By Dr. Ruth Bowness
Working from Home
There have been many articles and tweets in the past few months describing problems the academic community is currently facing. Many of them have focused on how our new working conditions are disproportionately affecting specific subgroups, such as those with caring responsibilities. There is much evidence that in general, women take on more childcare and domestic chores whilst working at home (www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52808930) and are therefore affected more than male colleagues. We have seen a reduction in publications from women during the pandemic, whereas submissions from men have increased. Many people fear the situation we find ourselves will mean a huge step back in gender equality within academia. Here are some of the articles presenting this evidence:
These are important issues, which all of us will need to consider going forward.
In the remainder of this article we hope to share ideas, tips and resources to work with what we’ve got – to embrace the challenge and make the best out of this difficult situation. Look at the end of this editorial to see how you can share your ideas and stories with our community.
- Try to stick to your usual workday schedule as much as possible – some find the maintenance of normal work routine and activities will stimulate their working mindset (e.g. get dressed and ready for work – unless you find that wearing your PJs increases your productivity!). Keeping your ‘daily rituals’ can help – see charlesduhigg.com/
- If possible, use a dedicated space to work, work desk and monitor correctly set up – use other areas of your house for recreation and relaxation (see www.posturite.co.uk/help-advice/useful-resources/learning-guides/ergonomic-workstation-setup for tips on correct monitor set up).
- Communication is really important, so call into those Zoom coffee breaks and group meetings, schedule quick catch up video calls with colleagues and collaborators to chat over problems.
- Take regular breaks. It might be harder to go to the staff room for coffee or lunch, but make sure you leave your workspace for periods during the day. Go for a walk, do some exercise or meditate – whatever it is to give yourself a break from staring at your screen. `Zoom fatigue’ is real! See this article for tips to combat this new issue many are facing: hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue
Here is also a nice blog by Meghan Duffy, University of Michigan, with some advice for PhD students and their mentors: dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2020/03/15/some-advice-for-phd-students-and-their-mentors-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/
Tips specific to those with caring responsibilities
- The hallmark is flexibility!! Find what works for you.
- Try to find your own little space to work (even if it is in a corner of a room where you can still supervise the kids).
- Prioritise and delegate – you might not be able to get everything done so make a list of things you can no longer do and try to put them on the backburner or delegate. Schedule your time so you manage to complete the things that need to be done and that are important to you.
- Teamwork – if you are living with a partner who is also working from home then make a plan together each day or week, to decide when you can work and how you are sharing the caring responsibilities.
There is also a useful article by Ellen Pugh, Senior adviser at Advance HE, who explores how to navigate the challenging situation of working from home and home schooling children: www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/Home-working-and-childcare
We’re all in this together
Undoubtably some people are affected more than others, it all depends on individual circumstances, but rest assured that it is not only you – we’re all in this together. Also, although I’m sure things won’t just go back to the way they were before, they will return to a more familiar and manageable way of life soon enough. This will pass.
Look after yourselves. This is such a surreal and unprecedented situation we find ourselves in but, perhaps more than ever, we must make time to look after our wellbeing. Many of our institutions have access to free resources such as mindfulness classes and exercise challenges so check them out. There are also a whole host of useful articles and webpages on this – here are just a few:
Share your tips and good practice!
We have added a post on the SMB Community Forum within the miscellaneous section (www.smb.org/forums/forum/miscellaneous/), which is entitled ‘Sharing tips and stories about working from home’. We encourage you all to reply to this post and share your resources, stories, tips and ideas for working and keeping well during this time. Please see www.smb.org/smb-digest-community-forum-how-to/ for a ‘how to’ video if you are not familiar with the forum. You can e-mail Ruth Baker firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any problems registering.
Please share your positive points with the community!
My personal story/tip to share: My husband is an Intensive Care doctor and we have three children under 6 years old, so the childcare responsibilities fall to me for the majority of the time. Consequently, I find it hard to work during the day and prefer to work in the early mornings and evenings. When I schedule meetings, I usually offer my colleagues/students two alternatives: to schedule a slot during working hours, which may result in tiny people disrupting our conversation, or else to chat one evening when they are in bed and my full attention can be given. I find giving these options gives me less anxiety in the event that they do opt for a 10 am slot and I have a child on my lap bashing at the keyboard…