Some time last year we might have suggested that the concept of commuting to a job that you could feasibly do from home, is a little outdated. Fast forward a few months to March 2020 and we’re in the midst of a pandemic that has brought homeworking into the spotlight once again.
For those jobs that require little more than a laptop and a phone, working from home makes a lot of sense at a time when people are trying to avoid catching something that may make them or their loved ones very ill. However, I’d be lying if I said it was easy, or fun.
Whilst there is a “by bike” theme to this blog, we consider homeworking a large part of the puzzle, by removing unnecessary traffic from the roads, lowering pollution and reducing the likelihood of someone ending up another statistic.
As human beings there are certain things we need to keep going. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists them in order of importance as follows:
- Physiological needs – air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, reproduction
- Safety – security, employment, resources, health etc
- Love and belonging – friendship, intimacy, family and a sense of connection
- Esteem – respect, self-esteem, status, recognition etc
- Self-actualisation — the desire to become the most we can be
Whilst we may not want to admit it, our workplaces often fulfill a number of these basic needs –safety, a sense of connection, friendship, self-esteem, self-actualisation, status and recognition. They’re often also the main dependency for maintaining a steady supply of food, shelter and clothing. If you’re reading this in the US, you can add health to that list too.
On the assumption that working from home helps to maintain need number 1, 2 and 5 on this list, we need to make sure we don’t neglect those other needs. The odd day at home is unlikely to be a problem, but a long period stuck with just yourself can be difficult even for introverts like myself.
The work environment
Many workplaces will be full of people –walking, talking, distracting people. When you are trying to focus on a piece of work this makes the task more difficult than it should be, but those small breaks in concentration can sometimes be a good thing. Our brains often struggle to maintain focus on something for an extended period, unless we are lucky enough to find ourselves in a flow state.
Technically, flow is defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” It’s also a strange state of consciousness. In flow, concentration becomes so laser-focused that everything else falls away.
Those small breaks to talk to someone, to get up for drink or the loo can sometimes help to trigger a new avenue of thought or the motivation to push on with whatever we are doing. At home it is likely to be just you, your task AND THE CRUSHING VOID OF SILENCE.
Another thing you will miss out on by not commuting is your daily dose of exercise. Whether it is your ride to work and back, or a walk to the bus or train, we need to get out and move around to keep our heart and other bodily functions in good working order.
How not to lose your mind…
So, I’ve been working from home for a couple of days per week for the past 6 months or so. In that time I’ve come up with a short list of tips you may wish to consider.
- Get a keyboard, mouse and monitor for home – you may already have these, but your work laptop will either have the ports for them, or a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connection for one of these adaptors you can pick up from Amazon for about £30. It’s far better than getting RSI.
- Take regular breaks – this goes without saying, but for some reason it’s harder to maintain the discipline to do this at home. Fortunately our bladders have a finite capacity and sometimes we just need to get up and go.
- Get out at lunchtime – get out for a walk or a short ride. Here in Cardiff we’re never too far from a park, be that Bute, Caedelyn, Heath, Trelai or Hailey. Get out, stretch your legs and get the blood flowing. If social distancing is still in effect whilst you are reading this, aim for somewhere quiet.
- After-work ride – If you are anything like me, you’ll spend around two hours per day commuting. You still have that time, why not get a 20-miler in after work? (assuming we’re not still in quarantine and you’ve already been out lunchtime). If the weather is particularly bad, some floor exercises –push ups or situps are good alternative. You could also consider picking up some dumbells or a chinup bar (Amazon). These are really inexpensive and are always available once you’ve bought them.
- Make time for learning – If your employer provides resources for learning, such as online courses, make time to work through a module or two. It’s a break from the work you are doing and may inadvertently help with whatever it is you are working on.
- Stay in touch – It goes without saying, but without physically seeing your colleagues it is easy to fall out of the loop. Plan regular catch-ups over whichever communications tool you have available. For me it’s Skype, but others may use Slack or Microsoft Teams.
- Make a plan – with all of the above tips, there should be enough to fill your day –or your week in a way that mixes business and enough pleasure to keep you in good working order. Get it down on paper on into your work calendar and stick to it.
Some topical bonus tips…
- As I write this, we’re gearing up for a period of ever-increasing isolation. A lot of the usual haunts –coffee shops, restaurants etc are closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. During this time it is important to adapt to this new reality. Whilst you may not be able to see your friends and family, most of us will have a phone; a smartphone with Skype, Facetime or any other video-calling service. Why not grab a coffee and give your mate a call.
- If you’re anything like me, you may be particularly anxious about heading into the unknown –into a very uncertain future and a present that may have far reaching long-term consequences. Unfortunately I don’t have any answers, but know that it’s an anxiety that many of us share. This pandemic has exposed the fragility of what we consider normal, but hopefully it is something we can learn from.
- If you are able to work from home, please remember that there are many who cannot. Frontline NHS & emergency service staff, carers, cleaners, shop workers (who are also having to put up with this panic-buying nonsense), are the unsung heroes here. There are also those in the gig economy and those who are self-employed who have had to adapt to a new world very quickly. Some restaurants that work with Deliveroo or Uber Eats appear to be still operating as delivery-only, as are Dominos, so whilst the riders can work, they do so with the very real prospect of arriving on the doorstep of someone with a cough and a fever. The next few months are going to be rough, but especially for those who have to plow on as before. We need to look out for each other, now more than ever.