working from home

Eight weeks of lockdown has meant that most of us have been working from home. With COVID-19 turning offices and lecture theatres into breeding grounds for the virus, our spaces of leisure have become places of work. Whether you’re a student or an employee (or both), working from home is part of the new normal — unless, of course, you’re one of our heroic essential workers. Our experiences working from home differ; some of us are thriving while others are barely surviving. With the return to level two, I thought it fitting to reflect on how working from home has been.  

For me, working from home was a welcome change from the bustle of pre-lockdown life; an introvert by nature, I was happy to be confined within the comforts of my own home. As a post-grad English lit student, it wasn’t too difficult to transition into working from home. Unlike my STEM pals, my assignments are essays rather than labs and exams. As such, the only noticeable difference was that my lectures were now recorded and I didn’t have to leave the house. From experience, I thrive best when writing essays tucked up in bed, sweatpants on and playlists blasting through my headphones, so the lockdown suited me well. I also found there were many additional perks to the situation. For one, there was no early morning commutes, which, given I live a 25-minute drive from university, was greatly appreciated. My bank account was looking healthier as well, having not squandered my student loan money on cheese toasties from Mix Café or jugs at the Foundry. My favourite part of working from home was being able to accompany my lecture recordings with a gin and tonic, an act that has now become an accepted social norm in times of corona.   

However, as the weeks dragged on, working from home began to lose its charm. Days blurred together, motivation was lost sometime around Anzac Day, and deadlines were looming. For UC students, the first four weeks of lockdown coincided with the term break. Some students, like Finlay Mably, used this break “to spend some crucial days catching up with everything”. Others, like me, read for hours whilst eating copious amounts of banana bread. The return to university in April, albeit online, was a test to how effectively students could work from homeFor me, the greatest struggle was self-motivationNormally when I’m committing to a study sesh, I set myself up on the eleventh-floor of the library in order to rid myself of all distractions. Lockdown presented endless potential for procrastinationcats, Netflix, food, and weed, all within arm’s reach and all more tempting than my 5000-word essay on dystopian novels. Finlay described the return to uni as “a slow process sorting out my study situation” but overall enjoyed the experience, saying “honestly, I could do this for a while longer”. Given UC’s decision to remain online until semester two, it seems his wish has been granted. However, I’m aware that my lockdown experience is not universal. For many, working from home has presented challenges both mental and physical, as well as academic. Courses that required field trips and labs have had to be cancelled, post-grad research has been put on hold, and library access to resources limited. Students across the country are struggling with mental health issues, financial stresses, difficult home environments, technological problems, and are now facing a very uncertain future. I can only imagine trying to work from home with children, so props to the students that are also parents.

Most students experiences probably fall somewhere in the middle, having enjoyed the perks of working from home but happy to be getting back to normal. As my friend Maryam summed up, working from home has been “a mixed bag, to be honest”. Whatever your experience, I hope everyone is as happy and healthy as we can be living in a global pandemic.   

With lockdown easing, we’re all beginning to return to some version of normality. However, for many, working from home remains the option for the foreseeable future. As assignment deadlines impend nearer and with exams following close behind, we’re all wondering how to work from home effectively and efficiently. I undertook some research (meaning, I Googled “how to WFH”), reached out for some feedback, and have compiled a list of tips which will hopefully help you in getting that A — or B, or at least a pass.   

Create a designated workspace 

A difficultly in working from home is that, for most, home represents a place of pleasure. It can therefore be hard to get into the right mind-set for committed study. A solution to this is to create a designated workspace, separate from where you eat, sleep, and relax. Let’s start by declaring the bed a no-work zone. Writing an assignment while tucked up in bed can be incredibly tempting, but even with the best intentions, it is far too easy to slide into an endless slumber that leaves you disoriented when you eventually wake up at 9pm. Instead, try work from a desk or table. This can be anywhere, but ideally not in your bedroom if your housing situation permits. Once you’ve secured a workspace, ensure that only work is conducted in this space! This is crucial for maintaining the workspace energy, so if you want to check your socials, chat to your mum, or watch an episode of Parks and Rec, then do so elsewhere.  

Dress for the job 

Although I enjoyed a comfortable eight weeks in sweatpants and hoodies, some people find dressing like a slob unconducive to study. A good option is to dress for work at the start of the day and change at the end into clothes for relaxing. Not only does this switch your brain into work-mode, but it also helps to break up the day into work time and chill time. Dressing for the job will differ among people, so interpret this how you will. For some, that might mean full office wear (or at least the top half for zoom meetings), for others simply putting on a pair of jeans is sufficient.    

Manage your time 

Creating a timetable for your work will bring a semblance of order and structure to your day that is typically provided by work hours or lectures. A good way to do this is to consider when you’re most productive — do you wake up ready-to-go in the morning, or are you more of a night owl? Your motivation will naturally ebb and flow throughout the day, so it’s helpful to try plan your schedule around this. When studying, it’s also useful to chunk your work into parts. I’d recommend the Pomodoro Technique, which is a method of time-chunking where you spend twenty-five minutes on a task, then five minutes chilling, before you move to the next task. It does require a bit of self-discipline, but you’ll be surprised at how productive you can be in a short amount of time.   

Make time for breaks 

As part of managing your time, make sure to take breaks! Regular breaks from study are proven to be beneficial to your productivity. A break can be whatever you want; bake some muffins, take a nap, watch some YouTube. If you can, get some air! Going outside to breathe in some fresh air will do wonders for your mental health, especially when you’ve been cooped up inside all week working on an assignment. I’d also suggest exercising as a means for getting a burst of endorphins so however you like to move your body — yoga, running, HIIT, cycling — it’s worth getting ya sweat on.  

Communicate expectations with those who you live with 

Working from home while living with flatmates or family can be difficult to navigate. There’s nothing worse than trying to attend a zoom lecture while your flatmate plays Fortnite loudly in the next room. The best thing to do is communicate your expectations with those you live with. Maybe establish ‘work hours’ during the day where noise is kept to a minimum, or work as a flat together at the table. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you are home. So just make sure any flatmates, family, and pets, respect your space during the work hours.  

Have a definitive end-point to your day 

It can be easy to get lost in a study black hole until 3am, but it’s important to pick a finishing time each day. The best way to actually follow through with this is to set an alarm to indicate that your work day has come to an end. You don’t have to stop at exactly that time necessarily, but knowing that the work day is technically over can help you start the process of tying up that last thought, saving your work, and calling it quits for the evening. On this note, it can be helpful to build transitions into and out of your work. Your morning commute not only gets you to work physically, but it also gives your brain time to prepare. Just because you’re no longer travelling doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carve out equivalent routines to help you ease into your workday, and out of it. For me, I make sure to take time to enjoy my breakfast with a cup of coffee before I dive into work, and when I’m done for the day, I go for a walk to unwind before I enjoy my evening.

By Roshanah Masilamani