March 20, 2020

Working from Home Essentials - During COVID-19

As someone who managed an Online Support team and provided virtual support for years and is now working remotely, due to Covid-19, I have a few tips on some essentials needed to make working from home emotionally, physically, and mentally healthy and productive.

Here are some things to think about:

1. Getting dressed and ready in the morning -  This includes your normal morning routine, shower or washing your face, brushing your teeth and ensuring you are putting on sunscreen. Even if your inside rays seep through the windows. Some of you might know, sunscreen is very important to me. So I always wear it, even if I am inside all day. Change out of your pajamas and put on comfortable clothing but clothing you look presentable in (incase of virtual meetings) and this will get you in the mindset of "going to work", even if that means staying inside.

Buy indoor only shoes -  I also recommend buying supportive shoes that you use just for indoors. I don't wear shoes that I wear outside indoors. After a research study came out a while back,showing what we track inside with the shoes we wear outside I take my shoes off before heading in. Trust me, it is scary - Here is an article covering the research study.

While wearing your slippers all day while working at home may be comfortable at first, wearing them all day indoors can quickly lead to some discomfort. For me, personally, they didn't offer the right support I needed for the entire day. I still wear them at night. I recently bought an inexpensive pair of sneakers to put on just to wear inside the house to provide me the proper foot support and back support. And I can walk around the house and even jog a little bit with support for my feet and ankles.

2. Stretch - I stretch every morning. If you have a dog or cat, right after they get up you will see them stretch their legs. We need to learn a thing or two from them. I stretch my legs, my arms, I rotate my hips, knees and ankles. It is a great way to start the day, especially if you plan on being in front of the computer most of the day. You should also do this throughout the day. More on this below.

3. Breakfast - Make sure you eat breakfast. I know you hear "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day" and it sounds like a cliche, but trust me, it is so important to start the day off with a foundation of energy and nutrients, and a well balanced breakfast can do that.

I went for years without breakfast and would be drained and famished by lunch. I would end up overeating at lunch and drained again from overeating.

Breakfast can be light, it can be a banana, maybe an english muffin with some peanut butter and jam. I just posted a homemade english muffin recipe here.

Oatmeal is another quick, easy, and filling breakfast. I love mashing a banana in mine, little honey and a tablespoon of peanut butter and I sprinkle cinnamon in it. Make sure you have a little something and I always start my morning with a full cup of water. Hydrate as much as possible, you now have easy access to the bathroom, so there is no excuses not to drink and re-fill your water bottle or cup.

4. Set Rules - If you live with other people or have children in your home, you need to set some rules about what you need to do and what they can and cannot do during work time. Establishing rules is important so that you are not interrupted while you are working and your time is respected, especially if you have others at home, like spouses, family members, and kids.

Rules vary depending on your situation, so I cannot provide you specific rules, but I can tell you what I do. I have a room in the house I go to and I ask that I am not disturbed if my door is closed and if it is open then I can have visitors.

This might be a challenge if you have children under the age of 9, and for that I commend and respect you and I wish you the best and the best of luck. Make rules that help you as much as possible.

I have seen others designate certain areas as free-zones, such as the kitchen, dining room and living room being off-limits for work, because those are neutral areas that others should be able to easily access.  So some people stay in their bedrooms/office to do work, this doesn't work for me, because I move around the day, but set-up rules that work for you and your roomates, family and significant others.

5. Now that you are ready for the day - Prep your Workstation - See the above image for an example of a good workstation set-up.  This does not mean you have to set it up this way. Make sure to set up a workstation that is comfortable for you. My partner has a traditional work station, this works for him, but I prefer standing up. Just ensure that whatever your work station set-up is, you do not strain your eyes, neck and shoulders with your set up.

If you are using a laptop make sure to use a mouse and not the touchpad, as over time you will feel fatigue in the fingers and wrists. The touchpad is not intended for long-term use. Ensure the mouse and any accessory is as ergronical as possible. I have symptoms of Carpal Tunnel, so setting up my computer, mouse and keyboard are important to me and so are periodic stretches. More on that below.

I also recommend a clean space. The simpler and cleaner the desk/table the better.  I like to keep my set-up clutter free, as I don't want any physical or mental distractions. A clutter-free environment does wonders for your mind.

My personal set-up includes a laptop, an ergonomic mouse, at times an additional monitor, an external hard drive (yes I still use an external hard drive, and I also use One Drive to back-up my files/computer), I sit/stand next to a window (I open it to get some fresh air), a plant (love my little succulents they make happy), my re-usable water bottle, and sometimes a table top humidifier, like this one from Amazon.

I also suggest changing your settings on your display for "night shift" on the Mac and "night light" on Windows. This will change the "blue" on the screen to a warmer tone so that it is easier on the eyes.

