Podcast 8: Tips for Working from Home During Lockdown

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We never would have predicted that we’d being chatting about working from home during an almost-global lockdown. But here we are.

In this week’s podcast, we discuss some ways to both survive and thrive in these crazy and unexpected times. Many people are working from home unexpectedly. Even those of us who worked from home anyway are seeing some huge changes, especially having to juggle working from home with childcare.

This podcast offers some practical tips and support for home working during the 2020 lockdown. It’s the first podcast we’ve had to record at a distance, so apologies if the flow and sound quality aren’t quite up to our usual standard!

As ever, we’ve produced a full transcript so that you can read the podcast if that’s your preference. 

Included in this podcast:

  • The importance of being honest (2:50)
  • About being flexible (6:00)
  • Why you need to go easy on yourself (9:00) 
  • How to be effective and embrace new opportunities (15:25)
  • Be kind! (20:19)

Supplementary Links and Information

Full Transcription

We have edited some repeated words and unclear parts to enhance readability.

ALEX: Welcome to the HomeWorkingClub podcast, coming to you today from our separate offices. I’m Alex.

BEN: And I’m Ben.

ALEX: How are you doing Ben?

BEN: Yeah. I’m all right. This is all a little bit weird seeing you on a screen rather than sitting next to me.

And you’re not going to be able to tell me to keep my hands still and stop tapping the table and all the things that you usually do when we’re recording these! So yeah, a little bit different this time.

ALEX: Yes, we’re going to have some interesting differences in sound quality. I suspect everybody is fairly used to that at the moment, given the whole situation with the global pandemic!

But that’s kind of what we’re here to talk about today, isn’t it? It’s a few ideas of not just how you can survive in the Coronavirus world, but how you can thrive.

BEN: Well, hopefully so, yeah. Kind of thinking about when you’re trying to juggle working from home and possibly looking after children as well – which both Alex and I have been doing for the past week and probably will be doing for several more weeks, at least.

ALEX: Well, to be fair, we’ve been talking about this for a while. Actually, you and I have been doing this for several years, haven’t we? Separately. You for much longer than me, in fact.

BEN: We have. What my wife and I haven’t been doing is trying to do a full-time job with two children at home full-time as well. So that’s been quite the learning experience over the past week.

ALEX: Yes, I think a lot of people have said… I’ve been chatting to people about obviously being involved with HomeWorkingClub… and they’re saying, “Oh, you guys… It must be absolutely brilliant for you because you know all about this stuff.”

You made the point, Ben, that now absolutely everybody is an expert on working from home. Aren’t they?

BEN: Well, they seem to be!

Quite frustratingly, really. I’ve had articles that have been right near the top of Google for ages and ages, and now every newspaper and every TV station and every government department are all writing about home working and my articles are getting shoved right down the rankings.

So, it’s not quite as simple as thinking, “You’ve got a home working site, you’ve kind of struck gold with what’s going on.” It’s not like that at all. We’ve definitely got some challenges as well.

ALEX: Yeah, it’s like you’ve got a little restaurant and suddenly McDonald’s moves in next door or something. Isn’t it?

BEN: Something like that, yeah.

ALEX: So basically, what we want to do today is… we’ve got a few tips. I think one of the things that comes through this is that actually, the only one who can really help you survive and thrive when working from home, particularly during the current situation, is you.

You will know best how to work it. But there are a few things, combined with Ben’s experience in particular … but also specifically dealing with the situation that has come up over the next couple of weeks and unfortunately, looks likely to last for quite some time.

We’ve got a few tips, and the first one of those is a really, really top one. That is: Be honest.

Ben, be honest!

BEN: Yes, OK. I mean, obviously, I would always champion the idea of being honest, and I think it’s very much a central part of the ethos of HomeWorkingClub as well.

It’s being honest with everybody and just that little bit more honest than you might normally be. And I’ve written here “be honest with everybody.” That means your partner, your children, your bosses, your colleagues, your clients.

