What remote working lessons can we learn from the first lockdown?

Get dressed, take breaks and look out for phishing emails - IT Pro’s expert advice for surviving the second lockdown

In a cruel twist of fate, National Stress Awareness Day this year coincided simultaneously with England’s last day of freedom before heading into lockdown again and the long, drawn-out saga of the US election. But perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything less from 2020. 

Understandably your nerves may already be shot as we plunge into Lockdown! Part Deux – the sequel nobody wanted. But as many businesses now revert back to remote working, we at IT Pro have some advice to help you and your teams navigate the challenges remote working presents.

First things first, don’t work from the sofa or your bed: You need a space with a desk and an appropriate chair. For the first two months of lockdown in spring, I worked at the dinner table on a chair without a cushion and my bum was numb throughout the week. Thankfully, my employer was on hand to help, sending me a comfy desk chair, and I can now report full-feeling in my derriere.

What you wear to your home office is also important. Of course, you can just turn off the webcam and prevent everyone seeing you in your pyjamas, or that tattered, ketchup stained t-shirt, (or even in the nude), but this isn’t about them, it’s about you and your mental health. If there is no change or transition from your bed to your laptop, no mental commute from sleep to work, you will blur the lines and struggle to switch off. You’ll feel terrible and your work will suffer. So get up, shower, put on clothes suitable for your normal working environment and treat it with the level of commitment it deserves, although socks and shoes are optional. 

Breaks, on the other hand, are critical. You need regular ones, away from the desk, or you’ll burn out. Lockdown one was all about what you could now do on a video call, but by the end of it we did far too much over Zoom. Unlike most backdrops, video call fatigue is very real and it can affect your productivity. Instead, a phone call can sometimes be a refreshing break. Also, a lot of meetings can actually just be an email – if it’s just one person talking to a group for instance

For those that can’t help but have meeting after meeting, allow yourself to be late; all meetings now run on time because you just click from one to another and it’s easy to get tired. Remember when you had to walk places? Well that five minutes going up stairs or rambling across the office was your ‘transition’ time – the moment to debrief or mentally prepare for the next. Don’t just click enter, get up and go stretch, make a hot drink, especially now we’re in the colder months, look out the window, even go outside and get some air if the weather allows. It’s all about switching off for a few minutes.

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Also bear in mind that you might not just have to switch meetings, you may also have to switch services. Your team might use Google Hangouts, but your clients may prefer Skype or Microsoft Teams. This means having a flexible approach to collaboration software and avoiding any embarrassment when you don’t know how to dial-in or unmute yourself. 

There will also be more onus on security while working from home. Get as much advice from your IT teams as you think you’ll need (or they think you’ll need), use a password manager if you have too many login details to remember and be on the lookout for phishing emails. No one wins stuff via an email and banks don’t ask for payments via text – it’s always worth being sceptical of communications and double checking with the person who’s allegedly contacted you, whoever they are

So, get ready for the return of “unprecedented times” in 99% of every email you receive, every article you read and every news broadcast you hear, because we’re back in lockdown for a month at least. Time to make some banana bread and read those books you’ve been sitting in front of during your Zoom sessions. Hopefully we will have some sort of a Christmas to look forward to on 2 December, or it will be chestnuts roasting over a family conference call.

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