Upcoming pieces of work

Hello I hope that you & your families are safe in well during this very challenging year. It has been a few weeks since I last blogged & for good reason.

I have been dealing with a family bereavement, focusing on some home improvement projects & generally getting mentally geared up to thrive during this late lockdown in England.

So, what next? I didn’t just want to blog for the sake of blogging but provide & update to actual content in the works. Over the next few weeks I will be collaberating with bloggers from https://homeworker.uk.com/

I am to begin working on a home working handbook perhapd in ebook format for people to be able to consume as a pose to flicking through several blog posts to find key information which helps them out.

Finally, I have been continuing to involve myself in home working initiatives to improve my own knowledge & understanding which in turn I will be feeding back into new blog / handbook content so stay tuned & have a great weekend.

Noise? Music? Our brain & why its important.

Welcome back to the blog, apologies for the week delay in getting this post out since Mental Health Awareness day (yep all that time ago) I’ve actually been going through a recent family bereavement so my head has not been in the right ‘blogging’ space. Anyway, enough about my personal life, let’s get into this week topic, an important one too in my opinion.

Let’s start with background noise, back when we were in our offices working there are many ambient noises going on in the background some of which you likely wouldn’t notice or realise unless your either in the office really early or really late (normally late based on my experience). Those noises go from people talking on the phone, distant daily stand up meetings taking place to things like keyboards typing & the air conditioning all contribute to this background noise we have in the office.

Now we are working from home it is a whole new environment, with the exception of laptop notifications (assuming you have them switched on) the home work place can become very quiet especially for those who live alone or those whose children have gone back to the school. In turn this can begin to affect your mental wellbeing in ways you wouldn’t obviously think about, in essence the ‘quiet’ or lack of noise can actually increase the feeling of loneliness & isolation, which in turn can begin to create a place where negative thinking & thoughts can take over.

So the question is what can you do about it? Play a recording of an office environment in the background? Perhaps… Or have you ever considered if you are not doing so already try having music playing quietly in the background.

Lots of research available to see online that evidences listening to music helps the brain to trigger the release of several neurochemicals that can aid the reduction of depression & anxiety including improvements to sleep quality, mood, memory, increase some cognitive functions, enhance learning and concentration. Music is great for your brain because it is one of the few activities that stimulates your entire brain, so without really thinking about it, by simply playing some music in the background during the working day (between meetings if you have them) you are effectively stimulating your brain! Sounds so simple I know but I can say from honest experience that I found my mood has been lifted massively throughout the working day & evening, something which colleagues & family have noticed.

Now there are many different means in which to listen to music this day and age my absolute go to right now is my Alexa device (which is hooked up with an Amazon Prime account) but without an Amazon Prime account you can pay a very small monthly subscription under £5 a month in the UK for Amazon Music. What you then choose to listen too is going to differ from person to person, having an Alexa with a music subscription allows you to request for things like ‘Alexa play the greatest Motown songs’ (personal favourite of mine) without any adverts or alternatively I request to listen to Radio Stations such as Smooth Radio Bristol (digital radio station) which gives you a combination of music & talking in the background. If you want to go for superior sound quality or if the Alexa is or musical device is stationed too far away from you then investing in a Bluetooth speaker is another great way to get the most out of your music, I have a small portable Bose Soundlink Colour 2.

I am into my sport as well so I will sometimes go for a radio station such as Talk Sport for all of the latest Football (soccer) updates.

So what’s next for you? My suggestion is to dust off any old radios, download a radio app on your mobile or invest in an Alexa or something like it to really change your working from home environment & please let’s keep the conversation going give it a try & send me your success stories in the comments below. Until next time, thank you everyone for reading.

In case you are interested please find the links to the devices I am using below, FYI these are associate marketing links so if you did choose to purchase one of the items using the link I would receive a very small commission, however, I am not by any means pushing anyone to buy anything just simply sharing what works for me based on my own experience.

Echo Show 5 –Stay in touch with the help of Alexa

&

Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker II

Mental Health Awareness Day Further Reading/Viewing

Hello all, I have been away for the last fortnight not blogging during my usual weekly slot, mainly because I have been struggling mentally to focus clearly on anything & this has been amplified by a close relative that has gone into hospital in ICU.

