Coronavirus: Advice on remote working
THINK are sharing with us guidance on how to approach fundraising activities against the backdrop of the current coronavirus outbreak. As home-based workers since the company began, Research Manager Arani Mylvaganam and Associate Consultant Sue Morgan give their advice on how to be as productive, efficient and happy as possible in your new work environment.
Over recent days, THINK have been sharing our top tips on how to approach fundraising activities against the backdrop of coronavirus. The primary consideration should always be the health and wellbeing of supporters, volunteers and staff, while keeping the fundraising wheels turning as effectively as possible.
The THINK team have all been home-based workers since the company’s inception in 2000, and working from home has long been the norm for many community fundraisers, but now it’s the office for everyone. Many fundraisers are learning to work in a new environment away from colleagues whilst also adapting to the associated impact of working alongside other family members, juggling child-care and supporting relatives .
We’ve pooled our experience and advice to help everyone be productive, efficient and as happy as they can be in their new habitats with tips across five key areas:
It is really important to set yourself up in a comfortable environment which mentally, as well as physically, is your work space. If this means spending time re-purposing an area of a room it will be worth the effort to make sure you are comfortable, warm and able to use your technology properly. If possible, aim to be close to the best Wi-Fi signal and plug points, with natural light and a good chair. Think about what your web-cam sees as you might be doing lots of video calls, and run a test call if possible to ensure no one can see those piles of laundry lurking in the back of the room! It’s a little thing, but it is always nice to personalise your work-space at home, just as you do in the office: photos, a noticeboard or even a vase of flowers on the windowsill can help create a more pleasant, familiar working environment.
Many find it helpful if ‘work’ can be in a closed off room to enable the separation of work and home. But if this is not possible aim to clear the space or tidy at the end of the day to signal time to switch off.
The switch from the buzz of an office to a silent home (if you’re lucky) can feel odd and if it does, try different background noises to suit the mood you need. Does Classic FM inspire a creative approach or a tv documentary channel give the feel of being with others? Spotify has an extensive range of playlists too, many designed to create a quiet, calm background buzz (though if you find yourself having a solo disco you might need to swap to something with less of a beat!).
Planning your time
Routine and structure play a really important role in your productivity and well-being so set yourself clear start and finish times. Many people take a walk as a fake commute to start and finish the day changing the mindset between home and work mode. This option may be limited in the next few weeks or months but try some indoor exercising as an alternative.
Communication is really important when homeworking. Talk with colleagues about preferred communication channels and when you will respond setting mutually agreed expectations. It’s important to be clear with your colleagues about when you’re working, especially if you’re part time or have negotiated a flexible pattern in light of recent events. If you need a block of time to work on a big project let others know that you won’t be available online for a fixed period of time.
Everyone has their preferred methods and tools to manage time and workload but these benefit from adaptation in the home office to make sure you are not distracted, focus on the priorities and achieve deadlines. Try planning out your workload daily and weekly, estimating how long you intend to spend on something and book in meetings with yourself to do this. Make sure you include social chunks to recharge your energy and motivation. Depending on your normal way of working, you might find it helpful to set calendar reminders to make sure you move on between tasks.
The team at THINK are established home-workers, and self-taught technical experts as a consequence of not having access to an IT Support team! Google and YouTube are invaluable sources of advice if you run into technical issues with basic programmes. Warning – trial, error and patience are often needed. If all else fails, it is always worth knowing who the most IT literate person on your team is and having them on speed-dial!
Most firms will have advised their employees on preferred methods of video conferencing and calling, but if you are still undecided Skype and Zoom are good free options to trial. You can have personal and work accounts for these applications, so you can use them to stay in touch with friends and family as well as colleagues.
Maintaining human contact
Working from home can, at first, feel like a lonely business for those used to the social buzz of office life. It is really important to build in human touch-points during the course of the day, so that you hear other people’s voices and see their faces. It is easy to fall into the trap of sending colleagues emails for fear of ‘disturbing’ someone with a phone call. But chances are, they will be pleased for the interaction too, and if they are busy they simply won’t pick up – so no harm done.
The team at THINK do a weekly ‘stand-up’ Zoom call to touch base, bring each other up to speed with key weekly activities and discuss any issues. We also have a WhatsApp group for sharing sector news and asking each other less time-critical questions. It’s worth seeing how your team would feel about setting up some similar systems.
If your job involves a lot of face-to-face time with supporters, volunteers, funders etc. it might feel strange moving towards a phone or video-conference based relationship. However it’s really important to mirror your usual way of interacting with them over the coming months so that relationships don’t go cold and require re-building when life as we knew it resumes once more.
Working with kids/your partner around
Even long-standing homeworkers are going to find the current situation of having children and partners at home in the coming weeks a challenge, as household members each make claims for physical space and bandwidth. The key for this is setting ground rules and managing expectations so that everyone has hopefully got the time and space they need to get through their daily duties. A team member has recent personal experience of self-isolation with her family and found that setting a daily timetable for working hours worked wonders. It allowed her and her partner to attend the calls in their diaries and meet critical deadlines, whilst giving her two kids some structure and focus to their day.
One issues that many families will face while schools are closed is device sharing and equal access to the Wi-Fi. Again, it might be necessary to set up a schedule to manage who will be using the laptop/iPad and when family members can use Wi-Fi; while you might think your video conference takes priority over streaming movies, your teenager might not agree! So it’s best to get these issues sorted out in advance.
These new times might lead to chances to spend time with our loved ones. Take the opportunity to step away from your desk and join the rest of your household for coffee breaks and lunch if they’re also at home.
Finally – be kind to yourself as you get used to what works best for your role in your home. You may love it and never want to go back to an office but it’s likely you will feel frustrated, lonely and unproductive at some points, so be prepared to be flexible and keep trying new things until you find the best fit for you. Good luck!
Arani Mylvaganam is a Research Manager and Sue Morgan an Associate Consultant at THINK Consulting Solutions
See this page for all the latest information for fundraisers about the coronavirus outbreak from the Institute of Fundraising. It will be kept updated.