The reason I say this is just, I don’t think it helps anybody now to make unrealistic promises. To just be unrealistic or be anything other than candid about your situation.

If you’re frightened, you might as well admit you’re frightened. If you’re short of work, you should admit you’re short of work. I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by taking a stiff upper lip approach. Which is obviously a very British thing to do.

I’ve got a couple of examples. I mean, I’ve had to go to a couple of clients and just say, “You know, I’m not going to be able to carry on producing work for you at the same rate that I have been.” I think it’s better to do that and to tell people what they can expect from you. And then make sure, obviously, that you don’t let them down.

Similarly, with the children. Obviously one of my children is only two, but the five-year-old is very bright and he’s had to understand that work still has to carry on. Obviously, they’re home from school, but this isn’t a holiday. We’re trying to make it as fun as we can for them. But we’re all… as every news report seems to say, we are in unprecedented times.

I just think, yeah, honesty all around. If you’re having a day when you’re struggling, make sure your partner knows rather than try to tough it out until you have a meltdown. I think it’s only natural that everyone’s going to have a bit of a meltdown over the coming weeks. If they haven’t already.

ALEX: Yeah, I think a lot of people have lost their usual pressure-release valves in this kind of situation. I do use the euphemistic “this situation”… the terrible unpleasantness that seems to be going on at the moment. But I think this is the thing you’ve got to be aware of.

Actually, probably many of the people listening to this who’ve been working from home for a while will have dealt with some of these things in the normal course of the way they work. But actually, it’s just gonna be massively heightened at the minute. So just be really careful.

BEN: I think so. And I think also the importance of this honesty is also that everyone’s in a completely different situation. Some people have been hit a lot harder than other people. I mean, some people will be fine, but there’ll probably be people who have suddenly found themselves at home listening to this with no idea that anything like this was going to happen three weeks ago.

I think, if anything, for those of us like Alex and I who have been working from home, the adjustment is a lot smaller. Even as an employee who’s usually in the office, you may enjoy a social life as part of being in the office and things like that.

So be honest. I don’t really think there’s anything I need to add to that.

ALEX: I think that brings us on to the next one very neatly. Which is: Be flexible.

BEN: Yes, I’ve struggled with this a lot.

I’ve always been someone who likes to get my work done. I’ll get my work done, and then I’ll get the shopping done, and then it will be time to play with the kids. That’s not to say I’m a very rigid person in what I do. But I do like to feel that I’ve ticked off my to-do list before I start the relaxing part of the day. I’ve always been like that.

What I realised very soon in this process… right, we’re going to have the children at home every minute of every day and I thought, “That’s just not going to work.” I’m going to have to accept that I might have to do… say I’m writing an article, that might involve me sitting down at the computer six times to get it done rather than once to outline and once to write it.

Another example: Today I intended to come out to… I’m fortunate enough to have a home office in the garden… and the children were out there. And I thought, “You know what would actually do all of us much more good now is for me to spend half an hour kicking a football around with them.” Which is what I did.

Literally only 10 days ago, that would have made me incredibly uncomfortable to think, “Right, I’ve gone off-script. I’m meant to be doing this bit of work now. My phone’s binging. I got people waiting for me.”

I think in these times, especially with everyone’s routines thrown up in the air, being flexible is extremely important. And becoming comfortable with being flexible like that as well.

ALEX: Yeah. I think we’ve talked about that in previous podcasts and some of the articles on HomeWorkingClub. Flexibility is one of the things that people want from freelancing and working from home. And, you know, it’s quite difficult sometimes if you’re particularly sort of task-oriented, as you are, to actually give yourself the flexibility that you actually have the ability to do.

BEN: Yes. I mean, it feels a little weird to be having this conversation, actually, because I’m thinking, “Yes, I’ve written dozens of articles talking about the wonderful freedom you get from working for yourself, from freelancing…” and perhaps realise that I do impose far more of a schedule upon myself than I thought I did!

