As a consultant, I’ve worked from home for many years. And just this week, I’ve been joined (at a distance!) by many of you here in Dakar. Mai-anh Peterson, a British localization specialist and digital project manager also based in Dakar, recently shared some fantastic tips for a successful teleworking experience and I asked her share them here. She has been working remotely from her home office for a UK-based company since moving to Senegal in 2015.
With the events surrounding the global Covid-19 pandemic changing by the day, many offices are asking employees to work from home wherever possible. If you’re not used to home working, it can be challenging to adjust to the new environment and feel as productive and supported by colleagues as you normally do in the workplace. For those who are also practising social distancing, it may be difficult to deal with feelings of loneliness or anxiety. Here are some useful tips for safeguarding your mental health as well as your physical health during these uncertain times:
1. Develop a routine.
Enjoy the extra time not spent commuting but stick to a routine of getting up at the same time and cultivating a new morning ritual. Listening to a podcast as you water the plants, checking in with a family member, reading a book as you drink your morning coffee, a quick yoga practice, journaling or meditation are some ideas.
2. Wear ‘real’ clothes.
It may sound silly but taking a shower and putting on clothes that aren’t just your pyjamas, or lounge wear, can really make a difference to your motivation and productivity.
3. Establish a fixed workspace.
If you can, try to work at the same spot every day, and ideally not in your bedroom or on your couch. A dining table is good, a desk is even better. This helps because, when you leave the workspace, you’ll have a clearer mental separation between work and leisure time, which will allow you to switch off from work more easily.
4. Get up and move around regularly.
You’re much more likely to stay glued to your computer as a remote worker than you are in an office, so it’s important to take regular breaks – your body will thank you! If you find that you forget, try setting an alarm to remind you to move. Move around your home, make a cup of coffee or tea, drink some water or stretch for a few minutes. Maybe go out onto your balcony or into your back yard. However, on the other hand, you should also proactively manage potential distractions: household chores, admin, pets and so on. Keep these distractions to short breaks in between chunks of focused work.
5. Keep in touch with others.
Do this especially if you are feeling frustrated or emotionally fragile. Use Skype/WhatsApp groups and don’t be afraid to put out a call for colleagues and friends to send you pictures of their dogs/cats/babies/selfies of their own home-working struggles.
6. Try to finish on time.
It can be tempting to work late or let go of fixed working hours when you are already at home but being stricter with yourself on schedules will give you time to switch off in the evening.
7. Establish clear boundaries for shared spaces.
If you share your workspace with somebody else like a roommate, partner or family member, ensure that the parameters of your working day are clear to them. If you are coworking, try to maintain separate desks or work spots if possible so that you don’t step on each other’s toes. Make the most of having someone to share a lunch or coffee break with, though!
8. Don’t eat lunch at your desk.
Trust me on this. Eating your lunch at a different spot (outside is nice, if you can), instead of scrolling through Covid-19 live feeds on news sites or Facebook posts containing information heard from someone’s brother’s girlfriend’s dog walker’s third cousin’s orthodontist, will make a world of difference to your mental state.
9. Leave the house.
If you can, try to leave the house at least once a day to go for a walk or a run, or even to run an errand (while respecting C-19 hygiene etiquette, of course). Alternatively, go out into your garden or onto your rooftop for a change of scene.
10. Ask for help.
If you are struggling, you cannot rely on somebody noticing that you need support when they don’t have any audible or visual clues. This is why tip #5 is so important. We’re all in a similar boat, here. Times like these can really show us the power of community – even a remote one.
And finally, a couple of general pointers…
Take a break from (social) media.
It’s important to stay informed, but if you find this is adding unnecessary anxiety to your day, consider allocating certain times of the day to look at the news or check for updates on government websites. If social media feeds or WhatsApp groups are too clogged up with negativity that isn’t helping your mental state, consider uninstalling apps or muting conversations for a while – or turning your phone on flight mode. Read a book, put on some Netflix, take a hot bath or shower, cook yourself something nice to eat, and try not to panic about things you can’t control.
Be grateful for what you have.
Let’s use this time to reflect on the fact that isolation and anxiety are already a big part of many people’s lives even without Covid-19 fears: those who are immunocompromised, who live in extreme poverty, who live with disabilities, chronic illness or who come from other marginalised groups like migrants and the homeless. Not everybody can work from home, and not everybody has a home or a place to shelter. If you are able to, consider making a donation to an organisation that supports vulnerable people in your home community or abroad.
Let’s stay safe and stay connected, folks – we need each other more than ever now.