Taking remote control: Experienced home-office worker tells you how

Kya deLongchamps offers advice on getting the best out of working from home

The day-to-day impact of the Covid-19 has become very real, and many employees are being compelled to go home and still get on with their job. Joyous liberty? Strained exile? After the naughty novelty has worn off, this “freedom” can be a poisoned bamboo coffee cup.

Having been a snapper before clattering out features for 20 years from my home, my car and park benches for a variety of publications, I’ve navigated my way to laser-focused self-discipline. Here are a few proven tips for getting down to work effectively without losing your mind, your relationships and possibly your promotion.

YOU

Stable trestle tables are a good option for a temporary fit-up with portable file boxes. This light fresh arrangement includes a wall treatment from Wall Sauce, and plenty of well managed natural light. For similar accessorising including the table figure, try The Range, Little Island. Finnvard trestles, €25, ikea.ie
Stable trestle tables are a good option for a temporary fit-up with portable file boxes. This light fresh arrangement includes a wall treatment from Wall Sauce, and plenty of well managed natural light. For similar accessorising including the table figure, try The Range, Little Island. Finnvard trestles, €25, ikea.ie

Your single greatest enemy is you — procrastinating, distracted, disorganised, all-over-the-place -you. Without crafting the day, that work/life balance can very easily tip over into dubious idling and goofing off, or even the exhausting abyss of real depression. Living alone can be a licence to lounge.

Develop a working routine as soon as possible, with self-imposed deadlines as would be expected in the grist mill. Put break notifications into your phone or PC. Log off and wind down firmly every day. I find a daily list made and then prioritised is very motivating, and a great comfort as the items are savagely ticked off with a sharpened Bic.

Don’t do housework if possible after the start of a normal workday. Get up early and run the machines if you like but be very wary of the cascading cleaning/laundry/paint touch-ups — just interrelated chores you didn’t give a stuff about at the weekend.

Dr Phil is utterly fascinating but lasts a full hour. Stay off the television or Candy Crush if you wouldn’t covertly try that on in the office.

ANIMALS AND CHILDREN

System shelving can deliver a highly tailored hard-working office. Add closed elements to keep things organised, with most of the paperwork and visual stutter of stuff - out of sight. Boxes and wire trays break the load down into logical bites. Elfa, theorganisedstore.ie.
System shelving can deliver a highly tailored hard-working office. Add closed elements to keep things organised, with most of the paperwork and visual stutter of stuff - out of sight. Boxes and wire trays break the load down into logical bites. Elfa, theorganisedstore.ie.

Children win hands down in terms of attention and activities and with young regular kids, interruption is almost inevitable. You and yours will have to swim through that mundane and often emotional soup day-by-day. Managing expectations includes being straight with your employer and with your offspring about what’s possible and what’s going to be a challenge for your highly personal situation.

The closed door while working — crucial. Signal firmly and fairly when you are doing absolutely essential work — a printed sign, set times, something. Do everything possible to make the flexibility of working at home a positive for family life. Teens can function as team players — ask clearly for their support. If you have tots — expect them to do a full body slam on the keyboard from time to time. Always be saving on the PC and back-up to an external device occasionally.

That Instagram fantasy — the luminous blogger, influencing with her undulating cat on her lap? Forget it. The first time your puss plays Brahms’ Piano Sonata in an F major on your keyboard, scrambling the monthly sales report you’ll see things my way. Close furry comrades into the utility room with a comfy basket and a bowl of water. Well, of course they will wee in your shoes in retaliation. Let’s imagine Douglas the setter will behave, sit down and sleep. A 20-minute walk is an ideal break for you too. Be fair, an upset in routine affects animals profoundly — give the change some time.

NEIGHBOURS

Yes, I know we’re a nation of droppers-in, but the friend who regards you as open season for pandemic catastrophising on the phone or through the double-glazing because you’re skewered into your house will make social distancing a genuine pleasure.