But I think I’ve imposed that schedule because it’s how I enjoy working.

Just other examples like my wife is having frequent conference calls and, obviously, then I’ve got to grab the children so that they… well, she did actually do one conference call the other day with a two-year-old in her arms. Which was, I think, a first for her and for the person at the other end.

Yes, so it may well be that I have to break away from what I’m doing so that I can go and take over with the children and things like that.

There’s just no option other than to just kind of let things ride a little bit, and not be disappointed if you get to Wednesday and you’ve not ticked everything on Tuesday’s list off.

ALEX: Yeah. I mean, some of us are used to that in the normal run of things. But then again, you know…

I think that actually, very neatly… I mean, it’s almost as though we pre-prepared this, Ben… but that’s point number three. Which is: Be easy on yourself.

Particularly when we’re talking about homeschooling and everything, but also in terms of work and what you can achieve. Everybody is finding it tough at the minute. So go a little bit easy on yourself.

BEN: Yeah, very much so. I did see… I can’t remember who it was… but a teacher posted a thing on Facebook Live, I think, just urging parents not to beat themselves up about exactly how much their children were learning and everything like that.

We did for the first few days. We were very determined that there was going to be a dedicated bit of time and some lessons for my oldest son. And we’ve tried to adjust that.

I’m trying to concentrate just on some things that I know he could do with learning. I know he’s struggled with telling the time on an analogue clock. So the other day I spent about 20 minutes and I found an app that I worked through with him. It was enormously rewarding when he sussed out a quarter past, a quarter to, that kind of thing.

You know your children well, you know what they need to learn. If they’re getting half on hour of one-on-one attention that’s focused on something that you know they need to learn…I think you should give yourself a big tick for doing that at the same time as probably being very frightened yourself, having life turned upside down, and just dealing with the background stress and anxiety of this awful situation.

I think like we said: go easy on yourself. If you’re getting to the end of every day and they’ve learned a little bit, and you’ve cooked a nutritious meal, and you’ve got some work done, and you’ve managed to walk around the garden or around the block… you’ve had a good day.

ALEX: Well, I think by the same token is, you know, a lot of people say one of the things that they regret about having a really busy life is they don’t get to spend enough time with the kids. Well, now you’ve got your dream!

I think also we need to be aware…my missus wrote an article, she’s a psychologist, and she was talking about the psychological effects it can have. And I think there’ll be a lot of people where…obviously, we both have young families… it’s juggling those things.

But there’ll be a lot of people in this situation who are perhaps locked down by themselves, who actually probably have the other problem which is that they’ve got too much time on their hands. They haven’t got little tiny people knocking on doors, going “When are you coming out to play?”

The other thing with that is to take some time, have some Houseparty or Zoom chats with friends. Try and have those water cooler movements…water cooler movements?…water cooler moments. Don’t have a water cooler movement! But then you’re at home, no-one can see it!

It’s that point of try and go easy on yourself, make sure you have some time to socialise.

You were saying you’ve got back into playing Animal Crossing the other day, Ben.

BEN: I have indeed! I mean we’re kind of merging into the next point, but I see no reason why we shouldn’t do that.

ALEX: Well why don’t we segue into the next point. We’re on a flow as it is already.

Point number four is: Know when to stop.

BEN: Yes, and yesterday my wife pretty much ordered me to stop. She said, “Benny, will you please turn off your phone, turn off your laptop and just unplug from the Matrix for a couple of hours?” It was very wise advice, and I’m very grateful that she knew that I needed to do it.

You kind of have to turn the hustle off every now and then.

And yes, I did. I fired up the Nintendo Switch and downloaded Animal Crossing and started planting trees on an island. I did it first thing this morning as well, and it was just a bit like reverting to childhood. It was a very nice way of switching off from the endless news cycle, and the fear, and the chaos.