However, I am back, with a shorter post than usual, while seeking support for my own mental wellbeing a close friend of mine & fellow blogger Matt Zitron kindly shared two articles which he has wrote regarding depression closely tied in with mental health awareness day which I have found very helpful & the second article actually made me feel quite emotional.

I Suffer with Depression

&

Dear Friend

On top of this I have been contemplating creating my own videos to alongside some of the key messages given in my blog posts & while researching into this I came across a video by Paul Weedon, he has made a video covering anxiety & mental wellbeing while working remotely, I found it very useful & it is almost as if we are singing from the same hymn sheet. Please check out his Video & let me know your thought in the comments.

Next week I hope to do some further developments to my website & I plan to add in a whole new section about my hobby, this will be accompanied with a supporting blog post. It is something that has really taken off for me over last two years & with lockdown even more so.

The reason I am writing about it is because during some very challenging times it is something that allows me to clear my head, achieve something desirable & share it with world. But stay tuned next to find out what it is, but mentally, it has helped me with so much, I look forward to sharing more soon.

Thanks for reading & see you next week, stay safe.

Equipment check!

So, previously in my blog post about being stuck in the same room everyday can potentially lead to depression? The question now is how can you move around into different rooms easily while allowing yourself to still be in a comfortable position to do your work.

I have seen many people using laptops on their laps, or worse still on the their laps with a blanket underneath it. This is a recipe for disaster for a number of reasons:

  1. The position you are sat in is not a natural one therefore you will be placing your body, specifically your back, neck, eyes, hands & wrist under significant strain. Multiply this by spending extended hours in those positions then you’ll begin to develop posture issues that’ll take its toll on your body which in turn can impact your mental wellbeing, as well as your productivity & overall physical health.
  2. Putting a laptop on your legs or worse still on a pillow/blanket can block up the vents on your laptop causing it perform worse & runs the risk of overheating and even breaking the laptop.

I highly recommend using a good quality portable desk which can support your laptop & a gel mouse mat to provide the support you need on the wrist for long usage to reduce the risk of developing RSI (repetitive strain injury) the most common symptoms of RSI include:

Pain, Stiffness, Tightness, Swelling, Tingling (like pins and needles), Numbness, Tenderness, Weakness & A dull ache.

It is no joke either I have met several colleagues using a left hand mouse because the right hand can no longer work a mouse due to the pain & strain, when I witnessed this first hand was when I decided to make sure that I put my body first & buy the proper equipment to reduce the risks.

The benefit of having a portable desk, even if you are lucky enough to have a static office or study for work, it’s great to have the ability to move around to different places in (and outside) the house (for longer or short periods of time). I can simply unplug my charger & quickly move my laptop, mouse & mouse mat into different rooms or the garden then sit down & continue working. The change of scenery even within the constraints of our own homes which during lockdown periods is, in some cases our only option, is very much welcomed (especially the garden on a bright day).

Remember it is still key to have suitable seating when manoeuvring around the household with your portable work station. I typically move between the front room sofa, kitchen & garden chairs, I either use the kitchen side with a high bar stool or a short chair to use my desk on a small table.

It is even effective when moving in the car between households as again you can close the laptop down carry the desk to the car place it in a secure place, drive to an alternative destination & easily pull your workstation out & be ready to go. When I have finished work on a Friday I pack my laptop away into its bag & can easily fold the table away & store it safely away (which keeps the other half happy too).

You can find links to both the desk & mouse is use below from Amazon UK:

Fellowes Gel Support Mouse pad

Barbieya Portable Lap desk

If you decide to go for it let me know in the comments or if you have further suggestions of other product for me to review which have helped you then let me know.

Remember we are all in this together to say stay strong, try to be positive & stay safe.

Regular Breaks – When & Why

Got 'IT' Homeworkers, Communication & Wellbeing

Today we are going to dive into the topic of taking ‘regular breaks’ while working from home or remotely. I would like you to start by thinking about what this actually means to you, now that you are working from home either full time or for long chunks of the working week, how should you break up your day?

