Remote working – have you got it sussed?
As part of a series of support resources for partners, SMEs and the wider travel and tourism sector, NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI) has been reaching out to experts on some of the topical issues that are facing us today. In this piece, NGI’s Head of Communications, Lucy Nichol, spoke with remote-working guru, Siobhan McKeown to uncover some of the best tips and tricks to help us all adapt to working from home.
Lucy: We’ve all got varying levels of remote working experience. So, in the first instance, could you perhaps give us the lowdown on some of the basic digital requirements needed to make this work?
Siobhan: Obviously, the most basic is an internet connection, and computer or laptop. I would also recommend a 4G dongle or the ability to tether on your phone as a back-up as the broadband networks will be especially busy right now. I would also recommend a good set of headphones and, if you’re going to be remote-working for the long term, a decent office set up is key. A desk, chair and laptop stand, keyboard and a mouse – as looking down at a laptop all day can have a negative effect on your neck and posture.
Lucy: If you don’t have a more traditional office space in your home, like a study for example, what would you advise?
Siobhan: I think the kitchen table is a good place, or a breakfast bar where you can stand up at times and stretch your legs. Also trying to find a space that is yours for working is important, as that can help with context switching. It’s good to have a workspace that is separate from your personal space where you can switch off.
Lucy: You do have to be quite disciplined in terms of switching off from work when you’re working from home. Any other tips on that?
Siobhan: It’s not easy to switch off. But I’ve been doing remote-working for so long now that I know how important it is to create boundaries. For example, setting rituals is a good start. Like when you get up in the morning you have your breakfast, you do a workout and only after that do you switch into work mode. I’ve also started to dedicate half an hour in the evening to playing the piano and that marks the end of my working day.
Lucy: The work zone at home is very different to physically sitting next to colleagues where conversation is free-flowing and organic. How can colleagues who are remote-working collaborate effectively?
Siobhan: Communications need to pass really freely, so you need to be really transparent and open and talk about things in public spaces. We use Slack which is a chat client and it’s very open and people can see what the different discussions are. There’s also a tool we use called Geek Bot which is currently free so you can have scheduled virtual team stand-ups. There are other communications tools as well such as Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook and many more.
Additionally, because we are communicating so much by instant messaging or emails, we have to be careful not to assume negativity. You can misinterpret emails, written messages and emojis when you can’t see body language or facial expressions, so it’s good to remember that we’re all in it together and working towards the same goal. We should be careful not to assume bad intentions.
Lucy: Another concern about home-working is that you’re literally sitting in the same place with the same view every day. You’re not walking to another meeting room, or having a walking commute. How can we keep ourselves physically active and mentally stimulated?
Siobhan: From my experience, I need to have different ways to be mentally engaged with the world. Social media and the internet are important right now as they allow us to connect with the world, but it's also important that we disconnect and focus on the things immediately around us.
I already mentioned my regular morning workout, and of course there’s things like reading a book, playing music, cooking and looking after the kids. Just engaging cognitively with the world around us in different ways. I think scheduling some of this stuff in too helps as it encourages you to switch off from work and take part in something else.
You can also listen to this interview in full as a podcast.
To access more support and information on national and regional business and tourism sector support, please visit www.ngi.org.uk/coronavirus.
Siobhan McKeown is Director of People Operations for WordPress development agency, Human Made and author of A Life Lived Remotely.