Working from home, in theory, is great! No long commutes, tea and coffee readily available, being in for parcel deliveries; the positives are endless! For me personally, it allows me to support my partner in looking after our nearly 6 week old baby, BUT, is this the start of a slippery slope where we blur the lines of actually working from home, and are we at risk of being less productive, less responsive and more entangled in our everyday life that we can remove ourselves from when physically going into the office?
Now, more than ever, we need to think critically about what works for us; the key here is about individuality - no one person is the same and it's about making the right choices in what works for you.
So, as I sat down at 6:30am today after this mornings baby-alarm-clock-wake-up-call, I thought it might be helpful for staff and students if I wrote down my TOP TIPS on how to work from home.
1. FOLLOW YOUR USUAL MORNING PROCESS
Every morning I wake up about 6am and put on BBC News, trying desperately to wake up my weary eyes. By 6:20am I am in the shower before putting my work clothes on and going to make a coffee for the hour-long commute to work.
My first TOP TIP is about routine; follow what you usually do. For me, I can't get into "work-mode" if I grab my laptop and sit in bed. I don't feel ready for the day, and my partner says I smell... Get up and be ready to make it happen!
This doesn't mean you can't enjoy the perks of working from home; I am certainly not suited and booted and I am fully wearing my comfy joggers and an old t-shirt, but I feel clean, awake and at my "work station" for the day!
2. CREATE THE WORK ENVIRONMENT AT HOME
I like my desk at work, it is very personal to me; I keep cards from students and colleagues, pictures of my family and my desk is still covered in Christmas wrapper from 2018 when the Officers thought it would be funny to cover my entire desk in festive paper while I was away...
I think that it is important to have a small space set away from your bed where you can feel productive. I have tried to work with my laptop on my lap while in bed munching 6 million custard creams; it doesn't work, I'm not productive and I just feel fat. What I really need is a work desk; even if this is at the kitchen table; somewhere I can sit at comfortably for the day.
Make sure you have a good chair that is supportive of your back and try to get your laptop screen at eye-level if possible so you're not hunched over.
My current work desk at home has my laptop (which is probably older than many students at Newman), my headphones to cancel any baby-noises throughout the day and for work meetings, a nice full cup of coffee (two sugars please!), my glasses, a to-do list as I would at work and some personal items of my children.
3. DON'T OVER-DO IT TO PROVE A POINT
On my workstation I also have a book I recently received as a gift (shout-out to Alan and Sarah) so that I can take regular breaks. At work, no one is every 100% productive, 100% of the time, so don't try and over-compensate at home, but equally, try and give yourself real expectations of what you want to achieve in those "normal office hours".
i try at least every 90 minutes (this time is completely dependent on what breaks you need) to either change the type of work I am doing, go and make a drink or have a little read of my book - or BBC Sport.
It is crucial to get those breaks in; in the office, we often stop what we're doing to chat to each other, or go outside for a cigarette break; try and emulate what you do in the office.
4. PLAN THE TIME, TO PLAN YOUR TIME
A handy tip to help manage your day is to start prepared; give yourself a to-do list! When I was an elected Officer at Coventry University Students' Union many moons ago, they sent me on an excellent course by Think Productive called "How to be a Productivity Ninja". This course taught me that spending up to 20 minutes planning my day/week and writing it all down on paper in front of my computer will save me hours throughout the week trying to work out what I need to do.
I also find it useful blocking out sections on my outlook calendar for what work I want to achieve - you are essentially setting a meeting up with yourself to do a piece of work within a set time frame, which helps give structure to my day.
5. STAY IN TOUCH WITH COLLEAGUES AND FRIENDS
We are extremely lucky to be living in the digital world and should use the fact that we are connected at all times. Newman Students' Union have recently started using Zoom as a tool to have regular team meetings. We realised that sometimes emails and messages can come across sharp, and the way we usually discuss things is face-to-face; so WHY CHANGE IT? Staff are now just getting into the habit of video conferencing throughout working hours; it saves time and gives you a familiar face to reduce any feeling of isolation.
I highly recommend trying to meet colleagues or students you are working with at least once per week, usually at the start for a general discussion about what everyone's plans are; during this Coronavirus Pandemic, the world and rules are changing around us faster than we can keep up with, and new information is being sent by Universities and the Government every morning. It's important everyone is on the same page, as you would be in the office!
