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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 19 June 2021

'We're creatures of habit': Tips for those working from home as the nights get darker

Remote working – in some industries – could be here to stay for quite some time.

Image: Shutterstock/OBprod

AFTER BEING THROWN in at the deep end in March, people working from home face weeks – and perhaps months – of more remote work as the winter approaches.

This week, the government announced new restrictions that include urging people to work from home if they can do so. In many cases, workers have remained working from home even as the restrictions were eased in June and July. 

And, as the risk of another surge of Covid-19 remains, it is likely that many who are working from home now may remain doing so for the foreseeable future. 

The positives and negatives of working from home go beyond the usual cliches, according to Paul Ellingstad who’s an advocate with Grow Remote, a not-for-profit aimed at encouraging remote working.

He told TheJournal.ie that as people head into, potentially, several more months of remote working it is essential they create a structure and balance around how they work. 

“We’re creatures of habit,” he said.

“At the start, there was so much uncertainty and we were in crisis management mode. With kids going back to school now, especially, it’s essential to find a way to get structure on your day.”

Remote working

Remote working had already been implemented in a number of industries and companies to varying degrees pre-Covid, but the arrival of the pandemic to Ireland caused a near-immediate move to home-working for large swathes of the workforce.

The government has launched a public consultation seeking input from workers and employers on how it can improve guidelines on working from home. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie last month, a number of people in varying situations described the positives and negatives of remote working during the pandemic

Everyone’s experience is different, but supporters of remote working say it can offer a better work-life balance, fewer emissions through the use of cars, less traffic on the roads and reduced costs for businesses.

On the other hand, people have reported increased feelings of burnout, finding it harder to keep boundaries between work and leisure and missing the team camaraderie they enjoyed in the office.

A survey conducted last month found that four in five people don’t want to go back to working patterns as they were before lockdown, with the highest preference (24% of people) saying they’d opt to two to three days a week from home.

Before the pandemic, the barrier for a move to remote working came in the form of employers. 

Ellingstad said: “My last face-to-face event was actually a remote working summit in DCU at the beginning of March. And an employer stood up and asked how they could trust their employees would be doing their work.”

With the unprecedented restrictions that came that month, employees and employers had to learn fast what remote working actually entails.

“They were thrown in at the deep end,” he said. “There’s a real need for employers and line managers to be having that conversation with their workers. Can they do the same hours and do the job in the same way? There has to be compromise and flexibility in both ends.”

Small changes in normal work practices will help to benefit both sides, said Ellingstad. Shaving 10 minutes off a meeting that might usually last an hour can help people decompress and cope better with the often strenuous demands of a work day. 

“It’s important not to be sitting at your desk for the entire eight or nine hours,” he said.

“Structured time is important. Make time to take your lunch, and it’s not just grabbing a coffee and going back to your desk.”

The right set-up is essential, with everything from IT equipment to seating. Another factor that may be more important as the darker nights come is lighting – making sure your place is well-lit enough to be staring at a computer screen when it starts to get dark at 3pm.

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And, while we have a myriad of tools available to help us work from home, we shouldn’t assume these are available to everyone. 

“Not everyone in the country has access to great WiFi,” he said.

“Or they’re not in a quiet place. You have to test the assumption that people have equal access to the same tools you do. Some people prefer phone calls, while others prefer face-to-face. You have to try accommodate them.”

While getting out for a walk or other forms of exercise is all well and good for those who can do it, not everyone is in the same situation. 

Ellingstad said: “I live in the west of Ireland. We’ve a garden so even during the lockdown we could get out for fresh air. But I was very conscious I was talking to clients and associates who might live in a city centre and can’t even go out on a balcony. They don’t have that same latitude.”

But if you’ve gotten into the habit of going out for walks, for example, to decompress or de-stress after a work day, he said you should still do your utmost to maintain that.

“There’s a saying that there’s not good or bad weather, but bad clothing,” he said, adding that the colder months coming up shouldn’t dissuade people from keeping the routine they’ve developed which works. 

Ellingstad cited research from Norway and the US which suggested just over a third of workers could potentially do their work from home as evidence that remote working is here to stay – in some form – for quite a while. 

“There’s more work to be done to understand how many can do this,” he said. “Research suggests a majority of workers would ideally have one, two or three days a week at home and the rest of the office. But it’s not one size fits all. 

Obviously we all hope we get a vaccine. But they keep talking about the new normal. We’re creatures of habit so we’ll get used to [remote working] too. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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