“… research has found that taking a break can be very beneficial for you and your work. Micro-breaks, lunchtime breaks and longer breaks, have all been shown to have a positive relationship with wellbeing and productivity. By taking regular breaks you can boost your performance.” source https://thewellbeingthesis.org.uk

Let’s think about some of the natural breaks we take in the office, probably, without even noticing or realising, excluding the traditional lunch break.

  • Walking to the water, hot drink or vending machine
  • The daily commute
  • Walking to a meeting room
  • Going to meet…

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Being indoors excessively can cause depression? What can you do to improve your Mental Health

Staying home for extended periods of time? Less socialising, less natural exercise, less breaks & less fresh air. In the UK office workers are again being advised to pack up the office kit & go home.

All aspects of working from home every day of the working week can begin to take its toll on both our physical & mental wellbeing.

Today, with the help of my research & personal experience I will be sharing with you some of the challenges we face & offer advice as to how we can combat them to reduce to risks to our health.

Firstly I’ll start by getting into some of the major issues we can face from spending extended periods behind closed doors:

  1. Increased chances of developing depression
  2. Lack of sunlight / vitamin D
  3. Risk of putting on weight

By staying indoors excessively, staring at the same four walls each & everyday can begin to make us become stir crazy, it can increase the amount of negative thoughts which we have. Multiply this by a lack of social interaction with family, friends & colleagues, along with worry about the pandemic & our loved ones & finally the day to day stress of the working week then you can easily see how quickly the ‘homeworking’ environment, especially in this current time can quickly cause our mental health which is being placed under increasing stress to develop into something much more serious like depression.

So, what can you do about it? What changes can you make that will make the difference to help prevent negative thoughts & depression from potentially taking hold of your life. I have covered it previously but I cannot stress the importance of taking regular breaks when working remotely, there are many types of breaks to be had outside of the normal ‘lunch’ break, such as microbreaks in between a meeting, having a few minutes spare getting up & walking into a different room or grabbing some fresh air outside your front/back door can literally do your mental wellbeing the world of good. When you can afford a slightly longer break trying to take a quick walk over the nearest park, shop or round the block, just getting out & clearing your head with fresh air plus a change of the scenery from the four walls around you is a great way to give yourself some freedom, you’ll also be getting that natural vitamin D from the sunlight

Exercise! It doesn’t have to be at the gym, you do not need a personal trainer or to spend hundreds on that ‘ideal training regime’ to get in shape in 30 days. With today’s technology there are so many different mediums in which to gather a ‘workout’ until you find something that you are happy with.

One of the great positives to come out of lockdown in fact was the number of different online / remote workouts which have been shared. In the UK there was huge praise for Joe Wicks & his series of free live, daily morning workouts. Also, heavyweight Champion the Gypsy king himself on Instagram shared free, live at home workouts for all to follow (he did have some other home equipment he used so a small investment may be required) & finally there are a few great apps on your phone that you can download a personal favourite of mine is the ‘7 minute workout’ app for which I have no excuse not to do, seeing as it is only 7 minutes. Exercise is proven to allow our bodies to release endorphins which in turn improve our mental wellbeing, self-esteem, energy levels & sharper memory.

Two birds with one stone nailed with this step because we can help to reduce the likelihood of us putting on excess weight (& if needed lose any unwanted weight), I actually piled on a stone in weight (6.3kg) during our first stint in lockdown, something I proud to announce I have almost shed completely kept off. You could argue 3 birds with one stone if you are exercising outside since you will also be getting that natural dose of vitamin D into your body.

So there you have it, I hope you found this article helpful, please feel free to leave your comments, feedback or any suggestions from your own experience which may help myself & others.

The big 4 ‘communication guide’

1 – Face to face

Being able to meet with colleagues inside or outside your team & new or existing customers is an essential way to enable you to build up a lasting professional relationship with your various business stakeholders. Under our current circumstances one would think that it has become more difficult than ever to ‘meet face to face’ with your colleagues & customers but this is not the case, in fact with the easy access to tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams & even WhatsApp / Facebook Messenger video calling it has become easier than ever before.

So, now is the time to get over being camera shy, when you attend a meeting in the office do you wear a disguise or hide behind the door? I would of thought not, imagine how it would come across to the other people in the room. This is how it can feel when everyone or just one person always had their camera off. Now, is the time to get used to being on screen ‘face to face’ with your stakeholders. If you are camera shy my advice is to initially start a meeting with the camera on to introduce yourself, then switch off the camera until near the end of the discussion, finally switch your camera back onto bring the meeting to a close & say thank you / goodbye.

