Successful virtual working from home (including homeschooling)

A huge proportion of the workforce here in the UK has shifted to working from home this week.  Plus if you’re a working parent, then the news that UK schools are closing this week for an indefinite period and most Universities and Colleges are moving their teaching online, means that you’re probably facing the prospect of all having to work and study at home together.  So think about how you can set up your home environment for success over the coming weeks or months.

If you can establish an environment that supports each person’s needs, it will help to ensure that you still get good work done, whilst enabling your children (whether school age or in higher education) to adapt to home-schooling or studying at home and helping all members of the household to co-exist and carry on working in the most effective way possible.

Let’s face it, for many people, homes are a place to retreat to at the end of a busy working day, or after a day at school, College or University and they’re often mainly a place to relax, rest or socialise.  Yet with the current situation, our homes are going to have to transform over the coming months to meet the needs of multiple members of the family to work, study and live in close proximity for longer stretches of time than normal. 

So if your space permits, consider how you can set up your environment for working or studying which provides minimum distractions for each person as this will help to increase focus and concentration and boost productivity – and also help to promote household harmony!

It’s a good idea to think about how each person can establish optimum habits and routines right from the outset as this will make it easier for everyone to navigate these times of uncertainty and survive living and working or studying together under the same roof for multiple hours of the day.

If possible, try to establish clear zones for different activities.  Ideally that means having a desk area that’s designed for working and another separate area or areas that are designed for relaxing.  By doing this, it helps to train our brain to switch into different gears and understand when it’s meant to settle down and work and when/where it can switch off and relax.  Having this boundary between relaxation and work zones can really help to boost productivity.

Dr Benjamin Hardy, in his book ‘Willpower Doesn’t Work’ states:

 “the environment around us is far too powerful, stimulating, addicting and stressful to overcome by white-knuckling.  The only way to stop just surviving and learn to truly thrive in today’s world is to CREATE and CONTROL your environment”.


Whilst obviously there are a lot of things that we can’t control in our outer environment at the moment, we can influence the environment within our homes. Hardy talks about the importance of helping the mind transition between rest and work states.  One very effective way that we can do this is by having a clearly designated working space that’s set up for maximum productivity by having everything that we need to hand before we start to work or study and minimising distractions.

With the move towards open-plan layouts in many homes over recent years, this often means that work, relaxing, play and living all occur in the same area.  However, if you can manage to establish a designated ‘work’ space for yourself and other family members then it means that when you do move to the office or ‘bedroom/spare room office’ or even desk or table in the living or dining area if you don’t have the luxury of a separate space – after a period of being in the ‘relaxation/play’ area (eg. living or family room), then this cues and signals to the brain that the rest period is over and it’s now time to focus on work or study.

If your children are studying in their bedrooms, encourage them to have a break and move between different rooms, rather than staying confined to just one room.  This will help them to have a proper break and promote connection and allow them to return to their studies feeling more refreshed and engaged with their learning than if they stay in their room or at their desk all day.

It’s also helpful to schedule blocks of time for focused working or studying of around 90 minutes before taking a break.  It’s often difficult to maintain focused concentration beyond this so better to have a short break and scheduled downtime so that you’ll return to your work or study feeling refreshed and more productive.  Maybe in one of your breaks you can go for a short walk or run, or do some stretches, yoga or exercise – you can even put on your favourite playlist and dance around your kitchen or living space if your options for going out are limited!  There are lots of great online workouts available from pilates, yoga, HIIT to body conditioning  – for example, one of my online mastermind buddies, Sarah Aspinall runs if you’re interested in online ballet-based workouts that develop great fitness and poise that you can do in the comfort of your own home. Staying active and practising regular exercise and movement will both help to keep your energy and spirits high.

Remember to keep hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day, rather than defaulting to switching the kettle on and drinking tea or coffee during every break period. Being English, I love my cup of tea so this is one thing that I’ve had to work on! I now alternate between tea or coffee and herbal tea and always have a glass of water on my desk while I’m working.

The more that you can preserve the rhythm and routine of your normal working day and encourage your children to stick to their school timetables and lesson plans (whether this is via online learning set by the school or independent learning), then you’re providing continuity and structure that will help to maintain a sense of stability and normality, despite the fact that for now, it’s life, work and business as ‘unusual’ and so much that we take for granted in our everyday lives has shifted.

Our human minds love stability and certainty and we live a large proportion of our work and lives on ‘default’, following predictable and familiar routines.  So this very sudden and unprecedented disruption to these everyday routines that adults and children across the world are facing can exacerbate the widespread feelings of fear, chaos, panic and powerlessness that so many people are experiencing right now.

In my household here in the UK, my two boys, aged 12 and 14 faced their first day studying from home yesterday after their school closed.  I’m used to working at home when I’m coaching, mentoring or consulting via zoom, phone or skype with UK and international clients, as well designing training courses (some of which are delivered in-person and others online). So I’m used to having the house to myself once the boys have gone to school.  They’re also used to having me on hand during the evenings and at the weekends but now that this work/life boundary has completely shifted then there will be a period of adjustment ahead for all of us.

Knowing that we’re potentially in this for the long haul (schools here in the UK are talking of re-opening in September), I’m keen to try and empower my boys to be accountable for their own learning and not to get into the role of ‘nagging parent’.  Especially since I coach, train and mentor organisations and individuals to improve productivity and resilience, as well as helping people to foster a good mindset and maintain optimum wellbeing.  So it’s now more crucial than ever to practice these concepts at home. I’m considering how can we all set up our foundation for success and transition through this period of uncertainty in the best way possible from day one.

