Coronavirus COVID-19 has led to many changes in life and has fundamentally changed the organization of work and study. Getting into the second week of quarantine, we all felt that working and studying remotely posed a number of challenges. Vilnius University (VU) Business School Partner Associate Professor, GoodPeople.lt Consultant Dr Mantas Tvarijonavičius gives out some practical tips on how to overcome them as smoothly as possible.
Remote work occurred unexpectedly
More than 10 years ago, during the last economic crisis, I had to quit my office job and start working remotely. I liked it. When we founded the company “Good People“ more than 4 years ago, we decided to organize work in a virtual office and work with the entire team remotely. So far, we are, and will continue to do so while learning from experience in these quarantine conditions.
At the beginning of March, I conducted a workshop for one company and discussed conditions of working from home. "I would like my company to make it possible, but I do not think this will happen in the near future," said the seminar participants.
At the time, no one thought that this would be the case. Now all employees of that company and others are working remotely due to the threat of COVID-19. Within a few days, many things have changed in Lithuanian organizations - meetings, individual consultations and conversations, studies, lessons, teaching are organised remotely.
A question often asked today is how to work from home effectively? How not to get distracted between different activities and focus on what needs to be done at that time?
What is important when working or studying from home?
I can only share my experiences on how to work (or study) effectively and how to conduct lectures remotely, as I had already tried it in the early days of quarantine at VU Business School. I understand that everyone is currently facing the challenges of his or her own, so there is no versatile recipe for everyone. We should all look for the right way for us to work effectively in these new conditions.
Setting up the work place
If possible, set up a separate place for your work or study. Not a kitchen table, not a living room table, but a separate workspace. Why? First, because of the psychological "switching". When you sit at your work desk, you will not want to watch TV or have a snack because it is a place to work. Another reason I recommend a separate workstation is convenience. It is much more convenient to have all your work equipment lined up in one place than to look for them all over the house every time.
“Coming” in to work
Working from home leaves no clear boundary between work and private life. There are temptations like "I'll read the news for a few more minutes" or "I will do my laundry first so I don't have to do it later." Here are some proven ways to “come” to work.
Set the time when you start working. For example, in the mornings, you can start work at 9am with an informal chat with colleagues on the Zoom platform or a look at your inbox. Do not start your work in bed; dress up in something more formal than pyjamas or a bathrobe.
There are days, when it is extremely hard to start the day right, in that case – try "coming" to work literally: get dressed, go outside, turn around the block, or walk to the park and then get back to your workplace and start working.
Do not forget to "leave work"
Ending a workday at home is another challenge. It often happens that all kinds of urgent work issues occur at 11 pm. Simple tip: set the time when you finish working. For example, end your work day by sending a letter to your colleagues at 6 pm on Zoom, your team's Facebook Messenger group, or any other platform you usually use by saying: "Good evening everyone” or “see you tomorrow". This way, your colleagues will know, that you are done for today and you will maintain the personal life and work balance.
Have a break
It is important to have breaks when working or studying at home. From both – research and practice experience, I can confirm that after a break of 10 to 15 minutes, working capacity and creativity returns, errors are reduced. You can also try the “Pomodoro“ technique: set a timer and take a 5 minute break after 25 minutes of continuous work on one activity. After four such working and resting cycles, a longer break is recommended. This helps to make your work more efficient for the whole day.
Physical activity is essential
If your work is sedentary, during the pre-quarantine period you could at least get some exercise while taking a trip to work or walking on a lunch break. Now, while working at home, you will be even less active, unless you start exercising, walking or biking. Challenge yourself to walk 10,000 steps a day, start your morning with a workout and do a few yoga exercises during your breaks – do your best to make your body feel good even in very limited spaces. One more thing: Keep the snack plate as far away from your workplace as possible.
Less is more
Focus on one activity at a time, in other words, "no multitasking". Both research and practice confirm that we work more efficiently between tasks without being distracted. The biggest enemies of concentration are social networks, emails, various pop-up messages on the computer screen, and phone calls. While working from home, especially now when in quarantine, other people may also distract you. Focusing entirely on one activity at home may not work, but less distraction will help you if:
- You will read your email once an hour or at another frequency of your choice, but not every time you receive a message;
- While working, you will disable (or block) web pages that may distract you from tasks, including Facebook, news portals, etc.;
- You will alert everyone at home when you are working and indicate what kind of help you need (or do not need) at that time.
How to read lectures remotely?
In the very first days of quarantine, I had to try lecturing remotely. I think the students liked it, some even enjoyed being able to try a new form of learning. Surely, all the students were well intentioned, as if united by a common enemy, the coronavirus.
Here are some of the lessons, reflections, and tips for teachers I have learned on how to read lectures remotely:
- Join a virtual lecture early on and chat informally with the enrolling students. This will create the desired lecture atmosphere and encourage the engagement of students.
- Urge students to attend a virtual lecture with the camera turned on and do so yourself. This reduces anonymity, multitasking during the lecture, and encourages engagement.
- If you appreciate a good discussion, avoid long monologues and like to share a scene with students, you can do the same in a virtual lecture. Ask the audience questions, provoke, stimulate debate - it all works remotely. Some students, as I have noticed, feel even more relaxed in the virtual lecture than in the classroom.
- Use multiple tools to engage with students. MS Team can be your main virtual lecture space, and you can offer students to use Facebook Messenger for small group discussions. You can also use menti.com, slido.com or another polling tool for audience surveys. I personally like kahhoot.it because it makes the study process more fun and playful.
Work is moving home and communication is moving into virtual space not only in Lithuania but also in all countries affected by the pandemic. A few days ago, I attended a webinar for a US company to discuss best practices for transforming traditional, classroom learning into a virtual space. Americans face similar questions, they are looking for solutions just as we do. However, when the pandemic ends, we will surely come out of this crisis changed - perhaps more tired of uncertainty, but more virtual, technologically advanced and capable of handling difficult situations.