You’ll be surprised the impression this can make on your stakeholders not only professionally but from a mental health perspective seeing a friendly face during a discussion can improve your/their mood which in turn helps to keep you positive which is key in this new norm we find ourselves in. These are the types of behaviours we need to try & encourage early so that it becomes second nature in order to keep us at our productive best.

2 – Instant Messenger

Using an instant messenger tool/app to keep in contact with colleagues or new/existing customers is an excellent way to keep real time communication running. Many applications now allow for groups of key stakeholders to be added together which can become perfect ways to keep real time working tasks & activities moving.

Have a question or query for someone, why send an email then have to wait for a response, with the instant messaging option you have an opportunity to resolve tasks much quicker providing that your colleagues are online of course.

When reaching out to a ‘stranger’ / new colleague or customer especially if you are a little camera shy or lack confidence, breaking the ice with a few polite messages in instant messenger can be a great way to get conversation started & keep it going.

Start with introducing yourself & what team you are from before getting into the nitty gritty of the conversation. Instant messaging is one of my favourite ways to engage with small groups of business stakeholders to work towards delivering a given task or tasks, use email to communicate formally the major milestones for the wider audience. It is so much more effective at delivering work collectively in realtime rather than waiting in extended email chains for a response to be shared.

3 – Audio (Phone or VOIP)

Picking up the phone or using online apps to call our colleagues, new or existing customers is still a great way to keep in touch, I advise only use this for 1 to 1 or small group communication rather using traditional conference calls which tend to become cluttered/busy with too many people talking over one another. This is why the video call in my opinion is becoming superior because when someone talks, their name / screen / comes to the front & others on the call can put up a virtual hand to let the active speaker know someone else has a point to make.

Know a colleague who lives alone? Giving them a phone call to check in on them, even if it isn’t about a specific work task could do them & yourself a world of good especially with offices closed some peoples social interaction has gone from one extreme to another. (The same can be said about dropping a video call too)

Being mindful & thoughtful to others is a great way to keep you at your own peak knowing that you’ve potentially helped out a fellow colleague can have an amazing impact on your own wellbeing.

4 – Email

The formal way to communicate, email is a great way to communicate when used correctly however, it is more often than not used excessively, resulting in clogged up mailboxes & missed communications. My best advice for composing an email is to think about it as though you are writing someone a letter, you are going to send it to the end users but don’t expect an instant response. You need to allow time for the end user to receive & review the message, then allow time for them to create a response. We should not use email like ‘instant messenger’.

When composing an email there are many things I can suggest but one of the most important is to consider your audience & what message you want to deliver, think of this as a formal way to send communications to keep stakeholders well informed or to provide major updates on task related work in which multiple stakeholders need to be made aware but aren’t part of the actual doing.

An example of this could be issuing a formal request for someone to implement a change, the ‘doer’ should be in the ‘To’ field & the stakeholders impacted should be included in the ‘CC’ for information purposes.

The ‘To’ field should be used to send to your key stakeholders & the ‘CC’ field is for the people who need to be informed.

Be mindful of your audience when responding to emails, will a ‘reply’ suffice or an instant message or does it require a ‘reply all’, more often than not debates can commence on an email chain with all manner of stakeholders, potentially senior or management level.

Be sure to add a meaningful & structured email subject if you are looking to get the desired outcome from your communication, also do not be shy to amend current email subject headers if they do not make sense to the topic being discussed.

My final pro tip, try not to reuse dead / old email trails/chains if they are no longer relevant. If an action for a task was shared via email and has been completed by the task owner then the email chain can be closed down & archived. Taking old / existing email chains and re-using them for a different message under the same banner can completely confuse your entire audience.

Final Comment

So, there you have it, thanks for reading this week’s blog update I hope you can take something away of value, if you have then please feel free to take the time to leave some feedback or provide a testimonial which can really help me grow my blog in the future. All the best, stay safe & stay positive.