BONUS TRACK (SELF-CARE AND WELLBEING)
Look, we here this almost everyday of our lives - "remember to look after yourself!" or "make sure you're drinking plenty of water" - I don't want to patronise anyone, but now more than ever it is really important we are looking after ourselves properly.
While for some, working from home is really difficult in terms of finding that productivity, and people end up having lots of food, lots of rest and lots to drink; for people like me, I get carried away... I can sit at the desk in my house and before I know it I've missed lunch.
If you struggle with taking regular breaks, try setting alarms on your phone to make sure you take breaks, including preparing lunch. Try not to use every single break for a coffee (I am too bad at this!) and think about your daily water intake.
As part of its commitment to widening participation and diversifying its access and leadership, Newman Students' Union have secured sponsorship funding from Student Loan Company, Future Finance, to launch a "PT Officer Widening Participation Bursary" for 2020/21!
What is Widening Participation?
"Widening Participation" refers to raising the aspirations and attainment of students from backgrounds that are under-represented at University, and in this case, the Students' Union.
Who will get the Bursary, and how much is it?
The £300 per-year Bursary is available to Part-Time Officers of the Students' Union to assist with their costs such as travel and childcare while they are fulfilling their elected role of supporting other students.
It will only be available to students who meet at least ONE of the following criteria:
Why are people from this criteria given the Bursary?
The idea behind this Bursary is to support the under-represented groups that exist within Newman and encourage them to to apply for our Leadership roles. This is a direct response to the lack of diversity that has existed within the Students' Union, where we have taken action to try and make change.
How do I apply?
You don't need to apply! Simply self-nominate in our elections, and, once elected, with your permission and as part of our data sharing agreement, we will ask the University to confirm if you fall into one of the criteria (not disclosing which one).
When is the money paid?
We haven't finalised this detail yet, however, we envision that the Bursary will be paid in January.
Future Finance are also sponsoring our Societies. Although not a huge amount of money, they have agreed to sponsor our new SOCIETY OF THE MONTH for six months of the year, which will be determined by the Executive Committee.
Where did this agreement come from?
This fund came from networking; years ago in a previous role working in Internationalisation at Coventry University, I made lots of friends, and often keep up with them through places like LinkedIn. One of those contacts was a colleague from a different department who now works for Future Finance.
Noticing that I was General Manager at Newman Students' Union, he approached me about sponsoring some of the Students' Union activities. This was our opportunity to get sponsorship for something really beneficial, and to encourage change to something we know we really had to act on.
Without networking, and keeping contacts, this wouldn't have been possible and I am delighted that we are now able to respond to the feedback from our Black Students' Experience Panel that we need to do much more to encourage diversity within the Students' Union.
We hope that this is just one small part of our demonstration of commitment to Widening Participation and to diversity at NSU. If you have any questions regarding this Bursary, please contact me on: email@example.com
Signing the "Time to Change" Pledge; Mental Health at Newman Students' Union, My Journey and Forward Thinking!
I wanted to write this blog as General Manager of the Students' Union to demonstrate that if I can talk openly about Mental Health, then my staff and our students can too. Before I start to write about the "Time-to-Change" Pledge that was submitted today, I wanted to take time to say that this blog will be real, honest and contain my own personal struggles, so please, if anything, be kind.
The "Time To Change" Pledge
On 6th March 2020, I submitted Newman Students' Union's (NSU) pledge to talk about Mental Health in the workplace; this isn't a "tickbox exercise" - its a detailed plan that will start to form conversations around our structure, our strategy and our culture in terms of how we respond to, deal with and talk about Mental Health. You can read the "Time to Change" Pledge HERE. This will be formally signed by myself ands Chris Black (President of NSU) at the Annual General Meeting on Tuesday 17th March 2020.
But why is it so important?
Mental Health is just as important as physical health. Mental illness may be detrimental to a person, as it impact happiness, productivity and collaboration. Mental health issues may affect organisations like ours, in the form of: Turnover; Absenteeism; Poor employee performance; Employee substance abuse; Work-related accidents; and Workplace violence or harassment. More specifically to NSU, poor Mental Health of its Staff and Officers leads to an inconsistent rate of support to students, which can in turn affect students opportunities and wellbeing.
Aside from the organisations risks, it's important because we're human.