I think it’s all well and good, whether you’re distracting yourself or whether you just have got so much to do, which so many of us have. You do have to stop every now and then and recharge. You might be able to run on adrenaline for a week, two weeks, three weeks, maybe even longer, but you will crash and burn eventually.

I’m very glad that my wife helped me become aware of the fact I was heading in that direction, and I think she probably spotted it sooner than I did.

Try to spot it in yourself. If your body’s feeling tired, try and have a sleep, try and have a nap, go and have a bath. It looks like we might all be in this for the long haul, so there’s going to be time to do those other things.

ALEX: Yeah, I’ve been painting a fence and digging a vegetable patch in the garden. I’ve got early onset middle age on the back of all of this now.

You know what? I’m loving it. It’s absolutely fantastic getting to spend a bit of time in the garden and potter around. It’s terrible.

BEN: I mean, obviously, we should remember we’re very fortunate having those gardens to spend time in. I do feel very much for people who…I have read stuff on Twitter and that….for people who are really struggling being in small flats and apartments and stuff like that.

ALEX: Although I was kind of wishing I was maybe in my early twenties, living in a small flat or an apartment with an Xbox and a pizza delivery number. But you know… the grass is always greener, isn’t it?

BEN: Like we said, this is a completely different experience for everybody. Everyone’s got different family members they might be worried about, different numbers of children at different ages, and I mean… the challenges everyone’s facing are completely unique…even within my friendship group, my key friends… I think how different everybody’s situation is for various different reasons at the moment.

ALEX: I think the thing that’s come through this, and without getting too philosophical on it, is that we all now have one major thing in common. Absolutely everybody has one big thing that they’re all worried about, and everybody’s dealing with the same situation.

Everybody’s streets are empty, everybody’s shops are under pressure, everybody’s local healthcare providers are under pressure. We’ve all got the same things to worry about at the minute.

I think that’s something that comes back on some of those other points. It is really useful to remember everybody’s in the same situation.

We were talking about the sound quality of this podcast…it’s probably going to be a bit worse than some of the others. But, you know, I mean, that’s the case with everything. You were saying, Ben, that the news is all sounding like this at the moment.

BEN: Yeah, absolutely. So I hope people will forgive us for this. Also, hopefully, if we’re going to be recording more like these, we’ll start to learn a little from them…and sort of improve the sound quality over time. I’ve heard enough politicians and stuff breaking up on Zoom calls… so we’ll see how it goes.

ALEX: That sort of brings us on to point five. Which is: Be effective.

We’ve talked about surviving. We’ve talked about how you can cope with everything. But that doesn’t actually mean you can’t take advantage of some of the opportunities of having a little bit more time, perhaps. Being in the home office, maybe having some more ability to focus on some tasks that would have got put to the one side.

You were talking the other day about how now might be the time to start looking at developing a side-hustle or developing some new skills.

BEN: Very much so. I mean, it’s important to think certain things are going to be changing. I mean, one of the side-hustles that I’ve always talked about is doing eBay or Facebook marketplace and de-cluttering and stuff like that. It would be a perfect time to be doing that.

Unfortunately, and for very good reason, the local marketplace groups and stuff aren’t operating. Anyone who does try to sell everything locally is, quite rightly, being shot down because it’s just putting more people out, defying the lockdown.

Sadly, some side hustles are going to feel a little bit oversubscribed and things are a little different, but there are still plenty of things that you could do.

I think this is the perfect time to start the blog. If there’s anything you’re wanting to blog about, what better time than this? Not only have people got more time to start stuff like that. Other people have got more time to read them.

Stuff like UserTesting, which I’ve spoken about once before in a previous podcast. If you’re sitting in front of a computer doing testing for apps and stuff like that… apps and websites. That’s a great thing to be doing on the side.

