Working from home | Top tips

I never in my life thought I would be writing a post about working from home because we’re in a national lockdown. But life takes some funny twists and turns and here we are. Before I begin I just want to preface this post by saying that I am incredibly grateful to be in a position where I can still do my job from home, and I know this isn’t the same for everyone, and even those who can may be in very different circumstances, so I’m just trying to lighten the mood a little and share some advice that you might find useful.

I’ve never really worked from home before, so the last 5 working days have been a steep learning curve for me and I just felt like sharing some of the things that I’ve picked up. 

  1. Acknowledge that your work patterns aren’t going to be the same as normal and find a new way that works for you.

Whether you’re used to seeing patients on a regular basis, working in an office with a particular IT set-up, or literally whatever you consider to be a normal working day for you- it’s going to be fundamentally different at home. I spent quite a lot of time trying to mimic what I would do at work and just got frustrated when I didn’t feel like I was getting as much done. You might not have access to the same systems and you might be cut off from resources you are used to using so you’re going to have to switch up the way you work. 

A lot of people also talk about trying to keep to the same timings as you would on a usual work day. I normally start work at 8:30, but I’ve found that I like to start a little bit later and finish a little bit later so that I can spend a decent amount of time in the morning catching up on the news and twitter so that I’m less tempted to do it during the day. Just do what works for you as long as you’re still getting what you need to do done and are available to be contacted by work if they need to get hold of you.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up for not being super productive.

This. Working from home is hard enough anyway, you might share your home with others which means there is bound to be distractions, and there is definitely less accountability for what you’re doing. And with everything that’s going on at the moment there’s even more distractions with constant news bulletins popping up on our phones, for example. 

But this is where a level of self discipline comes in. While it’s acceptable to be less productive, it’s not acceptable to not be productive at all.

What I’ve found really helps me is breaking down my tasks into a to do list of things that can actually be done in one sitting. For example: rather than “finish IT assignment”, I might have tasks like “read 2 papers for IT assignment” and “bullet point the outline for assignment”. I find that sitting and writing out a to do list at the beginning of the day has helped me to get into the correct mindset for work.

Also, an obvious one- blocking social media/distracting websites on the computer and putting your phone away and only giving yourself set times to look at it. Something that I also found surprisingly useful was getting a monitor to work on rather than trying to work on a laptop, but I realise this may not be possible for everyone.

  1. Once you’ve found a routine that works for you, stick to it.

So I already said that your work day is going to look different at home. But once you’ve found what works for you, stick with it. But, don’t feel bad if you still don’t feel like you’ve found what works for you. Like I said, I’ve been at home 5 days now and I’m only just figuring out how I can be most productive. Things that really help with developing a routine:

  • Having a dedicated work space that is only used for work. This can be really difficult in some situations, but I think trying to not work in your bedroom is the key thing here. You don’t want your brain to associate work and sleep with the same place!
  • Get up, shower and get dressed. The temptation to roll out of bed and straight to your desk is there, trust me- I know. But a) that’s kinda gross and b) You need to have something between waking up and working so you have a chance to switch from rest/sleep mode to work mode. You don’t need to dress in work clothes obviously, but definitely something different to what you slept in!
  • Figure out how long you can be productive without a break and then take breaks at the same time daily- try to get outside if you can to really take a break from work. Sitting in the same room means your brain is still associating that place with work and doesn’t really get a rest!
  1. Touch base using video calls with your team/colleagues/fellow STPs

If you’re anything like me, it’s not until it’s been taken away from you that you realise how much you enjoy the everyday office chit-chat. I’ve just started having virtual tea breaks with some of my colleagues which has been really nice- not talking about anything work related, just a chance to catch up on mundane things like what’s on tv, your virtual pub trip on Friday, or BoJo’s most recent announcement. 

It’s quite likely you’ll already be having many of your work meetings turned to video calls, but if you haven’t and are feeling disconnected from the workplace, have a chat with your training officer and colleagues about whether this is something you could introduce just to keep everybody in the loop. 

At STP perspectives, we’ve always been very transparent about how much our fellow trainees have helped us through tough points in the training program and this is certainly one of them. If you’re struggling, reach out to another trainee and talk to them about it, the chances are they’re probably feeling the same. If you haven’t already got some sort of group chat- it’s time to set one of those up!

  1. Try not to worry too much about your training plan

I know this is a hard one! And it’s also slightly different for every year group; 1st year rotations are likely to be thrown into disarray, 2nd year projects are likely to be interrupted and 3rd year deadlines and exams are all up in the air (secretly not too upset about OSFA cancellations though…). It’s not ideal- I realise that, and different specialisms will be impacted differently. Some of you might have your work ramped up to help deliver vital services at this time, some of you might be told to work from home without access to any of the stuff you need for competencies and some of you might be able to carry on relatively normally just in a different setting. 

Whichever of the above applies to you, both the national school and your universities are well aware of the situation and are working their socks off to find a solution that works for all of us. There is no point worrying about what’s going to happen with our training until we’ve received updated information from the school and universities. While you might have to stop whatever you were doing before, I can almost guarantee that there are competencies you can work on from home (unless you’ve finished ALL your professional practice competencies?!). For trainees that no longer have time to work on their competencies or uni work because of increased service workload- firstly, thank you for doing everything you can to help in this situation- and secondly, I like to think that you won’t be negatively impacted because you’re helping the NHS in what are unprecedented circumstances. I really don’t have any insight into what the plans are for completion of training, but frankly putting the patients need ahead of your own training plan literally embodies the NHS core values and I’m sure that the NSHCS, your university and department will see that too.

Well guys, thanks for reading, hopefully there’s something useful in here for you- sprinkled with a little bit of humour at least, if not! If anyone has any stories they’d like to share about how their training has changed since we started dealing with COVID-19 on a large scale, we would love to hear from you! Also, let us know if there’s anything you’d like to hear from us over the next couple of months! Until next time, take care and STAY HOME (if you can!).

Author: Jes

I am a trainee clinical bioinformatician working at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. I am passionate about increasing awareness and discussion about healthcare science and particularly the routes into the field.

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