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Working alone: dealing with isolation

What’s the best way to deal with the isolation of working from home? We explore how to structure your day to ensure you and your team remain productive and keep up morale during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last updated: 27 Nov 2020 5 min read

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While many businesses already utilise homeworking arrangements for some of their staff, the coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands to quickly adopt this model for most, if not all, of their teams. Working remotely has its challenges, but many businesses are reporting positive outcomes and are finding novel ways to help staff structure their working day and keep up their morale.

Structuring the day – and the week

For many people, homeworking in the current climate will raise issues around childcare. Erica Wolfe-Murray, author of Simple Tips, Smart Ideas: Build a Bigger, Better Business, recommends that if you and your partner are both working from home and have children, you should discuss when each of you works best: morning, afternoon or evening. “Let each person work at their optimum time, while the other looks after the children,” she says.

Working from home requires a conscious effort to structure the day. Jake Newport, managing director of sauna company Finnmark, recommends sticking to a task list and dividing your day into compartments. “Early morning I cover all finance requirements and requests, late morning I speak to the marketing and e-commerce teams about strategy and then into the afternoon I deal with the warehouse teams. It helps me be as efficient as possible with my time,” he says.

Visibilis, a 25-person digital marketing agency, has set up daily team catch-ups as well as an all-agency video call on Mondays and Fridays. “On Monday, each team member runs through three things they want to achieve that week, and on Friday, each person reports what they achieved,” says managing director and owner Daisy Wolfenden. “This is imperative to keep us all focused when we’re managing our own time and workload, and also gives us a chance to feed back to individuals on prioritising tasks.”

The importance of communication

Online communication is vital not only for prioritising tasks but also to keep morale up – so be creative with the way you use it.

“We’re about to start introducing virtual team socials, such as a coffee morning and a pub quiz,” says Wolfenden. “A relaxed and conversational culture is really important to our team and how we work, and we’re keen not to let that falter in these times.”

The importance of regular contact with your team should not be underestimated. Wolfe-Murray warns that radio silence can be worrying to those who are already in an anxious state.

“Consider starting a ‘buddy’ system encouraging colleagues to regularly contact each other, ensuring everyone speaks to someone at least once a day”Erica Wolfe-Murray, author

“Be aware of those who live alone and may be struggling,” she says. “Consider starting a ‘buddy’ system encouraging colleagues to regularly contact each other, ensuring everyone speaks to someone at least once a day.”

Gympass, a company that enables businesses to give their employees access to thousands of workout facilities globally, routinely allocates 10 minutes on a Monday for its team to meditate or stretch together – and they are now doing this virtually.

The company has also held a company-wide virtual meeting where everyone brought a book, podcast, movie, TV show or Ted Talk recommendation and spoke about it to the team. “It went down really well and helped connect people,” says Pietro Carmignani, Gympass CEO for UK, Ireland and Netherlands.

Ultimately, the aim is to ensure that you and your team maintain structure, achieve a healthy work-life balance, and keep in regular contact. Here are six tips to help you achieve that.

Dealing with isolation: six tips for structuring your day

  1. Start the day as you would start a normal office day. “This routine helps to stay focused at home over a longer period of time,” says Julia Munder, marketing director of luxury leather company Maxwell-Scott. “If you’re normally doing a workout before work or at lunchtime, keep doing it. Dress for comfort but don’t sit around in your PJs. All of these actions help your brain to get into work mode and make that important differentiation between home and work life.”
  2. Keep track of who is working when. “Set guidelines so everyone knows the hours they are working, when you will all take lunch and when you expect their work day to be finished,” says Wolfe-Murray. “If your team members have children at home, write up a schedule when they will be available but be cognisant of the fact they may not be able to fit in with everyone else.”
  3. Prioritise carefully. “I’d recommend colleagues tackle trickier tasks first thing,” says Carmignani. “The ‘eat the frog’ mentality is a favourite at Gympass and really helps avoid procrastination and encourages prioritising. I’d encourage colleagues to set diary invites for calls and video conferences so everyone can work to those times and reduce unwelcome interruptions. A lunch break is also a priority – set an alarm for it or block out the time in your diary.”
  4. Take regular breaks to clear the mind. “This could be reading a book, watching a short video, meditating or calling loved ones,” says Carmignani. Wolfe-Murray suggests: “Work in short bursts of 25 to 30 minutes then get up, stretch and have a walk around to keep yourself alert.”
  5. Keep in regular contact with your team. “Ask line managers to check in with their team members every other day ‘just for a chat’. It might be a time they raise difficult issues, health worries, financial woes,” says Wolfe-Murray.
  6. Structure online catch-ups so they don’t take over. “It can be easy to think that because you’re using a messaging tool like Google Hangouts or Slack that you’re in constant communication, but this can be really distracting for staff and unproductive to be constantly messaging, so structure daily and weekly calls for the same time each day or week so that staff can be more productive with managing their own time,” says Wolfenden.
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