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Big Brother is winning - homeworking and family plate spinning......

Big Brother effects of social isolation

The world is in a giant Big Brother game – with no prize or glory, due solely to COVID-19 and with our lives quite significantly restricted.

Structure is something we don’t even think about, but in someway is the glue that bonds our normal lives together – in normal times that is. Purpose – important. Routine – important. Goals – important.

Of course this blog is looking at working from home, working differently and adjusting to the new world we find ourselves in. However if we draw comparisons with other less fortunate groups the situation can appear trivual. But it still has ramifications for us and navigating it is tricky at times.

When our structure is stripped back and restrictions imposed it adds a little pressure. Throw a few additional variables in too - a small confined space, screaming kids, a mountain of house chores and things are bound to be challenging. Spill over. At the end of the day my sink looks like an erupting volcano of stacked up mugs!

Big Brother is just this – a pressure can environment. A situation intended to cause fall outs, run tempers high and provide entertainment. Except this isn’t entertainment. This is our lives. And we need a basic structure or routine to help ‘buffer’ against the effects of these restrictions.

Homeworking with a family is challenging. No doubt. You can work but focus is missing – diverted by multiple factors happening in the surroundings. Bored kids, crying babies and a skewed environment of personal and work time.

For me, with a young baby like millions of others, that 2 hour sleep window mid morning has become the most productive 2 hours in my work career. Timebound, focus and planned for. A lesson learnt.

A few things here - it gets you out of bad habits. It crushes procrastination. With no time to waste it is like been on a start line for a run. When the gun goes you run. You don’t stand on the start line and ponder. This 2 hour window starts and I am off, focused with clear objectives of what I need to do.


Of course with older children, where more entertainment is required and with the absence of the benefits of sleep periods in the day a little more ‘searching’ may need to be done to carve out some ‘focused time’.

My partner is a full time worker too and working from home, so we do crack on so to speak in this sleep window our son has on a morning. Next week I am back in work, but for the past 2 weeks my previous experience of working remotely has come in handy.

A rota system with your partner. Agree a shift pattern one on, one off. Even half hour focused stints of work will achieve more than both working with a carousel of distractions, spinning plates for hours and trying to ignore attention seeking behaviours fired your way (kids are amazing at this).

Find out the times when you are productive – does this clash with your partner, or can it work well together. For example I have no problem getting up for work at 5am. I am out at 5.15am for my commute to work normally and function well early. I run or cycle 5/6am on weekends. My partner is more of a later morning person. I am am in bed by 9 or 9.30pm though most nights!

So my time is 5 am with a half hour window to wake up, some stretches thrown in and I am into work before the house wakes up. Between 7am and 8 am a shift takes over where I am still contactable but give some time to my partner to work. Finishing early to reflect a normal day (when feasible) is the trick. Parameters are important and down time even more so.

If in the day your contactable window needs to be between 9am – 5 pm and you are up early – regular breaks are important, as this could easily end up been a 12 hour + day. Of course not all jobs are flexible and the trick is to find out your opportunities to make things work whilst remaining productive.

I also find dressing for work helps me. Again this isn’t for everyone. But the feel of work clothes helps the mindset. Some of you may have seen my half and half dress code on MS teams (upperbody shirt / lower body shorts – to make the point. A walk helps wake me up and fires everything up.

Working at home pitfalls and tips

1. Boundaries of personal and work become scewed.

2. Set times can work with establishing rules

3. Productive time periods around family distractions – work days

4. Ringfenced family time

5. Ringfenced break times and periods of actively moving about

6. Routine – Short walk first thing, lunch and at the end of the day if possible. Shorter but more regular bouts of moving is suggested to be more beneficial especially at a higher intensity.

7. Structure – goals for the day – not only work – but from health point of view (switching off / exercise)

8. Fridge and food access. Easy to overindulge and even under hydrate (if lots of caffeine available) Healthy eating here

9. With the absence of commuting (especially if it is active), movement disappears when you are a couple of steps from an office.

10. So if you don’t normally think about exercise and doing so would be a new habit, try tagging it onto an existing habit. For example kettle on (cue: Kettle bells whilst its boiling / or assisted press ups / squatting or even walking / jogging on the spot. Gamifying activities can help remember them and stick to a plan.

11. Using technology to replicate as much as possible motivation from others (think exercise walk/run/few house exercises). Other people help push you along. This is missing whilst at home. See my examples here in this presentation

12. Now work is shared, have different subjects to talk at dinner about with your family. You don’t need to talk lots about the day if you have been together all day. May be planning post COVID-19 activities will help.

These skewed lines can encroach on boundaries for work / and home life. So again structure and even some ‘time bounding rules’ are key in defining these parts of our lives. We have all heard things like certain rooms for certain things.

Bedroom – sleep and sex. Most sleep experts advise routine and protected space. Bedroom sleep. No distraction. Smartphones and even tv skew these lines. Can affect sleep. I will give you an example. I had a home office for 2 years when self employed – a bed room I converted. It created some bad habits. 10 steps I was at my desk.

Parameters were breached regularly. I always felt I needed to get ahead of myself and do work. I didn’t but that was the thought pattern. Downtime shrinked. Weekends got consumed a little.

So I hired an office for 2 years putting a 2 mile distance between work and home. It cost me but really helped draw clear boundaries. When I was at home, I was at home. I now am employed (and self employed some weekends) but these are planned for events I run.

And the office is now at my mums house for my events work on weekends– now a 9 mile distance to keep things under control. And I stick to 10 weekends event work now.

I have by no means got it right, don’t necessarily consider myself an expert but have worked in isolation, as well as in teams, worked from home for myself running a business and remotely and so have experienced my own mistakes along the way.

I have buffered against these with some of the tips I have thrown in this blog. It is by no means a magic bullet. Different job roles, family circumstances maybe caring responsibilities and even house environment can make some of these more difficult for some

But part of the ‘game’ is to have a plan in place ether rota shift with partner, altering start/finish times, building movement into the day, switching off and especially establishing parameters to keep a home a place of switching off from work at least.

Priority is your own health. Don’t feel guilty and let work squeeze into other parts of your life. Seek out the opportunities for focused time periods – this high productiveness could be worth double in a work setting. Use it. Will help readdress guilt if you have to be interrupted to sort out family. Carry a new routine. Remember to move regularly.

Andrew Picken

Member of Royal Society for Public Health - MRSPH BA HONS DIPHE HND Health Promotion

CYQ Gym instructor, LIRF Run Leader

Workforce Health & Wellbeing Lead NHS

Health & Wellbeing Manager B.Braun Medical Ltd

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