Learning as well. I’m sitting in here in the office and I’ve got a programming crash-course book for Python, a programming language. I haven’t really got any idea what I’m going to use that skill for, but when I wrote an article recently about skills that are in-demand in the freelance world, it was right up at the top.

And I thought it probably wouldn’t do me any harm to learn that. So, I will this evening put an hour into that. Who knows? I might come out the other end of this, all being well, like a qualified programmer.

ALEX: A better human being!

BEN: I’m not sure learning to say “hello world” in Python will make me a better human being! But it’s a way to divert my attention. This is definitely the time to start doing those courses and doing whatever it is you’ve been putting off.

ALEX: Well, that actually, funny enough, segues very nicely into point number six. Which is: Look ahead.

This too shall pass. I’m a big fan of a film podcast and they’re ending every show with a quote from Tom Hanks- because I think we all need a bit of Tom Hanks in these times. They got him to say a fantastic phrase, which is: “Everything will be all right in the end. And if everything’s not all right, it’s not the end.”

So that’s from the Kermode and Mayo film podcast, and I think originally that came from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

But basically, this situation looks pretty dire at the minute. We don’t know how long we’re going to be locked down for. But it will pass. We will get through this…as a planet.

I have spoken to so many people who have found their livelihood threatened at the minute. We’ve got government campaigns to help people with some funding and everything. And there are huge numbers of people that are really struggling.

But actually, it will…It will pass and you need to be in a situation where you’re able to take advantage of it and actually keep putting yourself forward for that work, don’t you?

BEN: Yeah, very much so. And I think also, it does make sense. This is a good time to think.

What is it that you really want to do? What would your dream job be if everything is all right in six months time or 12 months time? What could you do to take you that bit closer to what it is that you want to be doing? I have an article on that, which I will put in the show notes.

ALEX: There’s a shock. What’s the article called?

BEN: It’s called something like “Who do you want to be? That’s the most important question.” Or something like that. It’s one I wrote a couple of years ago, but I think it’s quite relevant at this moment. Especially if you do have time on your hands and you’re trying to decide how to productively use that time.

Although, I would argue that playing Animal Crossing is a relatively good use of time for an hour or so a day!

ALEX: I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe I’ll find out over the next month or so.

I think sort of coming to the end of the final main point that we want to talk about. And this is something, again, that’s in the article that my missus wrote… which I’m plugging heavily, obviously…

BEN: Yes! We will be putting it in the show notes.

ALEX: It helps. You know, it helps the domestic lockdown situation if I can say that I mentioned her on my podcast.

The final point really is: Be kind.

I think that there’s a lot of stuff going on in the current situation where you know people need help. We need to think about the people around us.

There’s a thing psychologists talk about called a “helper’s high.” That when you help people, you can actually find yourself getting a little bit of a buzz out of it yourself. That’s obviously not the reason to do it. But going out, helping somebody, even if it’s just waving at somebody out of the window, that will help you to feel a bit better.

BEN: Yeah. If you know that any of your friends, any of your colleagues have been struggling, it takes seconds to just stick something on a Facebook message just to say, “How are things going today?” and stuff like that.

Also, something that we’ve done on the site…last week we published a huge, enormous article on all of the different government initiatives to help people financially at this time. Again, I’ll put a link to that in the show notes, because there is quite a lot of help out there even for freelancers.

Part of publishing that was just feeling, “what could we actually do as a site, as HomeWorkingClub, to help?” Making it easier to find all that information in one place was just something that we came up with.

And I think also Alex did say “Be kind.” And I think that also means showing empathy and not being thoughtless.

Something that’s annoyed me a lot on Twitter over the past few days is…especially websites in a very similar industry to mine, who are kind of like make money online type websites…there’s a lot of people bragging and being really quite crass and boastful about how they’re financially fine during this Coronavirus outbreak, because of things they have done and how smart they’ve been and all that kind of thing. That helps absolutely nobody, I think, at this kind of time.