Yesterday my sons were tempted to have a lie-in but I encouraged them to get up, organise their rooms and make a plan.  We had a chat to get ‘real’ about where they think they are going to struggle.  We came up with some ideas of how they can get through this time and what they’ll need to succeed.  The changes have been so sudden as in the space of a week their school has closed and now football, rowing, scouts and all other social activities have just disappeared – so like many adults, they’ve been left feeling very ungrounded and there’s a very real risk of how this will impact all of our wellbeing at every level, especially emotionally, mentally, socially and physically as our regular lives have been so disrupted.

Our children (whatever age they’re at) are likely to be having genuine fears of missing out on learning and opportunities, plus feeling disconnected and isolated from their friends at such a vulnerable and significant time in their lives. So this is a huge factor that we have to help them to manage, alongside our own uncertainty and lack of clarity during these unprecedented times.

One key habit that I’m keen to manage throughout our household is healthy use of technology throughout this period.  Of course, technology is a huge and valuable asset in helping us to stay connected with one another and it’s enabling many people to continue working virtually from home.  Yet as well as all of it’s advantages, there’s the potential that we’ll all default to spending every spare minute on our phones and get even more addicted to our devices (especially our children who normally have phone restrictions in place during their school day). Plus reading about the virus and all of the fallout that it’s created 24 x 7 will greatly exacerbate our stress response and can cause greater feelings of anxiety.

I’ve started an evolving dialogue with my sons around how we can all explore best tech practices and establish healthy boundaries for how and when we’ll each use technology.  These include scheduling specific times for social media, or gaming and surfing the web and ‘guidelines’ (rather than rigid rules) for when we need to leave phones or tablets in another room to work or study and when to have uninterrupted family time.

We’ve also drawn up a chart with different headings where each family member can identify what they need to survive and hopefully even thrive in this new world of no school and no organised hobbies or interests as these have all been put on pause or cancelled.  This chart is now on the fridge so everyone has a visual guide to see how we all have different strategies to meet our needs.  These include areas such as learning, exercise, emotional health, play/fun and connection.  Each person has written down some ideas of how their needs can continue being met in these areas, even within the constraints of social distancing and all the precautions of what we can and can’t do.

Despite everything, there were a few positives, including my 78-year-old widowed mother, who faces 4 months alone at home self-isolating, finally learning to do WhatsApp video calls this week. So that’s helping us all to stay connected and she’ll probably have an even better connection to her grandsons as a result as they can all now phone grandma for video chats.  We even did a 3-way call one evening with my mum in her home and my brother and nephews in Germany so it was great to have a virtual family catch-up across different countries, despite all the chaos and lockdowns.

My childrens’ school has specified that pupils have to log on and work on each subject as per their scheduled timetable with online learning set by teachers.  So I’ve suggested that my sons set up a group WhatsApp video chat with their friends for ‘virtual’ scheduled breaks to stay connected and maintain their normal routine, even though they’re not at school .  Today he’s told me that’s WhatsApp video group chats are ‘not cool’ and all of his friends are setting themselves up on the Houseparty App instead! I don’t mind as long as he’s careful about staying safe online and hopefully if they can do this regularly it will help to bolster morale and help to maintain those vital peer connections, despite social distancing.

I’ve carried on virtually coaching this week via zoom, skype and phone, helping my clients to set up their lives, work and businesses and their family life to run as smoothly as possible during this period of uncertainty.  We’ve also reviewed optimum ways to support everyone’s resilience and wellbeing and maintain a calm and resourceful mind, despite the chaos.

So yes, this is a new, uncertain and evolving world for one and all. It’s likely to become our ‘new normal’ for a while however, so the more that you can establish rituals, routines and rhythms to support you now in these early days then this will help you and your families to stay connected and healthy, whilst also remaining effective and engaged whilst working or studying in one household.

Try to focus on developing healthy habits and good practices that will help you feel calmer and concentrate on what you CAN influence, regardless of what’s going on.  This will help you to feel more empowered and it’s better than investing all of your energy and focus into worrying about all of those things that are beyond our control.

So in summary, here are a few ideas to consider to get through this time successfully:

  • Plan a timetable for everyone
  • Set up your home environment with different areas for work, studying, relaxing and play (if possible)
  • Keep to regular mealtimes and have scheduled breaks
  • Drink lots of water, take extra vitamins and find ways to exercise and move that will keep you healthy and energised
  • Map out each family members’ needs and identify any strategies that can help to achieve them
  • Keep flexible and have an evolving dialogue and communication of what’s working or needs to be modified and change
  • Show each other lots of patience compassion as it’s a confusing and challenging time and a lot of loss and grief is happening around and within us.

If you’re struggling to adjust to your new virtual working and family arrangements and not sure how you’re going to cope, I’ve currently opened up some space in my schedule to take on a few more coaching clients.  See for more details and contact me if you’re interested in exploring 1:1 coaching and mentoring, or would like consulting support or virtual training for your team or organisation during this period.

I can help you to explore how to boost your resilience, productivity, mindset and career management, in addition to all aspects of wellbeing.  This includes techniques for managing stress and anxiety and equipping you and your team to stay calm, resourceful and purposeful, even when you’re having to navigate chaos, confusion and uncertainty.

None of us know yet how this worldwide scenario will ultimately evolve or be resolved and I’ll be posting more resources and articles over the coming weeks to offer my insights and support to help people transition and thrive through the chaos and ongoing disruption.  In the meantime, it’s my sincere wish for you, your families, your colleagues and communities to all stay healthy and well and connected during these turbulent times…

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