Splendid isolation

How are you coping? Are you coping? Am I coping? A few tips from my experiences over the last three years or so.

Congratulations! You are now working from home.

Just to be clear: this is not as great as you might first imagine.

For one thing, if you’re used to working from home to get away from everyone in the office… well, they’re all doing the same. So now you’re still working in the office, answering phone calls and taking part in (virtual) meetings and idle chit-chat – you’re just doing it from home. Ha!

But let’s assume you’ve used the last week to do a bit of forward planning. You’ve created your home office workspace, haven’t you? Is it on the same dining table the kids do their homework on, and which hardly ever gets used as a dining table? Have you got a timeshare diary sorted for when they too will be working from home?

Location, location…

In my old house I had a home office/home gym/workshop/storage area in my cellar, and the desktop PC was down there. Unfortunately I then got a laptop which meant I could work upstairs, where the TV was.

On no account switch on the TV when working. Even if it’s normally on in the office. That way lies chaos and is by far not the best way to have company, because you’ll get distracted by the pictures as well as the audio.

In the flat I’m in now (rented, so I don’t benefit from Boris’s generosity towards mortgage-payers) my WFH set up is on the dining table, which is behind the TV, which faces towards the sofa. So I can’t watch it without turning it around, but means that sitting on the sofa is how I break away from my “work” day routine.

Time for a break?

However: I do have the BBC Sounds app on my iPod, linked to my Amazon Echo.

This works for me for several reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, I quite like listening to music. I’m not saying you have to listen to Trevor Nelson’s Rhythm Nation, Nemone’s Electric Ladyland, Clare Teal, or the some of the exclusive mixes (such as Focus Beats or The Morning After Mix). Or even Sounds of the Eighties with Woo! Gary Davies.

But if you listen to a two-hour programme you can use it as a timer. When the news comes on half-way through take a three-minute break. Get up, walk around, stretch your legs, stare out of the window. Working from home does not mean being tied to your dining table any more than working in the office means being tied to your desk.

And when the programme finishes, get up, go the kitchen and have a brew. If you really must, listen to the daily Coronavirus Newscast (formerly Newscast/Brexitcast/Electioncast/Brexitcast/Electioncast (I think that’s all of them)) on BBC Sounds, for your Coronavirus fix.

Get a routine

If you’re lucky you’ll have regular on-line contact meetings with the rest of your team. If you’re really lucky you won’t one have that one person who refuses to use his cheap mobile phone to call in.1 Routine is very important to stop the mind (and body) wandering. Make sure you’re at your workspace when you normally would be, make sure you take the lunch break you normally would, especially if you go for a walk/jog/run/cycle. Make sure you have (virtual) meetings in your diary, and project deadlines.

And make sure you finish for the day at a sensible hour, as you would normally. And don’t work evenings and weekends if you don’t normally.

I write to-do lists. Never bothered before, but it helps me focus on what I’ve done and haven’t done. A pen and paper will do, you don’t have to link them to an app or Outlook.

It’s a Snicker, not a sprint

Actually: if you’re not normally all that active it might be best to move the kettle out the kitchen, so that your hands don’t wander towards the snack jar while waiting for it boil. Or is that just me?

The important thing to remember – and I can’t emphasise this enough – is that you are going to go Stir Crazy soon. I’ve been (not) working from home for nine months. And for nine months the six weeks before that. And for 12 months the 11 months before that.

I have gone quite doolally. Wonko, in fact.

You’re enjoying the novelty of working from home, but soon it will be Easter. Then May Bank Holiday. Then the run towards Spring Bank Holiday. The days will be getting longer, the weather warmer and you will be wondering what it is you are doing “working” from home as the work inevitably dries up, shops close, clients go to the wall, public transport is rationed and you can’t socialise.

This is not going to be a mere 14-day lockdown. It might not even be a two-month affair. Think you could do it for six months? Or longer? I know I can’t, and I’m doing it now!

So pace yourselves. Look after your mental and physical health. Do normal things where possible. Keep in touch with people for things that don’t just involve work – as you would do, if you were at the office.

And definitely don’t turn the TV on during the day.

  1. I know some of you know who I’m talking about here. He’s probably gone to his apocalypse shelter by now, surrounded with tissue, toilet paper and handwash. []