Working from home – a shock to the system!

Background

This is the first of a series of blogs being written by members of the Tech Faculty committee, to help members in this difficult time.

This blog is based on my personal experience as a lecturer and file reviewer for Mercia, that is now working at home (with a wife and 2 kids also working at home) 5 days a week.

Where are we now

What an interesting week it has been; we seemed to go from “Keep Calm and Carry On” to panic mode last Monday, and as I write this (24th March) we are all just getting to grips with a virtual shut down of the country.

So now all offices are closed and everyone is getting used to working at home on a full-time basis. And this is a bit of a shock.

Even for someone like myself who travels throughout the country to different locations to work and also works at home occasionally, being a home worker on a full-time basis has raised some challenges.

So what have I found?

Work space

When you go to your normal office, you have a work space already set up, however at home you may be forced into a location that is not ideal and is certainly a long way from the idyllic spaces that seem to fill social media. However I am finding that unless I put some thought into where and how I sit, the little niggles in my back I ignored when I was only at home for one day, become a real pain when there for 5 days in a row.

So spend some time trying to get your work space laid out as recommended by the NHS (https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-sit-correctly/).

If you don’t have the right height desk for your chair (and generally the table people use at home is too low) then consider raising your desk (this can be done very expensively or very cheaply!) or put your laptop on a box.

I am also considering using a standing desk and this might not only help with back pain but might mean I can change location during the week without having more than one desk. For example on this site (https://www.startstanding.org/standing-desks/the-complete-guide-to-diy-standing-desks/#standing) they suggest using a dressing table.

As a usually very mobile worker, being at home is a little frustrating, so working from different rooms at different times might help keep me refreshed.

Technology

It might be too late now many shops are in lock down, but I think having a second screen at home is vital. Ideally this screen should be set at the same height and resolution as your laptop screen (and this might involve again lifting your laptop up to the height of the screen as most proper screens are on a stand).

If space is tight at home and you don’t want / need to lift the laptop, then a smaller freestanding USB screen is useful, like this (https://store.hp.com/UKStore/Merch/Product.aspx?id=3HX46AA&opt=AC3&sel=MTO). 

If you don’t want to spend the money on that and have an iPad, then they can be made into second screens using software like duet (https://www.duetdisplay.com/).

Of course if you use 2 screen, think about an external keyboard placed in the middle of the screens, so you are not twisting all day.

If you have paper documents you ran home with last week and need to scan them to share or archive them, then Apps like Scanner Pro (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/scanner-pro-pdf-scanner-app/id333710667) allow quick scanning of documents using an iPhone, with automatic cropping of the image and without having to press the shutter button. The images are merged into a single PDF file. 

Broadband

My connection to the outside world is key at the moment and I am keeping a close eye on my broadband speed (especially as Apple TV+ is about to break the internet!). I am so please I have an iPad with a sim card and an iPhone I can use to create WIFI hotspots, as well as an EE 4G device, to support the broadband at home. The kids are doing all their work at home as is my wife, so we all need the internet.

Talk to your colleagues and clients

Keeping connected to your colleagues (and clients) is key at this time and so make sure you are familiar with what people are using. Some time looking at Skype, Teams and Zoom will mean you are ready when most people want an online meeting. These products can also allow you to share your desktop and files.

As I am now using video meetings a lot (more so than phones) I am using a decent headset – this makes sure I can hear, can be heard, and it restricts the noise of my family as the microphone is very directional. For all day comfort and simplicity, I like a big wired headset like this (https://www.plantronics.com/gb/en/product/blackwire-5200) but Bluetooth options work well and do allow you to wander around as you talk.

If you don’t want to be restricted by a headset (and to be honest they do look funny) then a decent webcam, for example (https://www.logitech.com/en-gb/product/c922-pro-stream-webcam) will give you a better picture and a mic than the built in equipment and should pick up your voice well without a headset. However these are selling like hot cakes, so be prepared to wait for a few days for these arrive!

And I would encourage social connection with the outside world via video call – we are trialing video lunches, video coffee mornings, video fancy dress and of course video meetings. This is making sure people are connected and engaged, and helps people get the motivation to get out of bed and into “work mode”.

Plan out your day

Working at home can feel like the ideal time to work hard and do all the jobs around the house. However some kind of timing discipline will help ensure you remain productive as well as healthy.

So don’t start too early, and don’t work too late. If you can, make your workspace different from your “play” space, otherwise your work will call you back and you won’t get a break.

Plan for several breaks a day (some would break after a portion of work, others set a timer for perhaps a 5 minute break every 30 minutes).

In those breaks, plan a treat. Perhaps a coffee refill, breath of fresh air or a call to a friend.

Keeping active during the day can also help when your body aches from those work spaces that are not idea. Try a few stretches (https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/15-simple-and-quick-office-stretches-boost-work-efficiency.html) or, like me, try doing the Joe Wicks daily PE lesson with the kids.

 

So good luck in getting used to being a home worker. The Tech Faculty will keep adding more tips but perhaps you could share your own...

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