.
REGULAR VIDEO TEAM MEETINGS
I have worked at home for many years, generally visiting the Chadwick Nott Bristol office, my clients, and meeting lawyers face to face as and when convenient for us both. A number of my team have a similar arrangement including one who is based in Scotland. So we have been relatively used to arranging team meeting at a time all can participate and of course where possible with video – Skype, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of human contact for so many and we have all had to get used to only online contact with many colleagues and other contacts. However, the more we do it, the more natural it seems. Obviously you can’t work in your PJs but I’m not sure that was ideal for anyone long-term! I know many people are somewhat apprehensive about regular video calls, but they are the way forward for so many reasons. If you can see someone, you add a whole layer of extra communication factors to a call. Video calls can be a lot more productive and even fun! For team meetings you should ensure people understand that the rules for an internal call are the same as for an external call – have an agenda and timescale, get your coffee before the meeting (not during) and give your colleagues your full attention. But also don’t forget the old fashioned way, of just picking up the phone to your colleagues for a quick catch up, maybe whilst you are waiting for the kettle boil – and walk around the room whilst doing so!
DOES YOUR WORK SPACE WORK?
Have you got a defined work station, whether it is in your bedroom, kitchen, or study? If not, I would suggest you reassess and allocate a specific space now, as we all know it could be a while, if ever, before we are back in a specifically designed office environment. In the meantime we all want to be as efficient and comfortable as possible. If you have a PC, I suggest using it, rather than a laptop – it is better for posture. If you are using a laptop, try and set it up on a stand so you are not bent over the desk all day. Rather than using a small keyboard, see if you can invest in a separate keyboard – again, better ergonomically. There are so many companies that have brought out home office furniture – take a look and get some ideas to help you make your office space as effective as you can.
Throughout lockdown it was undoubtedly a challenge with children and pets attempting to interrupt many workers. Yes, kids are back at school in the main (although that could be intermittent with quarantining classes), but it is still worth reminding anyone in the house what your working hours are and remind them that you need to have your quiet space, especially if you are on the phone. If you are on a conference call, obviously make sure you know how to mute and turn off your video when necessary. And remember with so many of us working from home, everyone is more understanding of the trials and tribulations of trying to do this with family members/partner/pets around, so do not stress about the occasional interruption.
When working from home it doesn’t matter if you are working alone, juggling family responsibilities or self-isolating – it is so important to get into some form of routine. Ensure you have regular breaks – get up and walk around the room/flat/house. One of my colleagues does yoga, another will do the ‘plank’ for a minute. Whatever it is, get up out of your chair, stretch your legs and move around. Do try and make time for lunch and, if possible, factor in some outside time - whether it’s a gentle stroll or a run. The advantage of working from home is that you may be able to pick your breaks, so if the sun suddenly comes out and you are able to take an early lunch, seize the opportunity to get outside to grab that vital exercise break and some fresh air. Another idea is to factor in a “commute” at the beginning and/or end of day, so you get outside for some exercise in your local park or neighbourhood, enabling you to have some time away from your home and your desk.
Bring nature inside – put a plant on your desk or a birdfeeder outside your window – whether in the middle of a city or in the countryside, you could be amazed at what you see. So much research has shown the importance of nature to our well-being and overall mental health.
As a parent I’ve never been as relieved as when my boys returned to school and I think the feeling was mutual! And yes, they are still there, but as ever it is important to put in place some boundaries – when you will be free to help with homework, not allowing your work to always take first priority, especially if it is not your paid working hours. It is very tough but we can try and model good working practices – if children can see you focusing and working hard, they might realise they have to get on with their school/homework/revision! (Maybe!)
Talk to your colleagues/managers/HR team about any challenges and difficulties you are facing. It is also always therapeutic to catch up with colleagues about the Bake Off, the latest podcast that has inspired you, or a box set to recommend, and to share any WFH hacks that you have learnt along the way.
This is the new normal but it is still strange for many (some only back from furlough recently/some who have lost their jobs), so be kind and considerate. It’s very difficult to know or totally understand the new challenges facing many individuals, companies or families at this time, so take time to listen and be a considerate colleague. Last but not least, stay working at home if you can, keep calm, carry on and keep washing those hands regularly for 20 seconds!
Please contact Sarah Wood to discuss current opportunities in the South West legal market.
DDL: 0117 917 1859