‘home working doubters & business leaders alike finally opening their eyes’

Got 'IT' Homeworkers, Communication & Wellbeing

The typical understanding of ‘homeworking’, is a wealthy suntanned person on a beach, somewhere exotic with a cocktail and umbrella on the desk & the laptop sat under a matching umbrella with a sea breeze blowing in the background. The other typical view when you tell someone who either doesn’t work from home or doesn’t ‘endorse it’ is to expect comments like ‘oh working from the pub then’, giving the assumption that working from home is some sort of code for skiving off work.

It really isn’t given the right environment one can be even more productive than working a typical 9 to 5 plus commute in the office, if anything positive can come out of this pandemic, then I genuinely believe it’s the home working doubters & business leaders alike finally opening their eyes to the potential of allowing their office work force to become an even stronger home…

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Regular Breaks – When & Why

Today we are going to dive into the topic of taking ‘regular breaks’ while working from home or remotely. I would like you to start by thinking about what this actually means to you, now that you are working from home either full time or for long chunks of the working week, how should you break up your day?

“… research has found that taking a break can be very beneficial for you and your work.  Micro-breaks, lunchtime breaks and longer breaks, have all been shown to have a positive relationship with wellbeing and productivity. By taking regular breaks you can boost your performance.” source https://thewellbeingthesis.org.uk

Let’s think about some of the natural breaks we take in the office, probably, without even noticing or realising, excluding the traditional lunch break.

  • Walking to the water, hot drink or vending machine
  • The daily commute
  • Walking to a meeting room
  • Going to meet with a customer or friendly colleague at their desk or breakout location
  • Popping to the canteen for food/drink etc
  • Going to the printer
  • Going to the loo
  • Go outside to vape or smoke

When you are in the office environment you’ll likely be a doing a number of the items above without having to consciously tell yourself, I need to take a micro break to increase my productivity & mental wellbeing. Now let’s think about a homeworking scenario, you’re sat at your desk, table, sofa, garden or bed & then the meeting start, you’ve rushed to make yourself a coffee, your sitting comfortably ready for that 9:30am Daily Team Stand up meeting.

You have logged on to your first call or conference, added your input & you’ve got your meeting notes plus any actions, job done. Now, it is 9:55am, 5 minutes till that workshop sessions commences the 1.5 hour session which has been booked in for the last two weeks which you really have to join.

You finish up your coffee & commence to dial into the call or conference, you’ve been taking notes throughout the session & now at the Q&A part. The call had a lot of joiners so now the session is overrunning by 15 minutes, no one will think anything of it once the call has come to a close, the time is around 11:45am.

Let’s review what is happening above, of the morning routine from 9:30am till 11:45am you have just been sat in a fairly stationary position, staring at a screen ‘working’, be it providing updates to your team or trying to absorb valuable information from the workshop meeting, it is highly likely that you haven’t even gone to the toilet at this point or moved away from the laptop. The total duration has been over 2 hours of physical inactivity, not including any time before the daily stand up meeting where you may have been catching up on emails or prepping beforehand.

Let’s put that time of physical stillness while being mentally switched on in perspective, you could have flown from London to Venice or you could have watched ‘Goodfellas’ in that duration. It’s a considerable amount of time to remain static while having your brain switched on. Even in an office environment it is likely that there would have been a natural break between the daily stand up & workshop session, more than likely it would have been in different parts of the office so you would be moving around, possibly grabbing a drink enroute or a loo break in between the sessions.

The biggest point I am trying to make is that it is very easy to end up spending almost all of your day static in one position, staring at a screen while trying to perform at your mental peak & over these long periods of physical inactivity repeated all throughout the week it is highly probable you’ll start to feel physically tired, mentally exhausted & worn out too. This can result in a dip in your productivity & mood which can have a knock on affect not only to your work but the people around assuming you do not live alone but if you are alone your general mood can dip further. Throw into the mix a pandemic, lockdown measures, school closures, home schooling, the odds can really begin to stack against you & I.

 I for one found that after around 3 weeks in lockdown I was arranging talks with my manager to discuss how low & unproductive I was feeling, that even the smallest of tasks I was forgetting or putting off doing, if you have been left feeling this way or feel like it right now as you are reading this blog then you are not alone.

