Following the government’s directive to citizens to avoid congregating to stop the spread of coronavirus, which is sweeping through the world, many employers have sent their workers home, from where they are expected to keep meeting their work objectives.
While not everyone can afford to remain indoors, especially casual workers such as hawkers and vegetable vendors who earn their daily bread from daily sales, if you have been keeping abreast of the news, then you know that staying at home is the best gift you can give yourself, your children, and other Kenyans.
Testimonials from Italians, who have been hit hard by the virus, hint that majority of the survivors wish they had taken social distancing seriously from the onset. After all, prevention is way better than cure, but in this case, there is no cure, so prevention remains the only option.
Though staying at home is the best option, the economy is likely to take a plunge unless we muster ways of being productive indoors.
To many Kenyans, working from home is a novel experience, while to others, it is simply a continuation of what they have been doing at work. What newcomers to this ‘work from home’ concept may not know is that it takes a lot of discipline to remain productive and actually get work done.
If you do not take radical steps, you will find yourself lazing around in your pyjamas while you alternate between working on a project and watching a thrilling episode of La Casa De Papel.
Mr Roy Katiku, a media consultant, made this bold and patriotic move over a week ago. He decided to work from home to not only protect himself and his family, but to also do his part to contain the spread of the virus. He has never worked from home before, so this is an interesting experience for him.
“The endless distractions are the biggest challenge I’ve experienced so far. For instance, my dogs can decide to bark continuously and sometimes a neighbour pops in unannounced,” he says.
Besides, he has a seven-year-old son and a two-month-old daughter. To the seven-year-old, daddy is home and that means more play. He does not seem to understand the work from home concept.
The two-month old is obviously new to the world and she knows nothing about Covid-19. Worth noting is that the only language she knows is crying, and whenever she cries, Roy finds himself hurrying to check up on her.
Unfortunately, these distractions are making it impossible for him to complete even the simplest of tasks. His work require a clear thought process and maximum concentration, but the distractions and the sudden change of environment are making it difficult for him to deliver.
What can Roy and anyone else finding it difficult to work from home do to stay productive?
1. Have a designated work station
Not everyone has a study room or a home office, so that may leave your bedroom or the living room. Whichever is convenient, a designated work station helps create the right mood for work. Roy for instance, has a designated desk from where he performs all his work. Such a set-up helps him plug in and unplug as required.
A designated work station will also help others around the house understand that once you get to your station, you mean business, and will therefore not entertain distraction. While choosing or setting up a work station, ensure there is enough lighting, air and space for your work tools. Also, prioritise comfort by choosing a seat that protects your back and neck.
2. Reward the children for productivity and discipline
Many children are confusing the sudden break from school with a regular holiday. They may not understand why you need to stare at a laptop the entire day instead of bonding with them, unless they are mature enough to decipher the effects of this epidemic.
Just as you have to continue working, your children, too, cannot afford to neglect their studies. Ensure they remain productive by drawing them a timetable to structure their day.
It should be clear when they should be working and when to take a break. Find a way to reward your children for staying productive. Also use this time to teach your children skills such as time management, discipline and proper planning.
3. Invest in internet and communication tools
Working from home, especially at this time, means that you are isolated from the rest of the world. You can’t talk to your colleagues face-to-face, neither can you access physical files like you did when in the office. You can, however, stay in touch with your co-workers and the rest of the world through the various channels that the internet makes possible.
You will also need plenty of airtime to make calls and enquire or report on progress. You will also need a reliable source of internet to research, share emails and at times communicate with colleagues. Fortunately, most organisations have provided their employees with internet and airtime.
4. Establish a work routine with your environment in mind
The beauty about working from home is that you do not have to stick to the traditional 8am to 5pm routine. For instance, you can wake up at 4am and complete your tasks by 8am. Take advantage of the flexibility and create a routine that favours your home environment.
The best routine should help you achieve as much as possible within the shortest time possible. For instance, if you live in a noisy neighbourhood where neighbours tend to play loud music during the day or have young children that are bound to make a racket the whole day, getting up early or working into the night would work for you.
Observe your environment, take note of the distractions and find a way to work round them. That way, you will achieve more than you would sticking to a routine that works against you.
