Covid has forced lots of people to work online and there are many industries that have found the benefits, productivity has apparently increased over the last few months but that may be offset by a reduction in innovation and creativity that tend to arise from in person discussions. Travel time is reduced, and one of the things that became obvious early on was that the amount of time spent commuting or travelling from one lesson to another is huge and that time can now be put to good use in other ways. Working hours have also increased although in many cases this may be voluntary rather than coerced, but again a gain in productivity.
But what is required to work from hom?
Well firstly, the enforced work from home meant a review of equipment and may require things that have not been needed before. Most teachers have a laptop of some description but older equipment may mean that video conferencing doesn’t work as expected and the incidents of freezing screens and poor quality of both sound and video may make things difficult. The use of good quality headphones is also recommended. It is possible to use ear buds but the quality, particularly of the microphones, isn’t always great and a good set of good quality headphones should improve things. If the headphones don’t have an incorporated microphone, a good quality external microphone may be a consideration. For teaching theory or other academic subjects the use of a shared whiteboard through any of the major video conferencing platforms is also useful but it requires the use of either a touchscreen with a pen, or if that is not available then there are lots of good graphics tablets around that will do a good job.
So much for the hardware, next the working environment. If it is at all possible the work space at home should be separated from the home space. This means that you can shut the door on work during personal hours and the temptation to check emails or just tweak that report are reduced, particularly if the laptop is left there as well. Workspace ergonomics are equally as important at home as at the office. So an appropriate desk with a comfortable office chair are also important so that proper posture is established. Good lighting is also vital, particularly if, like me, you work from a cellar, there is nothing more demotivating than a gloomy room to work in. Also make sure that adequate breaks are incorporated as they would be in an office, there is no reason to go without coffee or lunch just because you are working on your own.
The third element of home working is software. We all work in different eco systems, some in Apple, others in Google or Microsoft, the latter being heavily into the working environment. If you work for an academic school for example you may be able to get Microsoft office 365 free of charge which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and many other apps which could be useful, Google and Apple offer equivalent systems. The main issue with this is that it is far better to choose which provider you want to use and stick with all their products. It is easy to think that cherry picking the best bits of Google, Microsoft and Apple would be a good idea, but often trying to get them to work together is fraught with problems and sometime 3rd party software is required which may or may not be effective. So my advice is to stick to the same company’s software and my preferred choice is Microsoft. My work is organised using Outlook, Todo, Planner, Word, Excel, Teams and occasionally PowerPoint and in a couple of weeks I will outline how these products shape my productivity.
Finally, it is important to make sure that your calendar has focus time, downtime and time for family, friends and hobbies. It may feel odd to have some of these elements in your calendar, but a visit to a relative or time for an activity you want to pursue in the diary ensures that they are done and less likely to be side-lined. It also helps to make a clear distinction between work and down time. Focus time means that you try and identify time for focussed work and ensure that your most complicated or thought-provoking tasks are undertaken in these periods. They are different for everyone so if you are a morning person this is likely to be earlier in the day than an evening person for example, so work out which is best for you.
Working from home does have some distinct advantages but can also foster a sense of isolation and loneliness. Personal contact is important for some people and video calls only go part way to solving this as the 2D screen can never completely replace a 3D face to face conversation. However, in the national crisis we have suffered this year video conferencing does at least provide some contact and continuity when it would otherwise be impossible to socialise and teach. How they managed without the internet and modern communication methods during the flu epidemic in 1918 is anybody’s guess.
We can only hope that things will improve but in the meantime we need to make the best of what we have.