By Steve Jarratt, Technology Writer
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have found themselves working from home or needing to homeschool their children. Either way, as long as you have a broadband connection and the right equipment, remote working and/or home learning can be easy to set up and maintain. Here are some tips to help you work smarter, both today and into the future.
1. Create a dedicated work space
It’s important to make a dedicated working space at a desk or table, preferably in a separate room. If you can make it feel like an office environment, it’ll be more conducive to staying focused. Sitting on the living room sofa with a laptop on your knees is fine, but it can also be too tempting to have the TV on, slowing or even halting your progress.
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It’s also good to have a distinction between your home life and where you work, which can be made off-limits to other family members during working hours. Some experts even suggest even locking the door to set clear work boundaries.
Homeschooling? Having a dedicated area where the kids study has the same benefits of a dedicated work area for you. It gets children into the right mindset and separates them from ‘fun’ areas like the sofa or their bedroom. It also prevents you from disrupting them, especially if they are doing activities or lessons online.
2. Stick to a routineJust because you’re not commuting to an office doesn’t mean you shouldn’t maintain a typical working day. It can help to structure your time just like you would in the office, with a schedule of meetings and tasks, reminders and to-do lists. Of course, this is easier said than done if you also need to balance work with homeschooling (or just amusing) your children.
A good way to be productive is to start early and dive right in – a prolonged waking-up regime, and a long breakfast can just make you sluggish for the rest of the day. However, some people find they are more productive at certain times, so feel free to experiment and find what works best for you. Working from home doesn’t always mean keeping 9-5 hours either. Take regular breaks and be sure to have a definitive finish time each day, perhaps marked by a specific task. Don’t let work slide on into the evenings, when you should be winding down.
Homeschooling? Structure each day and create your own timetable. It doesn't need to replicate what they are used to at school, but build in some variety so it covers core school subjects, reading and play.
Even if you have family members around, it’s still a good idea to keep in touch with colleagues and friends – and not just via email, Slack or WhatsApp. Pick up the phone to speak to team members, or use any of the free video conferencing apps like Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts or Facetime. Attending virtual meetings and socialising helps to prevent the feeling of loneliness and isolation, and is a good way of keeping your spirits up.
3. Stay connected to people
Homeschooling? Video conferencing software isn’t just for meetings. Use it to keep your children connected to their friends, even though a Zoom call with 30 kids all trying to speak at once can prove a chaotic experience!
4. Get the right gearIf the Covid-19 crisis has proved anything, it’s that thousands of jobs can be done just as efficiently from home. This could have a huge impact on companies going forward, as continued travel restrictions or lingering social distancing policies could extend the time we need to work from home and/or homeschool our children. It might even mark a permanent shift for some of us.
If you’re not likely to return to work soon (or you have the opportunity to work remotely in the future), it’s a good idea to invest in equipment that makes your life easier. Invest in a new laptop or desktop computer, plus a faster Wi-Fi router if it helps you work more effectively. An ergonomic chair will be pricey, but well worth it in the long run. You might also consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), so you can connect safely to corporate servers or websites. And consider looking into whether you can increase your broadband speed for a small price increase.
Keeping your work space clear and uncluttered by cables can improve your focus.
Homeschooling? If your children’s school has provided home learning resources, then you might need a printer to make hard copies they can work from. Or a tablet, so they can work digitally. Otherwise, when you give yourself a break from work, let the kids use your computer to do their homework. Supplement this time with educational websites and apps as recommended by the school or other parents.
One of the enemies of remote productivity is a cluttered or messy workspace. Although this may not be a conscious burden on you throughout the day, a messy desk or office can make it difficult to find what you’re looking for, which can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety.
5. Reduce the clutter
There are two steps to this - adding things that increase focus and removing things that don’t. So, try adding a 500ml bottle of water and wireless noise-cancelling headphones. Consider removing any unsightly cables, tucking away power cords or eliminating them altogether. Corded mice can be replaced with wireless alternatives, while phone chargers can be swapped out for Qi Wireless charging pads like the Brandstand CubieDot or the CubiePoint.
Homeschooling? Encourage your kids to tidy up after themselves and to put work away when they’ve finished - just like they do at school. Giving them key chores to help around the house also helps to keep the home clean and tidy, making it a better place to work and study.
Working smarter, not harderThe longer you work from home, the more you’ll understand what setup works best for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Switch locations to see if it makes you more productive or less; adjust your room’s lighting; work in short, focused bursts with your phone’s notifications switched off; block your access to social media; buy one of those USB cups that keeps your coffee warm.
Using the right technology is a key part of remaining productive while working or studying at home. The world has changed, so we might all be doing more of it than we ever imagined.
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