5. Track your progress with a to-do list
If there are many distractions, you can end up being very busy doing nothing. Chit chats and basic house chores, for instance may take up a lot of your work time.
This may seem like the perfect time to wash that duvet that has not been washed for months. You may also want to take time to mend relationships by spending more time with your loved ones. While there’s nothing wrong with all that, you need to track your work progress to ensure you’re not spending too much time on non-essential activities.
Remember, you’re supposed to be building the economy. Write down the tasks you want to work on, including the simple ones such as making calls and following up on issues with others.
If possible, download reminder apps that help you stick to your planned activities. At the end of your work routine, tick the tasks you’ve completed and transfer the undone tasks to the next day’s list. You’ll be able to achieve more when you’re tracking your progress.
6. Mirror the traditional work set-up
The traditional workplace offers some benefits that working from home lack, hence, Roy misses the social environment of his workplace.
“I miss teamwork because I work in an environment where team spirit plays a great role in getting tasks completed. My colleagues have different strengths, which contribute to the bigger picture of the organisation. Not to mention the funny office characters who make your day when you’re bored or stressed,” he says.
Achieving this at home can be difficult, but in a scenario where more than one adult is working from home, it is possible. Remember, the designated work station discussed above? If your partner or children are also working from home, create a common work space for all. It could be common areas such as the living or dining room.
Children can also study from the same work station, especially if they are final-year primary and secondary learners or university students attending lectures virtually. Having everyone in the same space will help tap the benefits of a traditional workplace such as socialisation, team work and consultation.
You can use each other’s strengths to make working from home an easy and enjoyable experience. Besides, when everyone is busy doing something productive, the distractions will be reduced.
7. Apply the 20-20-20 rule
Staring at a screen for long can have adverse effects on your eyesight in the long run. The blue light emanating from a computer or phone screen, for instance, causes eye dryness.
In a regular workplace, meetings, fieldwork and tea breaks help you avoid staring at screens for long periods even though you may not notice it.
However, under the current circumstances, you may not be able to attend meetings or go out for field work. Therefore, apply the 20-20-20 rule to help protect your eyes.
The rule states that for every 20 minutes spend staring at a screen, stare at something else that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This helps you blink normally, thus moisturising your eyes and preventing eye dryness and eventual damage. The 20-20-20 rule explains why work stations need to be situated near a window where you have a view of the outdoor environment.
It is also important to take breaks from time to time, just as you would at the workplace. You could take a few minutes to interact with nature or take a snack after every few hours of working. Such a practice will enable you to refresh your mind.
8. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate with remote co-workers
Regular communication is necessary when coordinating tasks remotely. You will need to update each other more than you would on a normal day for everything to run smoothly.
Keeping the phone on silent mode or failing to refresh your WhatsApp messages and emails often can easily hamper progress, therefore make an effort to communicate as often as you should and be available in case anything comes up.
If the rest of your teammates are using WhatsApp and Telegram groups as the main forums for communication, playing the role of a silent follower is equal to not showing up at work. Simply put, get rid of habits that hamper smooth communication and become an initiator, rather than a passive follower.
9. Consider exercising
Working from the comfort of your home means that you’re less active since you are indoors, limiting physical exercise. The effects of this kind of lifestyle will become obvious in just a few weeks.
For instance, you’re likely to develop knee stiffness and back pain due to sitting in the same position for long hours. If the chair you’re using is not comfortable, you may also develop neck pain.
To top it up, the weight will surely start piling, especially if you’re taking too many tea or snack breaks. After all, food is just a few steps away. Creating an exercise routine will help you curb these negative effects of self-quarantine and working from home.
Start by mastering a few exercise routines for different body parts and get to work. Also, TV channels often air workout shows early in the morning or late in the evening. Working out with a virtual instructor may be just as fun as spending time with a gym trainer.
In a nutshell, working from home may not be the most convenient way to get things done, but it is necessary at the moment, so you will have to make the best out of it. You only need to read or watch videos of testimonials from people who have survived the virus.
Recently, a man from Ohio, in US, described his experience with the virus as “a monster trying to kill me”, in a CNN interview. This need not be your experience.