I like to think that, despite having those "off days" where you may see me pacing around the office, stressed and a little angry (let's be real here, we all have those days), I care about people. I care about my staff and our students and that's not just because of the fact that i love my job, but because I am human. I am literally just a guy who loves his job, wants to provide for his family and often gets things wrong... Sometimes its easy to forget this, when we criticise others, when we don't reach out for support or when we critique ourselves. I know this, because I am my own worst critic.
My Experience of Mental Health
Not many people in the University and at work will know but three years ago I had a major breakdown while working at Newman. The organisation was at a difficult turning point and I was working in areas completely unknown to me (you can see our development HERE) and I had many personal things going on at home including family deaths all at the same time. I had a complete breakdown and became suicidal, forcing time off work. Fortunately for me, I work for an organisation who understands and gave me the time I needed (although back then we didn't have policies to cover it, we just had a really fantastic Board of Trustees).
I have also recently reflected on how people in Union staff roles need to be resilient, more than any other industry I know. I recently posted on my personal Social Media account the following:
"Writing our "Time to Change" pledge mental health strategy for work, and I've realised how resilient we must be in SUs. From trying to diplomatically deal with dissatisfied students who (some of which) will absolutely and relentlessly, without a care for your mental health, tell you that everything you pour your soul into is s***, to balancing the needs of the elected officers (who are passionate activists but not chosen by you) against maintaining a relationship with the institution as primary funders.
Add that to having a new team every year, keeping up to date with ever changing government legislation and the OfS requirements and still doing the role and jobs of any charity CEO (finance, governance, GDPR, staffing etc). It's absolutely rough at times. But we love what we do because we see the impact our powerful little organisations have on many many young people's lives."
I think my point is that, we are all human. We all have good and bad days, and we all have days where we might snap at each other. We all have days where we look at our workload and think, "I can't do this" - I do this on a regular basis but somehow come out the other side.
I think what has been important for me is that I have been lucky enough to talk about how I feel, express it to my family and my colleagues and talk about what my anxieties are. I am able to talk about what I don't like and what I don't respond well to - I recently had a conversation with our President about something that I don't respond well to, which prompted him to do the same, and now we have learnt from each other. But while I set some of my expectations of Chris, I am not self-absorbed enough to expect him to behave in ONLY the ways that make me feel good about myself, or in ways which don't set off my triggers; part of this process is understanding others and what their triggers might be. Part of my own individual learning has been to adapt my style of working (even sometimes against my better judgement) to ensure that I am maximising the potential from the room, and being cautious of others Mental Health.
again, I don't always get this right, and I am certainly not perfect at anything I do, but the reflection and action and willingness to change and learn is what is important.
The Next Steps
While the Board were absolutely fantastic by being flexible, and allowing for time off and away from work, none of this was covered in policy. We didn't have the structures in place to support staff as the "norm", and we never really spoke about Mental Health, and where potentially we could have prevented this from happening.
Mental Health affects 1in3 people, and now is time to stop simply sharing posts on Social Media with tokenistic hashtags; and to create strategies that genuinely help people. While I am Mental Health First Aid trained, I am not an expert, and using this "Time to Change" pledge has helped me in identifying where we can, as an employer, support our Staff, not just in token gesture, but through our policies and structures.
One of my biggest projects at the moment is how we create a good work/life balance for our staff. We know that as a smaller Union, we put a lot of pressure on our teams to deliver at a high standard, across a number of projects, where other Unions have several staff to deliver individual projects, and what is important is how we reward that, and allow for a clear space to speak about Mental Health.
The most "out-there" plan for the Union at the moment is to offer a four day work week for our staff who work relentlessly to provide students with opportunities and support. This won't affect students in terms of Office opening hours; we will simply stagger staff working hours to ensure that staff are rested and supported enough to support you.
I want to make a commitment to our staff and students that we take Mental Health seriously and that we provide opportunities for support, and procedures to make life easier. More than anything, I want us, as an organisation to be kind.
There are lots of other plans in our pledge, which can be found HERE, but who knows what the future will hold. All I ask is that students and staff join us on this journey, be kind to each other, talk and reach out.
My Top Five Tips To Help (The things I do!)
The Students' Union Officer and Staff Team can publish Blogs and news articles on this page. Keep an eye out for new and interesting content!