Members of the @ccc_pathways team share what it’s like to #WFH.
As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across the world, working from home has become the new normal – at least for now. As educators, we are often used to the busy buzz of our classrooms and workshops, to face-to-face contact with those who share our teaching and learning spaces. We’re used to actively engaging with learners, to building welcoming and engaging atmospheres, and to noticing (through our highly attuned teacher senses), when things aren’t quite working and we need to change tack. When we want to bounce ideas around regarding our next revolutionary resource, we can nip into our colleagues’ classrooms to share our plans. When we want to wax lyrical about that lesson that worked, or rant over the one that got away from us, we can rest assured that there will always be a sympathetic ear and a cup of tea waiting in the staffroom.
As the world settles into home working, there have been some amusing posts flying about the Twittersphere. For teachers, these have largely centered on our blind panic to remember our VLE login details, not to mention how to stealth-load the materials onto it that we were supposed to add at the start of term…
For many of us, we are well aware that getting to grips with teaching and learning via digital platforms (and sprucing up our own digital literacy practices while we’re at it) will undoubtedly serve us well. There are lots of opportunities available at the moment for us to develop in new digital directions (see the Education and Training Foundation’s Enhance modules for example, or visit PD Norther Gail Lydon’s fabulous teaching online and developing your practice padlet).
But what about the more holistic aspects of working from home – working from home’s ‘soft skills’ if you like? As home workers (some fairly new to our roles, others with plenty of years’ service under our belts), we thought we’d share some of our top tips for turning what can be a lonely and stressful process into something more enjoyable and productive.
Vicky: If at all possible, find a space to work that doesn’t encroach on your everyday living space. If you have a separate space you can use as an office – amazing. If not, clear away your work things each evening so you can enjoy your night free from a visual reminder of everything you need to get through tomorrow. A joy of working from home is that it gives you an opportunity to design a workspace that meets your needs – you can be as tidy or as messy as you want to be, you can surround yourself with superb stationary or embrace minimalism. As someone who is used to moving about a lot (in teaching and in sport), I found sitting down for long periods of time quite uncomfortable. I’ve now constructed a standing desk (by putting my laptop on top of an old chest of draws), which suits me so much better.
Jo: Have a dedicated space for working so that when finished for the day you can switch off. I have always used my dining room although these days it is really an office as there is no dining table anymore.
Chloe: When I started working from home, I’d gone from teaching all day with an hour or two on a computer in the evening to a full day at the screen. My body wasn’t happy with it and I got RSI in my wrists and ankles. As well as regular breaks away from screen (and my desk), I placed a rolled up towel under my wrists and put my feet on a small step. I later got a vertical mouse which was a game changer! When it’s cold, I also wear fingerless gloves.
If you’re having remote meetings using video be mindful of where the camera is and try to position it so your colleagues can see your whole face (it’s nice to see people :-)). Also be mindful of what’s in the background. My office is in my sewing and laundry room. I use a shelving unit to split the room in two so my colleagues can’t see our washing airer! I also have passwords and meeting links on my work whiteboard so I position my computer away from this so people can’t see it.
Chloe: I have a routine in the morning that helps set myself (and our family) up for the day. Having a shower in the morning can be really stressful with a baby (and a waste of time once covered in her breakfast!) so instead I finish the working day with a bath (with my baby!).
I used to find it hard to stay in work-mode when I’d make myself a cup of tea because I’d want to start cleaning and doing jobs around the house. It meant my work day was getting longer as I wasn’t getting work done so I force myself to look only at the kettle and nothing else when I leave the office for a brew!
Vicky: Getting in the right headspace for home working can be tricky. It can be hard to haul yourself out of bed in the morning (and hard to stop working at the end of the day too). Establishing a routine (whether that’s a 9am – 5pm working day with lunch at 1pm or something else that works for you) can help get you in the mindset for productive, well boundaried home working.
Now this may well be a nod to my September born Virgo-ness, but I really like to begin my working from home days as clean and as fresh as I would be for my face-to-face training. When I’m showered and dressed, I feel ready to face the day; when I’m in last night’s PJ’s, I feel ready for Netflix. Of course I love to work from home in trackie bottoms and a hoodie as much as the next person – comfort and cleanliness are both winners in my book!
Jo: You still need a routine so set a timetable of daily activities so that you need to do and stick to it. I use my calendar with reminders all of the time so i don’t forget. Unlike Vicky I roll out of bed in the morning, make a cuppa and log on for the day. I work really well early in the mornings so this works perfectly for me. Then by the time Millie (my furry friend) gets up for a wee and a bit of breakfast (she is a bit lazy) I then get dressed (maybe!!!) and clean my teeth.