Though I don't use one, my colleagues use noise-cancelling headphones/headset. Most monitors and laptops have built-in webcams, but if you do not have one, I recommend purchasing a webcam for video conferencing, more on that further down.

The next tip, is eye stretches.

6. Take Eye Breaks - Long-term blue light exposure has been linked to cause skin and eye damage. Rest your eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes look away from your screen and focus your eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. See the image above for some eye stretches to do as well.

7. Move - When I am not in my room I set up my laptop at the kitchen counter because I rather stand than sit down most of the day. The kitchen counter is a pretty good length for my arms to be at a 90 degree angle and my arms sit comfortably at my waist. My chiropractor recommends not just standing but to change your position throughout the day. Sit down, stand, one leg up on a stool, one leg down. At the kitchen counter I even stretch one leg out on the counter. I will also kneel on a comfortable chair while doing work. Throughout the day I take breaks and walk around the house. Sometimes I jog around too. I will jog around the dining room table, do some jumping jacks, anything to get the blood flowing. See the stretches above that you should do during the day.

8. Stretch your hands, fingers, and neck periodically - The above image shows some hand stretches I do during the day, that helps release some tight muscles in my wrists, hands and fingers. I am seeing signs of carpal tunnel, numbness in my arms, wrist and fingers due to overuse and repetitive use on the computer due to the nature of my work. The stretches above have helped me tremendously. 

9. Hydrate - Drink fluids. Feel hungry, but already ate? Could be thirst. Feel tired? Could be your thirsty. Drinking water and fluids is so important. Make sure you have adequate fluids. Hydration keeps your mind sharp and not cloudy, it is also said to improve cognition and mood, among many other benefits. I am not much of a coffee drinker, but I occasionally make a homemade ice vanilla latte, the only thing I can say is that I recommend that you should not have any caffeine after 2 PM, I have read research on this and I have personally found that drinking it after 2 PM can affect my sleep.

10. Set a Schedule - Set a work schedule, and ensure to follow it. I need to follow this rule more too. I find that people are very productive at home.  There is no more casual "water cooler" conversations or interruptions. But I also see that people work longer hours. Especially in these times. Because I provide technology support, support can almost be 24/7. People need tech support at all hours of the day and night. If it is hard for you to step away, put it in your work calendar and/or set a timer so you take a much needed break, even if it is for 15 minutes. This gives you time for your eyes to not look at a screen, you can use this for a snack break, re-fill your water, check the mail, start a load of laundry, and some stretches.

11. Exercise - In the beginning when I was practicing social distancing, I would still step outside and go for walks and keep away from people completely. Not by 6 feet, I am talking I wouldn't see a soul. But then quickly it became a parade. The amount of people that began walking in my neighborhood multiplied significantly. I never seen anything like it before. I have never even seen these people before. Where did they come from?

I thought I would be able to go for some quick runs and walks early in the morning, but one morning I was looking at the window, making sure the coast was clear, I found a man right outside my home strolling by, stopping right in front, and begin coughing, severely, not covering his mouth, just coughing and coughing and standing there as he spoke on the phone. After that day, I didn't go outside for my daily walks.

Not wanting to eliminate my walks or jogs, I've been doing it inside. I will put a timer on for 30 minutes and after work I walk or jog around the house. During the day I move as I outlined above. I do squats, push ups on the kitchen counter, back leg lifts, and even dance just to move the body and get the blood flowing. At night I can do core exercises (such as sit-ups, plank, russian twists) I also can do arm and leg training.

12. Virtual Meetings - Depending on your job you may need to communicate with clients or colleagues. I use Zoom Video Communications: and they have free basic licenses.

You can set up a meeting and send the link to anyone (they do not need to have a zoom account) or a group of people. You can all meet in a virtual room. Within the room you can share audio, video, and screens. It has been a game changer. I use it for virtual support, meet with colleagues, and provide training sessions. I find it easy for me and the attendees to use. All you need is a webcam and microphone, and it is pretty safe to say that all laptops are equipped with both. Zoom can also be used on your mobile phone.

13. Have fun - There are a few things you can do at home that you might not have been able to do or chose not to do at work, but you can do them now!

   - Blare music while you are working, okay that might be a little distracting, but I will turn the music on and dance while I am in front of my computer all while I am typing and getting work done. I am a multi-tasker. If and when possible try to incorporate something you love doing.

   - Paint my hair a crazy fun color - I have been wanting to paint my hair a crazy color, and now I can without worrying about any judgement. Purple hair anyone?

   - I can wear jeans or any other outfit I want to wear every day and not just on "casual friday".

I hope working from home is an option for you and if it is, I hope that it works well for you and without too much complications. If you have any questions or need some advice, I will be happy to provide what has been working for me.  We are in this together. Hang in there!

No comments :