Have a think about everybody else. Like we were saying before, everyone’s situation is unique. No-one could have predicted whose jobs would be completely lost, who would be struggling, and all that kind of thing. Definitely think before speaking and definitely before tweeting.

ALEX: Yeah, as you say, one thing that annoyed you on Twitter the other day… I mean, try and narrow it down to the one thing that annoyed you! We talked about that earlier on…taking a little break from social media and the news cycle is not a bad idea in these times.

I’ve actually found that just getting out and doing some stuff, getting away from the screens… and realising that we’ve had some lovely, sunny weather down here recently. Although it was a bit nasty at the weekend. Sorry, it’s gone very British…we’re talking about the weather now.

BEN: We usually do at the start of a podcast. We waited until almost the end this time.

ALEX: That is true, that is true! It’s a special Easter egg for regular listeners. When are they going to discuss the weather?

But I think that’s the point… and apologies if you can hear my neighbour mowing his lawn at the moment. Which is another pitfall of this.

BEN: I did wonder. I actually have Alex on video as well as audio at the moment. I could see him angrily looking out his window and I’m sort of trying to gesticulate “What you’re looking at? What’s going on behind you?”

ALEX: I’ve got a terrible sort of situation…like Tim Allen in Home Improvement with the neighbour over the fence. I painted the fence the other day and I suddenly thought, “Has that gone through to his side?” I suspect he’s heard me hit the record button and thought, “Right, I’m going to turn the lawnmower on.”

I’ll update you next time on how the war over the fence is going.

BEN: I’m sure nobody can wait, Alex.

ALEX: Well, I think that’s it. Just a quick recap through that.

Be honest. Be honest with your clients, your partner, your kids, your friends even, and be honest with yourself.

Be flexible. Spend some time kicking a ball around in the garden, spend some time playing Animal Crossing, or just taking a bit of downtime. Realise that you can’t always achieve absolutely everything.

Be easy on yourself. We talked about homeschooling and lesson plans. You’re not going to replace the school situation. You’re also perhaps not going to get all of those life goals completed that you had planned for this year. I’ve heard a couple of people say that they’re just going to hit reset on 2020 and restart the life plan in 2021.

Know when to stop. You could end up taking this time to burn yourself out. You will find yourself under extra pressure. We’re all under a little bit extra stress. So make some time to stop.

Be effective. Do think about what you can do to make yourself a more effective person in the long run, when we all come out of this situation. But also little things that you can do during the lockdown period. You can actually sort of see if there are some side hustles or maybe just be a bit more efficient with looking at the bills and your tax. That kind of thing.

Look ahead. Again, we will come out of this. Who do you want to be? Is there perhaps an opportunity to start working on that long-term project? Or start thinking about what it is you want to do career-wise when some sort of normality returns.

The final one, which is a good one that we should probably have at the end of every podcast is:

Be kind. Helping others helps you. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to people around you and show some empathy to people. You never know what other people are dealing with. So just be kind. Be excellent to each other… in the words of Bill and Ted.

BEN: Yeah, I think that about sums it up.

ALEX: Well, thank you very much for listening today. Do please like and subscribe to the podcast. I suspect a few more people will be listening to podcasts, and it does help people find it if you write a review, as well.

Also, we’d absolutely love to hear from you. We’ve had some brilliant feedback so far, and at some point, we’ll probably dedicate a podcast to some questions and that kind of thing. If there’s anything you want covered or anything that you want to say, do please get in touch with us.

Ben, how can they do that?

BEN: Probably the best way is just to email me.

ALEX: Wonderful stuff and, as ever, check out homeworkingclub.com. There’s a huge number of resources there. I know I spent a little bit of time updating my UpWork profile the other day in the interests of making sure that I’m more visible because there’ll be more people on there.

So check out some of the tips, and skills, and courses, and stuff that’s reviewed on HomeWorkingClub.

And once more, thank you for listening and goodbye.

BEN: Thank you. Stay happy and stay healthy.

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