Men, I’m assured, are more direct, while women are strangled by exquisite politeness into tolerating this doorstep tyranny. Having withstood 20 years of “wow, look at you — so professional!” as I emerge enraged from a darkroom to conjure a cream tea (they ignored notices taped to my front door saying plainly — “WORKING!”) — I scripted a short drama and so should you.

Lie. Yes, lie. God is a remote worker and will understand and forgive you. Stir your hair into a wild storm of apparent nervous collapse, open the door a sinuous crack and declare that you are expected to participate in a vital “conference call” in two minutes. Not 20 minutes — two minutes. Then do the terse, smiling, Covid-19 go-away “bye-bye” as you close up the PVC drawbridge.

COMFORT

Working in your bedroom, use a free blue light filter app to guard against eye strain and damage to the circadian rhythm.  A table trounces working on a lap for long periods. Kullaberg swivel chair, €50,  Fjallbo laptop table, €60, Stockholm 2017 table lamp €50, ikea.ie
Working in your bedroom, use a free blue light filter app to guard against eye strain and damage to the circadian rhythm. A table trounces working on a lap for long periods. Kullaberg swivel chair, €50, Fjallbo laptop table, €60, Stockholm 2017 table lamp €50, ikea.ie

Chair, desk, lighting, storage — find the quietest spot you can afford to sacrifice and set up shop. You’ve set boundaries and got together with your colleagues for joint productivity talks, but how’s your back? I blew a month’s housekeeping on a secondhand Eames Aluminum Group chair for my desk. Every morning, as the family departs like two Tasmanian devils, I rumble the luscious Eames to one side and dump a €20 rubber wood dining chair in its place. Tailor available work furniture to your height and get up and move every 20-30 minutes.

Seated, your feet should be flat on the floor, knees at a 45 degree angle, thighs parallel to the desk surface, your knees and hip level. You should be able to rest your forearms comfortably on the desktop without lifting your shoulders or stooping. A good office swivel chair rated for “regular use” is ideal. Any chair that allows you to flex your spine will fight the new adage that “sitting is the new smoking”.

If you’re less than arm’s length from your monitor, the monitor is too small, your glasses need an up-tick, or your desk is too skinny. Don’t give up on a desk. Working on a laptop otherwise can “compresses the neck and lead to fatigue, headaches, poor concentration, increased muscle tension and even injury to the vertebrae” (Science Daily 2019). Laptops can be fitted with a keyboard, separating the elements to allow the machine to functioning as a monitor very slightly below eye level with you sitting up straight and the screen set at a 10 to 20 degrees. Limit the use of the mouse, which can, over time lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI).

ADVANTAGES

Lighting has a crucial part to play. Find a spot with the light in front or to the side of your screen and balance natural lighting with dedicated function light for paperwork where needed. Lamp €345 by Original BTC, originalbtc.com.
Lighting has a crucial part to play. Find a spot with the light in front or to the side of your screen and balance natural lighting with dedicated function light for paperwork where needed. Lamp €345 by Original BTC, originalbtc.com.

I cram my mornings with work. I’m up at 7am, scruffy but in day clothes — working. I often don’t look up until 12.30pm if I hit a fertile groove, or someone waiting on a feature has taken a “tone” on the phone (rare).

Experiment with the time and environment that promotes the greatest focus and creativity for you and do that. Getting dressed says to other family members — I’m up and I’m at work.

If your hours are fluid enough to take it, consider starting and finishing early and otherwise being available by mobile. As long as you can access any information you might be asked for, communicate your daily plans to your nearest colleagues or team member and escape the house for some fresh air.

Loneliness is a real issue with remote working. Stay connected. Just waving to other human beings or having a social chat online via a webcam can make all the difference.

Finally, remember that you’re not in the office, receiving that nuanced ebb and flow of communication. The lack of non-verbal clues and following confusion can really muck up working relationships (never mind personal ones).

Before responding after a video conference, phone call, or email, take a beat to measure your words. Repeat any nebulous statement back to the individual to ensure you have understood their meaning. You can’t hear the minute inclinations in someone’s voice or see the gentle wry look on their face when they deliver a criticism.

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