Time and Workload Management
Chloe: This year I’ve started to use Trello (free via www.trello.com) to let my manager know what I have done each day. I also use it as a to-do list to save time. I have one column with things to do under the days and I simply move them under the correct day when they’re completed. I archive the lists each week so they are still accessible but not clogging up my screen. To manage my own productivity expectations, I set myself a target of 3 things I plan to achieve each day.
Vicky: Managing your time and workload can be more challenging from home, especially when you factor in learning a whole new load of digital platforms to get to grips with! Screen Time can take its toll, so make sure you factor in regular breaks for you and for learners. I like to take a swift walk around the block, cuddle my cat or feed the birds. Rumour has it a dance around your living room can work wonders too!
Jo: I write a to do list every morning and prioritise three things that I need to have completed by the end of the day on a post it note and put it next to my keyboard in plain site, this helps me keep to stay focused despite all the phone calls and emails. Remember that just because you are working from home don’t forget about breaks, you must try to factor some breaks in during the day.
I also always flag up emails that I need to deal with and file those that have been dealt with so that it doesn’t look as chaotic and make a point of doing this every evening before I log off for the day as well so that I start the next day fresh.
Communication and connection
Chloe: When I started to work from home I needed even more a distinction between home life and work life. This included the way in which I communicated with people. For work, I much prefer email (rather than social media) because it is the most formal but also because I can flag important jobs, seperate actioned emails into folders and categorise projects by colour. This helps a lot with my productivity in a way that other methods of communication can’t.
Vicky: It can feel very strange at first when face-to-face contact is minimised. When I first started working from home I found I was more chatty than I’d ever been before when unleashed back into face-to-face work. Nevertheless, through platforms such as Zoom, where you can see people, hear people and notice their body language (from the shoulders up at least) it is still possible to build and grow meaningful connections, with learners and with fellow practitioners. A lovely example of where being apart can actually enhance collaborative work is through the use of Google or One Drive to establish and engage in collective writing tasks. These tasks can enhance learners’ written and communicative skills, as well as developing their problem solving, decision making and negotiation skills (as learners work together to edit and submit their work).
Jo: Keep in touch regularly with colleagues using email, phone and remote conferencing services so that you don’t feel isolated.
Working with kids and furry friends
Chloe: If you have remote meetings, it’s good ‘nettiquette’ to mute yourself when you’re not speaking. Not just because it reduces feedback but also eliminates background noise (for me – cats and baby excitement!) from your own work environment.
Vicky: If you’re working at home with furry friends chances are they will want to join you. I find that my cat likes particular people’s voices, and when I’m speaking on zoom, he often thinks that I’m speaking to him. There are times when indulging your furry friends and letting them in on your meetings feels right – they’re part of our families after all! However, there are times where having your dog barking or your cat jumping up on the sides and treading on your keyboard isn’t appropriate. When I shut my door, my cat knows (begrudgingly) that play time is off limits. He’ll try his luck with scratches and meows, but I usually find he’ll give up and curl up on the bed after a minute or two!
Jo: My little furry friend Millie has her own chair (well it actually belongs to the Grandchildren but while they are at school it is Millie’s) and she uses this to sit next to me whilst i am working which kind of makes her happy.
Working from home with kids
Having spent the last 12 years offering granny day care and after school club to my grandchildren I find the following pretty useful.
Routine: Set a timetable of daily activities with the children so that they have a routine and stick to it.
20 minutes: 20 minutes for very important work and 20 minutes for very important play used throughout the day, use a timer so kids can see the count down.
Fresh air: set a time to down tools everyday and get outside for some fresh air and a little run around.
Quiet time: identify areas in the home that is everyone’s individual space where they can sit and have quiet time alone either day dreaming, reading etc and everyone has to respect that. Make it part of your daily routine and encourage quiet time, everyone will get used to it and eventually enjoy it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading our top tips for home working. We love working from home, and whilst admittedly, it’s no substitute for face-to-face work where you can see the whites of people’s eyes, sense whether the energy in the room is restless or excitable, give a big high five to a learner or hug a colleague, home working can nevertheless be a creative and innovative space to work as educators. We have found we can still build and grow our communities of practice, with learners, with colleagues and with the wider world.
We’d love to hear about your experiences as you embrace home working in all its glorious forms – welcome to our normal.