Setting up for remote working

For some of us this is the first time we’ve had to work remotely. Others are old hands, but the circumstances right now make this a new experience for all of us.

A white mug with 'DTA' written on it. In the background is a laptop.

We talked to people across the APS about their experience working remotely and they gave us some tips on how you can make the most of working from home.

Create a dedicated workspace

'My issue is space. I don’t have a separate room. It’ll literally be out in the open which could be distracting with 3 small children.'

Not everyone has a spare room or office, but you can create your own work-from-home space. If it must be the kitchen table, prepare it as best you can. Clear it off and set up your laptop in a comfortable way so you can focus.

Some questions to consider are:

  • Do you have a suitable office chair?
  • Is your screen set at the correct height for you?
  • Do you have reliable internet connection?
  • What do you need at home that you normally have in the office to help you work best?

Your agency should have guidance about what you need to work as efficiently as possible from home. Contact your manager or HR team about your agency’s requirements and the support they can offer you.

Further guidance can be found in advice to agencies from the APSC, or work, health and safety (WHS) requirements. You can also check out how to set up correctly at home.

When you are not working, close the door if you have a spare room or office. If not, pack your ‘workspace’ away or cover it in some way to provide a mental signal that you have finished work and are now at home.

Create a routine

A person putting post-it notes on a window.

Set clear working hours

Set a routine that works for you and try to stick to it. Remember to schedule breaks for yourself and take time away from your desk. Your routine may not be regular hours — you may need to look after children or care for someone in your home environment.

Some items to include in your routine are:

  • Commuting — you won’t have to travel to work anymore, but for many people the commute is down time. Make sure you include it, particularly at the end of the day. One team member said they use that time to take a walk. It helps them break away from work and return, ready to be at home.
  • When you will start and finish work.
  • Breaks — don’t forget to include time away from your desk to take a walk, sit outside, and have lunch. It’s easy to forget regular breaks.

Discuss your routine with your manager and make sure they support it. Share your routine with your colleagues and team members so everyone knows when you are available to work.

During the day, tell people when you will or won’t be online. Provide advance warning so your colleagues can plan too — ‘I will be logging off in half an hour at 5.30 pm and will be back online at 9.00 am.’ We use Slack, and many teams use it for these sorts of messages.

You don’t have the usual social cues of people leaving the office, so set an alarm to remind you when your work day is ending.

Taking breaks

When planning work, create a list of daily or weekly goals and break them down into daily or hourly tasks. When you complete something, take the opportunity to have a break and think about what you need to do next.

One of the advantages of working from home is you can use breaks to do chores around your home. Taking 5 minutes to move from your workstation every hour or 2 can mean doing lots of things around your home.

Another advantage is how easy it is to go outside. Take 5 minutes in the sun. Breathe fresh air and you’ll get back to work more refreshed.

One of our staff members had an idea to use breaks effectively. Write activities you enjoy doing that take between 5 and 30 minutes on Post-It notes. Fold each one up and put them in a cup. Every time you take a break, pick one and do the activity.

Getting work done and staying connected

A person on a video chat on a laptop.

Working from home is different to working in the office. You don’t notice all the social cues and other things that go into being in the office until they are gone. Those routines and connections can be what you miss most. Here’s some of our ideas to deal with this:

  • Our teams have daily stand-ups of no more than 15 minutes to catch up with we’re doing, to make sure work is progressing and everything is good.
  • Kanban boards are a simple, effective way for teams to keep track of work. The simplest Kanban has 3 columns — To Do, Doing, and Done. Kanban boards also let the team acknowledge when you move something into the Done column. At the end of the week, the team has a great view of what they have achieved. You can use software like Trello, Jira or Asana to set up a Kanban board.
  • Use real time channels to communicate. Tools like Slack, Skype, and GovTEAMS can help you talk to people. You can get your team together and talk about what needs to be done. Call people for individual conversations. It will keep connections going in a way emails do not.
  • Schedule regular catchups with your manager. Prioritise time each week to talk and make sure you are still communicating and working together on your deliverables.
  • Don’t just talk about work. We’ve set up Slack channels such as a Watercooler channel so people can share funny things they find. Check in with individual team members and colleagues for a chat every now and then. Those conversations are important — we need to continue these bonds.

Etiquette for remote meetings

A video chat with four users.

Remote meetings require a different way of thinking compared to face-to-face meetings — particularly video meetings.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Check what your colleagues can see behind you when using video. Neutral backdrops are less distracting.
  • Use a headset if you can. Headphones reduce echo and let you focus on the call, especially if there is background noise.
  • Use video as much as you can. Seeing each other is important for mental health and maintaining our team culture. While we encourage using video, if you are having internet problems, turn it off. If you’re having voice problems, use the dial-in option from your phone.
  • Use your mute button. It is very distracting if you're in a meeting and there’s background noise. Keep yourself muted until you need to speak.
  • Keep meetings short. Long meetings don’t work well in a virtual environment so keep them short and focussed. It’s okay to have a 15-minute video call instead of a 30-minute in-person meeting.

Physical and mental health

“Get a schedule and stick to it. Cabin fever is a real thing. You need to get out and do something outside.”

Taking care of your physical health

  • Take breaks away from your screen, take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
  • Eat healthy and balanced meals, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid working from a couch or bed. Your posture and work output will suffer.

Taking care of your mental health

It’s also important to look after your mental health when working from home, just as you do when you are in the office.

The APSC has provided some advice on what to do to look after your mental health during this time.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently shared guidance to support mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It’s natural to feel worried about yourself and your loved ones right now. If you need help, please reach out to your manager, HR team, or your employee assistance program.

Coming next

This is the first in a series of blogs we have planned to help you negotiate this new way of working. We will be doing further research, but some ideas for future blogs include:

  • working from home with children
  • how to stay healthy
  • celebrating wins
  • working from home with others

If you have any suggestions or ideas for future blogs, life hacks or tips, or have any feedback please share them with remoteworking@dta.gov.au.