Has the current situation left you with no other option but to work from home – perhaps for the first time ever? It can be a really challenging adjustment but rest assured that you are far from alone. Here, Doctoral Academy Officer Dr James Farror shares his top tips for making the transition from office to remote working as easy and productive as possible.
Across the country, thousands of academics, professional services staff and students are currently getting to grips with a practice that is very unfamiliar to them – working from home. I am no exception. For the past few days, my kitchen has become a makeshift office. However, decamping from the Doctoral Academy has not been without its challenges. Luckily, I am well versed in the art of remote working, having previously spent the best part of four years writing my PhD thesis from the comfort of my own home.
Many postgraduate researchers will not be so fortunate. Indeed, for some students, the thought of spending the foreseeable future away from the University’s physical space may be a daunting prospect for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, there are numerous steps that you can take to make remote working a productive and enjoyable process. Here are my five golden rules for getting the most out of the experience:
- Continue to treat your PhD like a job. When working from home for an extended period, your days often seem to blur into one. As a result, your routine can become completely disrupted and you can find yourself constantly flittering between doing work and other things that you would normally do in your downtime. The best way of mitigating against this problem is to treat your home like it’s your office. Get out of bed at the same time that you normally would on a working day. Dress how you would normally dress. Try to maintain your normal working patterns, starting and finishing your working day at your usual time. And when you do decide to finish for the day – or even the week – make sure you do precisely that. In short, constantly remind yourself that whilst your working environment may change, your working patterns shouldn’t.
- Take regular breaks and get away from your workstation. You wouldn’t spend all day on your computer in the University, so why do it at home? Make sure that you take regular breaks throughout your working day, and that you get a proper lunchbreak. Whilst always being mindful of the current government advice, use the opportunity to get some fresh air, to go for a walk, or to simply get away from your ‘office’. At the very least, turn your computer off, move to a different room in your house, and do an activity that is completely unrelated to your research. If you don’t, it’s likely that your productivity will suffer later in the day.
- Accept that some days will be more productive than others. It’s easy to feel guilty when you don’t get as much work done at home as you would like. Go easy on yourself. It’s likely that you will be far more distracted at home and it’s only natural that some days will be more productive than others. Besides, how many times have you come away from the University after a hard day’s work feeling that you could’ve achieved more? It happens more often than you might think!
- If distraction is a real problem, introduce ‘golden hours’. If you do find yourself constantly distracted and unable to be as productive as you would like, try to introduce what Hugh Kearns calls ‘golden hours’ into your daily routine. These are periods when you are solely and totally focussed on one task that is critical to your research – whether it’s writing your thesis, analysing results, or even grappling with different methodologies and theories. In order to make the most of your ‘golden hours’, you have to be absolutely committed to eliminating all other forms of distraction during this time, so keep away from your emails and social media, leave your phone in a different room, and even unplug the wireless router if you feel the need to. If you can manage that process well, your productivity will increase dramatically.
- Keep in contact. Doing a research degree can feel isolating at the best of times. It can feel even more so when you’re working remotely. Consequently, making sure that you stay in contact with people in your support structure should be one of your top priorities. It’s particularly important that you maintain a regular schedule of meetings with your supervisory team, so that you can continue to discuss your research and your professional development with them. Make sure that you send an agenda to your supervisors ahead of each video or telephone call, to ensure that you talk about what you want to talk about. Also ensure that you continue to network with your peers, both within your School and more broadly, via social media and other digital channels. You are all facing the same challenge, so use the opportunity to share best practice and to learn from them. Finally, keep up to date with the Doctoral Academy’s provision. We are currently in the process of putting together a suite of online resources to replace our upcoming face-to-face sessions, as well as a number of community building initiatives. Keep an eye out for updates over the next few weeks and be sure to follow us on Twitter @CardiffDA. But whatever you do, don’t go off grid!