Well, fellow Outwriters, we seem to be well and truly through the looking glass. Supermarket aisles are empty. You’re probably leaving the house once a day to go for a very tentative walk around the block and see the outside world. And you’re almost certainly working from home. So, this month, rather than looking at ways to improve your writing (or grammar trivia knowledge), we’re going to look at ways you can work from home effectively. It’s not always easy adapting to the ultra technology-reliant processes of WFH. This blog will give you some tips on how to stay productive and focused in these chaotic times.
The Workspace 💻
If it’s possible, try and set up your workspace in an area of the house that you don’t normally spend a lot of your leisure time in. If not, that’s OK. Just remember; when you’re at your home workstation, it should feel like you’re at work. There should be minimal distraction, but all the resources you need; that means a power point, so you don’t have to move if your laptop runs low, strong Wi-Fi signal, ample lighting, and plenty of water to keep hydrated.
You might also want to consider how you are going to deal with your phone when you’re meant to be working. If you have a work phone, consider leaving your personal one (AND your smartwatch) in another room. If not, you’ll have to make sure you aren’t going to be too distracted by your device. You should consider using the wellbeing features your phone comes equipped with to mitigate time wasted. You could turn on grayscale, so your phone appears less appealing. You might also want to block apps like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok (whatever that is) for the duration of your work sessions. Engage the customizable do-not-disturb feature, so you only receive notifications from relevant apps or calls and messages from work colleagues or clients. These operations can be found in your settings.
Digital communication 📡
Video- and teleconferencing are likely now a prevalent part of your WFH day. While you are probably getting used to the technology by now, it’s important to keep familiarizing yourself with the programs you are using - and there are likely a few. If you are delivering a presentation, ensure you know how to screenshare for any visual aids you might require. If you will be facilitating the meeting, consider providing more time for an online meeting than a physical one. It’s also a good idea to learn how to separate workers into smaller brainstorming groups. If it’s at all possible, make the number of participants in a meeting smaller; larger groups were found to be less likely to participate in a trial at Nottingham University.
If you’re just sitting in on a meeting, there are a few things that can make the experience better for you and your colleagues. Make sure the space you have chosen to work from is quiet and away from visual and auditory distractions that might disturb your colleagues. Also consider turning your mic off when you are not speaking. When you are required to make an input, it’s a good idea to repeat whatever you are responding to, be it a question or something else that’s been brought up; as you’ve probably worked out, videoconferencing can lead to regular drop outs, and this technique will help you clarify the response required of you, as Lynne Walnfan and Paul Davis note in their Challenges in Virtual Collaboration.
The Work 📑
You might have noticed this already; WFH means you’re writing a lot more. More emails, more memos, more messaging. A lot of the communication you would’ve had in the office will be replaced with phone calls. But consider the urgency of the issue, and whether it justifies the time spent calling someone. Also consider the hundreds of phone calls that person will now be receiving in a day. Unless it’s totally necessary to speak to someone, a written communication will likely be more productive, giving the recipient time to offer a thought-out response, and you a papertrail for the inquiry. Informal communication is probably not the only thing that now must be written; with meetings more of a hassle online, you might find yourself having to write out a presentation or brief.
No matter what you’re working on, all these communications will need to be professional, lucid, and (whoever reads them will thank you for this) concise. Demonstrating an ability to construct such documents under pressure will leave an impression on those receiving them. This is where Outwrite comes in. Using Outwrite will make sure there are no grammar issues with your work, and that it reads like a professional piece of writing should. When it comes to making your writing no longer than it needs to be (think about the chaos we find ourselves in now; no-one wants to be reading more than they have to), the Phrasing and Efficiency feature will help here.
So, we’ve got a good space to work in with few distractions, we’re using Outwrite for our writing needs, and we know how to navigate the fraught world of digital communication. But you can’t just sit at your desk for 8 hours. You’ve got to take breaks and it’s best to take them fairly regularly. In her book Making a Success of Managing and Working Remotely, Sarah Cook comments that effective workers from home don’t skip meals and don’t skip breaks. A five-minute rest every 30-45 minutes will make sure the hours you are working will be as productive as possible. You should spend this time not working away from your workstation and, preferably, away from social media. If possible, go for a walk, even if it is only around your house. It’s best if these breaks - including your one for lunch - are spent away from technology. At the very least, no laptop and no working on your phone.
Above all, remember to look after yourselves and those around you.