Do I dress up, wear a suit, perfume and all? Do I set aside snacks for the day? Whom do I office-gossip with when I really need to take a break? Is it Monday or Saturday?
For Kenyans in the formal sector, who are have been forced to work from home to tame the spread of coronavirus, it is a new dawn of discovery. Many are struggling to get work done at the comfort of their homes. BDLife spoke to workers who have mastered the game.
Lillian Nduati, a technologist, works from home at least twice a week and in the current situation, it has become a daily routine.
She starts off her day with exercise and breakfast before getting dressed to get trigger her mind into work mode.
“One of the first things I learned about working from home is to have a routine that I can follow consistently. This works because it helps me plan and also tracks what I need to do and when,” she says.
“For example, I divide my typical work from home routine into four blocks: early morning, morning to around 2 pm and then an afternoon block, followed by an evening block.”
Charity Katago-Kamau, a public relations and communications specialist agrees that routine and planning are essential when working from home.
“Being organised helps. I plan my daily schedule on the previous day/night to allow my mind to be well prepared,” says Charity.
Moses Kihumba, senior programme manager Andela, says that before Covid-19, he worked from home two to three days a week and routine is core.
“Working from home is a different ball game altogether but to keep sane I cannot overemphasize the idea of having a routine, clear schedule (almost as if you were in the office) and just ensuring that every day you build a task list so that you keep ups with your deliverables,” he says.
Beyond getting dressed, to get the mind into work mode, one needs to designate space for working. This can be a particular corner of a room, an entire room.
“It also helps to have a set place to work from every day, such as a dedicated desk or room (or spot in your room, or dining table) Working from the couch or bed is never a good idea! First, it’s uncomfortable, and you end up getting very distracted trying to make yourself comfortable. Also, it’s a good idea to mentally separate where you work from where you sleep,” says Lillian.
“I also have a designated area from which I work from like one would in the office,” says Charity.
For Charity, even before the calls for social distancing, she was working from home two to three times every week. The mother-of-three splits her time between the office, external meetings, and her home office.
According to creative Naitore Gitonga, you learn how to be independent. She says that working from home means you will learn to be self-motivated, self-disciplined and focused.
“You learn to become a better time manager (I still struggle with this but I’m learning to be better at it), there is more flexibility, obviously (I get to schedule my meetings and do my work plans as long as I deliver on time), there is no commute,” she explains.
For most industries, working from home is a novel concept. One that has been met with resistance but is necessary for the current operating environment.
“Fortunately, I work in the tech industry, where working from home and working remotely are widely adopted compared to other industries. Also, there are many tools (‘tech stack’) that allow us to work with global teams no matter where they are in the world. Apart from the tools, a reliable and consistent Internet connection is a must,” says Lillian.
Some of the tools that she says can be used include video communication tools (Zoom, Whereby, Google Hangouts, Webex), e-mail and e-mail calendar functionality (Outlook, Gmail, Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar (share your calendar with your colleagues), project management tools (Asana, Trello, Basecamp) and team chat tools for instant messaging or team communications like chats (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype).
“Remote work needs to be well structured. In Andela, since most of the team is distributed, we have put up tools and systems to allow for coordinated work efforts. For example, communication tools like slack allow for seamless and continuous communication, reliable video conferencing technologies (Zoom), shared document tools like google docs and sheets, HR tools (Bamboo HR) and small improvements for tracking 1:1 meetings and conversations. When you have the right mix of technology you don’t feel the hustle of being away from your desk as you can keep up with everything that is happening,” says Moses.
The Internet has become essential in the greater scheme of things. As such Kenyan telecommunications firms have put in place measures to increase the speeds and capacity due to increased usage.
Charity adds that there is a need to have all the necessary equipment to allow for seamless work experience.
“Luckily, I do have a home office equipped with all the necessities including a Printer, photocopy and fax machine. A proper office desk and seats and Internet which allow me to carry out my work as I would if I was in the office,” she says.
All our professionals agree that when scheduling the day, breaks must also be pencilled in.
“I have scheduled breaks on my calendar. For example, I have two main breaks, lunch and 4pm tea. But in between the day, I also try and give my calendar some breathing room. Shorten meetings, cancel meetings that don’t serve your priorities, and keep check-ins with your team short and fun. That way you take many breaks and reduce the monotony of working from home,” says Moses.
“To not get distracted, I try to schedule something ‘fun’ or ‘exciting’ towards the end of the afternoon block that I look forward to, for instance, make dinner and a movie with the family, a book I’ve been meaning to finish, and so on,” Charity says.
This also means that there are plenty of distractions.
“Definitely… I have sometimes decided to take a lunch break that ended up binge-watching three episodes of movie series… or decide to go run an errand which takes up so much more time. This, of course, affects the completion of work and I find myself working extra hours to complete a deliverable. I think being very deliberate about work goals, work hours and minimising distractions is crucial to success while working from home,” says Moses.
“Most distractions are usually in the form of people. So once you know this, you can anticipate beforehand as much as you can and try to put in place measures for that,” says Lillian.
“For things like binge-watching movies, I think for most people, YouTube and news sites may be the biggest culprits, so I try to never open these until after 5 or 6pm!”, she adds.
With most households consisting of more than one person, most of whom at the moment have been confined in the same space by social distancing, it is essential to have them on board for the process.
“Where you have other family members in the house, I have found it works best when you get the ‘household’ part of the day done early, and then settle down to work. For example, you can make breakfast for the family, do one or two chores, then settle down to work. It also helps if you let your family know beforehand not to disturb you during certain times of the day,” says Lillian.
“This was a real challenge for me when I started working from home. But the trick is understanding your productive hours. I am very productive between 9am and 12pm. And between 4pm-6pm. So I use those hours to work on more demanding tasks and try to schedule meetings in my less productive hours. But nothing beats prioritising your work and making a task list of things you have to finish every day,” says Moses.
They all agree that there is room for little distractions, which then makes one enjoy the perks of working from home. For instance, Lillian makes a point of walking around and stretching.
It is important to lock in time for exercising and to move around. Naitore advises that one should get in some workout or activity in between the day because when people are working from home, there is an increased risk of a sedentary lifestyle.
Sitting for extended hours without movement comes with risks of blood clots, increases blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist among other conditions.