Today is day five of the national lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Flow has already been working remotely for two weeks – since 17 March 2020, after the president’s announcement of a national state of disaster – and we thought we’d share a few tips on the things that have helped keep us connected, productive and deadline-driven – and in a positive frame of mind.
#1 Routine is the name of the game
Maintain your daily routine as far as possible. After you wake up, make your bed, shower, brush your teeth and put on clothes for the workday – or whatever it is you usually do. This will go a long way towards creating some normalcy during this abnormal time. If possible, try to get to bed at the same time as you would on a normal weeknight.
“I think it’s important to maintain some kind of a routine. So no late bedtimes for us or our seven-year-old during the week, although that’s definitely not easy,” says Flow writer and subeditor Christina Kennedy.
And try to use the time you would normally spend on your daily commute to prepare mentally for the day.
“Have a list of work things you want to get done for the day, and schedule your lunch and tea breaks as well. If you approach working from home this way, then you won’t easily get sidetracked into doing stuff that’s less important,” says Flow content producer Pakamani Nombila.
#2 Keep the little people busy (it’s a balancing act)
For many parents, this is the first time they’ve had to work full-time from home while their young children are running – also full-time – under and over their feet and work desk. It can be stressful trying to meet deadlines while singing Baby Shark to your happy toddler.
Here are a few things you can do to keep yourself sane, and your children occupied, as you work remotely:
- Speak honestly with your boss and team about the challenges of having a child or children at home, and the possible distractions and demands on your time. If the team sees your little one on the Skype screen during a meeting, so be it. At Flow, we understand that family comes first and it’s been wonderful to see Flowstar babies making an appearance in our virtual meetings. “My young son sits on my lap during the morning staff and content meetings, because I have little choice. Right now, as I type this out, I have a split screen so he can watch his animal videos while I work,” explains Flow’s head of training, Thrishni Subramoney
- Create a timetable for your children to follow. This helps align their routine with your schedule. And remember to slot in craft time, physical activity time, story time and family time
- Where possible, rotate kid duties with your significant other – if you need to work solidly for an hour, ask your partner to watch or teach the child/ren; then switch when s/he needs to focus on work
- “During your ‘off’ time, play with the kids, preside over schoolwork, or get outside. Consider drawing, board games, dance parties and scavenger hunts,” explains online recruitment and career site TheMuse.com
- If your child is itching to move, have them watch an activity video on YouTube that gets them jumping, laughing and moving. It’s an excellent family activity to take part in after you’ve completed a work task. Try this family workout to get everyone’s heart rate up
#3 Stay connected – talk to your team each day
Losing face-to-face connection while working remotely is something that many teams can slip into. Set regular video-call meeting times with your team and run them through what needs to be done; tell them what you’ve been up to; make company announcements; and use the time to check on each other’s well-being. Listen, watch your colleagues’ body language via the camera, and offer a virtual hug, if needed, to a colleague who is struggling with the isolation.
We couldn’t do all our work and connect if it wasn’t for our work laptops and desktops, WhatsApp Web, Skype, the Google Suite, Trello, and our fast and flexible time-logging software, Timesponge.
At Flow, we’ve made use of Google Hangouts Meet to connect with each other every day. Calls range from 10 to 20 minutes and, apart from any work issues that are discussed, colleagues chat, catch up and share their experiences of working remotely (there’s even been an attempt to sing happy birthday – admittedly a somewhat uncoordinated version – to a colleague).
Remind team members to keep their cameras on, even if their microphones are off, so that you can see their faces and feel part of a team.
Says Flow MD Tiffany Turkington-Palmer, “The highlight of my day is the 10-minute morning meeting, every day, where the whole team (more than 50 people) dials in for a daily catch-up. It’s great to see real faces on video, to watch the chat that happens alongside the video, and to see people connecting.
“At Flow, we recognise the importance of seeing each other and engaging on a regular basis, as well as having a quick check to see if our Flow family is okay.”
#4 Remember to still take a break ... and ‘socialise’, if possible
Taking breaks is an important part of working from home, especially while working and living in the same space for an extended period. Step away from your home office/desk from time to time, and do something different ...
Listen to podcasts or audiobooks; sit in another room; stand outside and get some vitamin D; tackle a chore; or read a few pages from your favourite book. Alternatively, use the time to call a friend, a close colleague or a family member. At Flow, we’ve allocated each person a daily virtual buddy, and the pair are encouraged to communicate via calls, texts or email.
“It’s important to connect in this weird time of disconnection, just to broaden your world and think about others rather than just about yourself,” says Flow CEO Tara Turkington. “I have so enjoyed my conversations with two staff members I really didn’t know very well. We are all human and it is essential for us to be thoughtful of others during this difficult time. Ironically, chatting to others can help keep you grounded and well connected with yourself.”
At the end of your working day, close your laptop or switch off the desktop, and walk away (which is not always easy when you’re working from home). This signals the end of your working day – the same way a commute home may be. And then do things that relax you and get your mind off your work.
“Fresh air and time spent in the garden is a real tonic, and I think maintaining some form of social contact is crucial. Several friends are setting up ‘e-wine’ get-togethers to just chill, hang out, decompress a bit and have a natter online,” says Christina.
#5 Set boundaries and moderate the stream of news
We’re all living in exceptional times and the avalanche of news around Covid-19 can be overwhelming. Know what’s going on around you and what is important, but try limit the amount of information you consume and filter your sources – not all WhatsApp threads are true!
“To maintain my emotional health and to keep it stable, I know what I need to know about Covid-19; I don’t read all the news about coronavirus and I don’t go and seek videos of what people are saying,” says Chuma Siswana, PR account director.
“I don’t want to focus on the negative, but on the positive and what I need to do. I’m hoping every South African is doing what needs to be done.”
One day at a time
The national lockdown is here, and it’s new territory for all of us – we’re all in this together. We need to remember that it’s a privilege to be employed and to be able to work from home. Let’s try to take it one day at a time, and look after our physical and mental health, and the health of the people around us.
Here at Flow we’ve learnt that when working remotely in a time such as this, communication, kindness, innovation and perseverance go a long way. Good luck to you and your teams!