Stay at home superheroes

Laura Williams, of L J Business Consultancy Ltd, discusses how to navigate the new working from home routine and why now, more than ever, SBLs are proving their superhero status

2020 has been tumultuous for all of us. Many of us have undergone radical changes to our regular working patterns. Times of the day, days of the week and ‘holidays’ have morphed into one big blur, with little structure; seven-day weeks have become the norm for too many. Lots of us have had to work from home full time, or at least split our time between home and school.

We’ve also had to adjust to additional demands and competing priorities whilst, at the same time, trying to maintain some resemblance of work/life balance. Let’s just say it’s been a steep learning curve!

Though a ‘full’ return in September is currently what we’re working towards, I know some SBLs are continuing to work from home over the summer and are even planning to continue their flexible working patterns into the autumn term. Also, given the backlog of tasks that SBLs are facing, many are now taking more work home than they ever did previously. (There’s a reason I call SBLs superheroes!)

So, what have we learnt about working from home, and productivity, in the last five months that can help us prepare for the new academic year and potential ongoing changes to our working patterns?

Splitting work between home and school requires both planning and discipline 

If you split your working time between school and home, breaking down tasks for both office-based and home-based work can keep you from spinning out. If you know when you go to the office it’s going to be crazy, focus on the important, day-to-day tasks and priorities. If you know that when you go to the office you’ll get some peace and quiet, allocate as much of that time as you can to more in-depth and strategic tasks. It’s all about matching your workload to your capacity and your environment.

Also, if you have papers and files that you need at home, don’t leave them out; file them away out of sight, under the stairs or in the spare room. This will help you to create a physical barrier between work time and family time. Just take out what you need for each task – this will help you to manage both your workspace and your mindset.

A different work routine means different rules

A key point to remember is that you don’t have to recreate your workplace routine in order to be effective – your usual workplace routine may not actually be the optimal one for you. Comparing the hours that you are on-site, and your level of productivity at home, is not a simple, like-for-like equation. I often find that two hours working at home is more productive than four hours sitting behind a desk in an office. 

Some days will run more smoothly than others and, sometimes, compromises might need to be made either to work (based on the needs of your family) or to family time (based on the demands at work). Know that, though things won’t always go to plan as circumstances change and challenges come up, there’s always tomorrow, so don’t beat yourself up.

Managing distractions at home can often be harder than at work

Even those of us who choose to work from home can struggle initially; the difficulty in being ‘dressed for work’ and at your desk on time, the distractions from your partner, the fridge and the endless lure of the kettle… these are all genuine issues that are faced by those who work from home.

If you’re front and centre when it comes to your family during the day, then it might be that answering calls and e-mails is all that you can realistically get done during ‘normal work hours’ – and that’s ok! Work out what times are your most productive, and quietest, for different types of work and run with these.

If you’re struggling to find long periods of time where you’re uninterrupted, try working in time blocks instead – look at where you can block out an hour or two rather than aiming for four or five – which can often be unrealistic in a full house – and set a timer to help you keep moving.

Keeping track of everything – especially when you don’t have all the information you need to hand – can drive you to distraction

Don’t let it! The thing is, we don’t know what we don’t know. Not me, not you – not anybody! But we continue to have so many questions. The unknown makes us anxious, and the lack of control we have over this situation makes it even worse. By focusing on we do know, and what we can control, we can find a way to manage and support ourselves, our staff and each other. 

  • To keep focused, ask yourself: What do you know? What can you do? What do you still need to know? Who can help you figure it out? When can a decision be taken? Whose decision is it?

I know it’s really overwhelming, looking at your to-do list, what’s happening, what should be happening, thinking about what normally happens, etc. and feeling like you’re going out of your mind because nothing is as it should be. In many areas, there are simply too many variables to be able to make decisions in the way that we used to.

Working through, and documenting, your plans and strategies using this questioning process can help you feel more prepared – including and acknowledging the things we just don’t know yet. 

But here’s one thing I do know; you’re all doing an amazing job. No matter how hard it’s been, or how ridiculous some of the things you’ve had to do have been, you show up each and every day to do what’s right for your students, your staff and your communities. 

Whatever happens over the summer, in September and beyond – you can do this. After all, you’re a SBL superhero! 


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