5 Flexible, COVID-Safe Tips For Researchers Working From Home

  • This is an original article written by Sophie Prosolek and published on www.theinfraredrum.wordpress.com. Please feel free to share this article on social platforms with appropriate credit to Sophie and her website. You can also tag Sophie on Twitter (@infraredrum) or on Instagram (@theinfraredrum). 

    Here in the UK, we’re currently settling in to our second national lockdown as part of our COVID-19 prevention measures. Internationally, many overseas researchers are doing the same, preparing to conduct [aspects] of their scientific research from home. As we settle back into this ‘new normal’ way of working there is a sense that, this time, things might be easier- after all, we’ve been in lockdown before. As we find ourselves in this in this position again, where working from home is necessary, we can all anticipate the isolation, the frustration, and for many PhD researchers the fears about the gathering of data.

    Whether you’re isolating alone, with family or with housemates, working from home can feel extremely restrictive. National restrictions will limit the way we’re able to work, though there is still a lot you can achieve remotely. Lockdown will also affect the way we’re able to enjoy our breaks – which remain a necessity, perhaps now more than ever as mental health remains a rising issue. For researchers who enjoy the practical side of science working from home can seem extremely daunting; however these 5 flexible COVID-safe working-from-home tips will make navigating your studies through lockdown living just a little bit easier.

    1. Identify Your Working Environment Requirements

    Now, I’ve seen this point similarly written as ‘Set Up Your Workspace’, but I must admit contention with this wording. I, personally, am a great advocate of switching up the workspace; I like to work from a coffee shop one day, my living room the next – a strategy which I’ve had to adapt. If you’re like me and work best with a little added sensory stimulation (such as a fresh environment, peripheral sounds or texture sensations), try and establish 2 or 3 comfortable workspaces within your home. When I say ‘workspace’, it doesn’t have to be office quality, just comfortable and conducive to the task at hand. I like to work either from my living-room table, on my bedroom or snuggled up on my sofa as my mood dictates. Switch up such workspaces as you need; get comfortable, and when you’re no longer comfortable, don’t be frightened to move!

    2. Invest in a Time Management Strategy

    Time management is just as important when you’re working from home as it is when working from the lab. Sure, you might not be skillfully timing experiments but in many ways, time managing a work-from-home schedule can be equally as tough. Just like you working environment, your time management strategy is something you’ll have to optimise depending on what works for you. There are a lot of web apps which can help you with this; some that I can recommend are the Tomato Timer which can be used in your browser and works on a simple 25 minute system known as the Pomodoro Technique. For those who prefer something a little more structured, you could try Asana which integrates a little more project management. Remember, no one strategy will work for everyone all the time, so feel free to switch things up. Just as you might optimise your environment, your time management strategy as it can be optimised for your task list and mood too.

    3. Prepare, Read, Write, Reflect

    OK, so you went into scientific research because you prefer the more practical elements of work and COVID-19 has put a stop to that; I totally understand your frustration but trust me, honing your literary skills can be a very active process. Elements of preparation are certainly involved in Tips 1 and 2, before the real work even begins, but really when I say ‘prepare’, what I mean is: consider taking this time to prepare yourself for your post-COVID academic future. Read and write both within and around your field, test out different writing styles (maybe something lay-terms like an article, or something more technical like a literature review?). Alas, there’s always writing tasks to do; I know you’ve been putting off that probationary report – get it done!

    4. Set Work Boundaries & Breaks

    If you’ve already adopted Tip 1, then you’ve probably (like me) found a way to work in almost every room in the house. Whilst this can have its sensory benefits for some, it also makes setting workplace boundaries a challenge; for example, I find it much harder to start work in the morning as I have no physical experience of arriving at work. I also find it much harder to ‘switch off’, as I have no distinction between my ‘workplace’ and my ‘homeplace’. Setting clear work boundaries is key if you don’t want to ‘take your work home with you’. I suggest using a little bit of Tip 2’s time management and Tip 4’s preparation time to invest in a routine or schedule which includes both regular breaks and reasonable hours. Remember, you’re mandated to work from home (which even cuts out your travel time) not mandated to work more.

    5. Keep in Touch with Your Colleagues

    Firstly, keeping in touch with your supervisor or line manager is something you should always do (even though a clear line of communication can be difficult sometimes). But its also important to keep in touch with other colleagues in your team and, if you can, across your Institute/University. Just because you’re working from home, it doesn’t mean that opportunities for collaboration have gone away. Someone might be able to help you out with a tricky piece of analysis or offer proof-reading on an important document; all the better, they may even become a friend during these difficult times (check my recent article about making friendships in your research institute).

    I hope my 5 flexible tips prove useful for your own work from home – they’ve certainly helped me. If you enjoyed this post, please do visit my blog at www.theinfraredrum.wordpress.com. Please like, comment and re-share on you social feeds! You’re welcome to tag me on Twitter or InstagramPlease do subscribe to my blog for more content surrounding academic lifestyle, mental fitness and science communication.