So, he says, what can you or I do to try and change, what natural breaks can we put in place to improve our mental state of mind to keep us performing at a consistent level without burning out & to keep our positivity up in the hope it reflects on the people around us. Now I am going to offer some examples from my personal experience & further reading that I have done which have improved my mental state & physical state massively over the last few months.

Coming back to our original scenario here is an example of what I would typically do differently. The Daily Team Stand up meeting has finished & I have a 5 minute interval before the workshop commences, rather than continue to sit at my laptop while checking my phone notifications, instead I opt to move out of one room, into another carrying my laptop on a portable desk placing it on the kitchen worktop. I have a few minutes before the workshop meeting starts so this is my opportunity to take a quick loo break or perform a quick activity away from a screen.

Examples of typical tasks:

  • Throw a few darts at my dartboard & gather my thoughts
  • Put the dry dishes away or dirty ones in a sink of hot water
  • Take out the kitchen bin or food compost bin
  • Pour myself a squash or water from the fridge to hydrate
  • Open up the windows &/or backdoor to grab some fresh air
  • Sit in the garden (UK weather permitting) for a few minutes to gather my thoughts

These are just a few of the things I try to do, in order to allow myself to take a few micro breaks during the home working day to help keep me feeling refreshed, the benefits of taking steps like the above is that:

  • I am taking my eyes away from screens all be it for a few minutes
  • I am changing positions, walking, all be it a very short distance
  • Encouraging myself to grab fresh air which can make a world of difference
  • Performing small household tasks so at the end of the home working day it doesn’t feel like there are a mountain of cleaning & tidying chores to perform around the house (especially when all the children are home). This gives you more flexibility to focus on doing the things you enjoy after work.
  • When throwing a few darts, it may sound silly, but I am actually able to focus my thoughts & get myself into the right mindset before the next meeting, hitting a high score also raises morale

When you have slightly longer gaps in the day or during lunch breaks I cannot stress the importance, if you are able to, put the laptop down, take small/short walks around the block, over the fields or to the shops. The benefits of getting fresh air & walking on our bodies physically & mentally is very well documented. It can have many benefits such as:

  • Improving circulation, support your joints, reduces risk of heart disease, increases the heart rate, lowers blood pressure & strengthens the heart
  • Lightening your mood
  • Improve sleep
  • Maintain healthier weight – spending so much time static while still eating / drinking can be bad for our health I put on nearly a stone during lockdown which I have lost again in the last few months by managing a healthier diet as well trying to introduce light exercise into my working day (diet is something I’ll cover in a later blog so stay tuned for that)

I hope that you have found the above of some benefit & I hope I have triggered the thought process if not anything else to encourage you to take control of the homeworking day, don’t let your working schedule rule everything we are people not robots. Make time to have breaks, even if it’s only for a few minutes, try to find small tasks where you can get some head space away from a screen or just a change of scenery like switching rooms. If you have a hobby maybe it is crafting things or photography, then feel encouraged to use your time to engage in these activities.

If you can achieve a mental positive state of mind, introduce some activities into your ‘new’ working day then not only will you find yourself being more focused, productive & on point from a business perspective but you’ll feel happier in yourself & in my case if I am happy then it tends to rub off on my family so by taking some simple steps I am creating a positive environment for those around me too.

Given time & puserverance we can all begin to introduce a new fresh & healthy norm into our lives to allow us to take full advantage of this new found flexibility in our working week, something which we can embrace rather than fear. Getting good habits established will ensure you are on the right track to maintaining a healthy life with personal & professional fulfilment.

I would love to hear if this has helped you in anyway in your own personal working from home day, please share your comments or ask me any questions, it would be great to share any examples of micro breaks or productive lunchtime routines you have implemented to help get your thought process in order.

Welcome intro

Hello & welcome my name is Thomas, I am an IT professional with over a decade of experience working in various IT business industries covering telecommunications, travel & currently in finance. I am one of those people, like many, who have been booted out of my working office, working from home, with the kids home from school & their disabled mother (whom I also care for).

I have spent lots of time (so you don’t have to) researching homeworking styles & techniques (good & bad), along with effective ways of communicating since for some of us it is going to be a while before we are meeting face to face with our team mates & business stakeholders, and finally, mental wellbeing & the importance to keep mentally healthy during these very challenging times.