On working from home

Teachers are heading into a new world, one where they will be working from home for extended periods, without physical social contact. And I feel for and admire every single one of you. Similarly, teachers are moving from the structured (literal bells, whistles and a timetable) to the less structured. It is unfamiliar territory for most.

My role means I work from home regularly. Usually not this much, but enough to have a few tips and bits of advice. A few caveats…

1. I am a single person and live alone (ish – I lodge). So this might not work for you if you’re not that category. But you might be able to adapt.

2. I don’t teach any longer so my job role and responsibilities are different. However, it does involve curriculum design and online collaboration!

3. Some of this may sound trite and cliché but please, bear with it. You might thank me.

OK, waivers covered, I’ll jump in. Detailed explanations below, but for time poor teachers, a summary:

Wake up / bedtime routine.

Learn to connect in new ways.

Take some you time.

Meal plan.

Do chores around work.

Music.

Create a working space.

Work your hours and not more.

TAKE SCREEN BREAKS.

Get support if you need it.

1. Wake up / bedtime routine.

When working from home, free of the 5:20 get up and commute, I used to sleep in and stay up late. I quickly realised this wasn’t working. I’m not saying stick to ‘in work’ times but try and get up at sensible times and go to bed equally sensibly. Lie in sometimes, watch ‘just one more’ episode of (insert current binge here, mine is Love Is Blind – don’t judge me) sometimes, but don’t make it habit. Routine is important for mental health and so on and I know that sticking to this helps me.

Related… Get dressed. Some choose work wear, some like me go comfy dungarees. But shower and dress. The odd day is fine but again I feel SO much better at home dressed.

2. Learn to connect in new ways.

At work, we use Microsoft Teams. We also make use of Whereby and Zoom, both freely available video conference things. Find a system, ask Twitter, and make use of it. Trust me, seeing a colleague’s face when chatting about whatever genuinely makes things easier. Since working from home, we have twice weekly 10 min team catch ups via video, and we are constantly in touch.

This applies to friends and family too. Me and the GroundEd gang are planning on video conferencing weekly. If you have a group of friends, online or otherwise, give it a go. You can play games, have a ‘lemonade’, chat nonsense or just pull faces. Teach those who can be taught how to use platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp or FaceTime to do the same. As much as possible, see their faces as well as hearing their voice.

3. Take some you time.

Sounds obvious, but for me I have to plan it in. I’ve made some commitments to myself: daily exercise, daily reading, cook a new recipe a week and so on. Plan it in. Make it clear to yourself and those you live with that it’s your plan.

4. Meal plan.

When working from home I used to eat a lot. Snacking and grazing was part of my day and of course it’s never the healthy stuff! So I make overnight oats (three at a time, they keep perfectly, can share recipes!) and plan a rough time for lunch and what I will have. Tea is more flexible. For me, breakfast is the most important bit so I plan that in. For you, it might be lunch. It might be having carrots or apples at the ready for inevitable snacking.

It’s also OK to snack. Anyone who knows me knows I love food. But for me, planning in some meals helps stop this. It also adds further structure to your day: I tend to eat breakfast with coffee over my emails, or while mentally planning out my day.

5. Do chores around work.

I’m lucky that my work role allows this but again, work with what you can. So I do things like… Work for an hour, put washing on. Work for an hour, hang washing out… And so on. Working at home means everything gets that little more dusty or grimy so planning in a few chores a day breaks up work. And for me, I honestly feel happier when it’s done!

6. Music.

A personal one, this. But I find working at home silence deafening and anxiety inducing. I have a playlist of orchestral stuff that I love and it plays while I work. Lifts my mood and stops the silence. Other colleagues like storm sounds and so on.

7. Create a working space.

This is one I’m rubbish at but I constantly try to be better. In my shared house, I’m space limited. My office is often my sofa. Trust me – prolonged use of this is not good! If at all possible, designate a space (even just for a few hours). If working on a laptop, consider investing in a wireless keyboard and mouse and elevate your laptop (like a monitor, CPD books good for this!) to help your posture. Consider the chair you work from. Adjust with cushions or similar if you don’t have a computer type chair: I read on Twitter last night that a rolled up towel can help.

Equally, don’t cement yourself. On nice days I take my laptop outside. I also work sat on the sofa and on the floor. But I am definitely seeing the benefits of a designated space, however small.

Check lighting in your space and access to sunlight and fresh air. If you can’t change any of that, move a lamp and move regularly to get this. Sunlight and an open window makes a massive difference to me.

8. Work your hours and not more.

It’s easy to fall into the ‘five more minutes’ trap at home and before you know it it’s 9pm. Again, not saying you can’t or will never have to (us teachers are usually found working late!) but at home all day I find sticking to specified hours really helpful. Similarly, flexing with this where able is great: having a two hour break to socialise (online) and working a bit later. If your role doesn’t require specified times all the time, see if you can vary to suit you.

Within this, have breaks. Lots of little ones, a longer one, whatever.

9. TAKE SCREEN BREAKS.

This is capitalised for a reason. After leaving the classroom, my new job was heavy on the screen time. Cue headaches, spots in my eyes and eye strain. Don’t be like me. In this new world you may be looking at your computer screen a lot more. Take. Breaks. Take breaks where you do not look at another screen. Even just closing my eyes for two or three minutes every half hour or so helped. Worth noting that I have adjusted, but when starting out if you have a lot of screen time – Take. Breaks.

10. Get support if you need it.

It is OK not to be OK. It is OK to feel anxious / confused / out of sorts. This is new for you. This is weird. My advice is always talk to friends and family but, just in case…

  • Reach out on Twitter. People are in the same boat. My DMs are open.
  • Contact Education Support: https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/ or on 08000 562 561
  • Related to above, many schools / organisations have signed up to their Employee Assistance programme so, if you can, ask colleagues or check school information
  • Samaritans on 116 123
  • Calm: https://www.thecalmzone.net/ or 0800 58 58 58

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