How to stay positive and productive when working from home

Many of us have been working from home for a year now, and there’s still no clear end in sight. There have been difficulties, and we’ve found our way through them. But a year into lockdown, how can we maintain our productivity and positivity, to come out the other side of this as well as we went into it?

Upgrade your space

While this time last year might have been chaotic, with many thinking about temporary and short-term measures to maintain productivity, it seems now that we should look at making more permanent changes to adapt to our new ways of living and working. For many, having kids go back to school will be a big relief, but how do we adjust?

If you haven’t already, designate yourself a specific workspace, and make sure it’s fitted with more professional and long-lasting equipment and accessories. Maybe even invest in some attractive dividers to create a clear distinction between your home and office space. Home-working might be around for a lot longer yet, so put some real thought into it, or ask around to see how other people have done this.

In addition to having the right equipment like good lighting and a large computer monitor (or two!), the ergonomics of the workspace is critical. If possible, get hold of a professional office chair – hours a day on a dining chair won’t cut it in the long term. The more comfortable you are, the more productive you will be.

Manage your energy

The ability to manage your energy is crucial for maximum productivity. We all have different internal rhythms: some of us are night owls, while others are early birds. If you’re more focused early in the morning, schedule your major projects to align with that timeframe. One of the benefits of working from home is added flexibility, so think about what you can control and arrange your activities to take advantage of natural high and low energy times.

Set healthy boundaries

Recent research from Microsoft found that employees have been working an average of four more hours a week during lockdown.

To maintain a healthy work-life balance, create a schedule (including breaks) and end your workday at a specific time. Turn your computer off and disable work notifications on your phone so you can focus on personal time. You might even consider including your work hours in your email signature so clients and colleagues know when it’s appropriate to contact you. Also, make sure to enforce your new boundaries. Because if you don’t do it, no one else will.

Ultimately, it’s important to create a time management structure that works for the whole family. The more you focus on harnessing your time and energy now, the more likely you’ll emerge from this crisis with your relationships and happiness intact.

Maintaining a positive outlook

Positive thinking can be seen as quite wishy-washy and not the most applicable skill to professional life. It isn’t magic and it won’t make all of your problems disappear, but it will make each day seem more manageable and help you approach challenges in a more positive and productive way.

Focus on the good things

Challenging situations and obstacles are a part of life. When you’re faced with one, focus on the good things, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they seem. If you look for it, you can always find the proverbial silver lining in every cloud — even if it’s not immediately obvious. For example, if someone cancels plans, focus on how it frees up time for you to catch up on a TV show or other activity you enjoy.

Practice gratitude

Practicing gratitude has been shown to reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and foster resilience even in very difficult times. Think of people, moments, or things that bring you some kind of comfort or happiness and try to express your gratitude at least once a day. This can be thanking a co-worker for helping with a project, a loved one for washing the dishes, or your dog for the unconditional love they give you. Even keeping a private journal of the little things you’re thankful for can make a big difference.

Spend time with positive people

Negativity and positivity have been shown to be contagious. Have you noticed how someone in a bad mood can bring down almost everyone in a room? A positive person has the opposite effect on others. Being around positive people has been shown to improve self-esteem and increase your chances of reaching goals. Get in touch with or look for those people who will lift you up and help you see the bright side.

Identify your areas of negativity

Take a good look at the different areas of your life and identify where you tend to be the most negative. Not sure? Ask a trusted friend or colleague. Chances are, they’ll be able to offer some insight. A co-worker might notice that you tend to be negative in team meetings. Your spouse may notice that you get especially negative while driving. Tackle one area at a time, and look for opportunity to turn each area into a positive.

Start every day on a positive note

Create a ritual by starting each day with something uplifting and positive. Either:

  • Tell yourself that it’s going to be a great day, or some other positive affirmation or mantra.
  • Listen to a happy and positive song or playlist.
  • Share some positivity by giving a compliment or doing something nice for someone.

Maintaining positivity during dark times

Trying to be positive when you’re grieving or experiencing other serious distress can seem impossible. During these times, it’s important to take the pressure off of yourself to find a way through. Channel that energy into getting support from others. Be aware of what you need from another person, and think about what you would say if they came to you with a similar burden.

Positive thinking isn’t about burying every negative thought or emotion you have or avoiding difficult feelings. The lowest points in our lives are often the ones that motivate us to move on and make positive changes.

These dark days won’t last forever, and as the summer beckons, so does hope for a happier and healthier future.

Nurturing student success: adapting our world-class training for online delivery

When Covid-19 struck this time last year, we all had to make changes in various aspects of our lives. At Reed Business School, we knew we also had to adapt our world-class, classroom-based financial training in order to keep supporting our students with the best possible teaching to get them through their exams.

While we still very much believe in the value of face-to-face teaching and the importance of our school facility in the heart of the Cotswolds, we’d love to take a moment to tell you about the ways in which we’ve taken the best bits of our usual approach and made them work online in these unprecedented times.

Investing in the right technology

After thorough research, we decided to implement the Microsoft Teams training platform with an educational license to facilitate training, alongside ProSuite for easier administration and interaction with us. Integrating our existing programmes with Microsoft Teams has benefited the student experience in many ways:

  • Student communication

All student/tutor communication can be held over chat streams and calls on Teams. The Teams app enables instant messaging and allows our staff to respond to queries quickly.

  • Collaboration

Teams can be used to instigate extra lunchtime learning sessions, messages to individual students or groups in the same class, and to distribute extra learning/articles easily on the Posts function.

  • Teaching improvements

Each lesson’s resources (including recordings of each class) can be saved to the same Team automatically at the end of class, allowing students to easily navigate between relevant texts, workbooks, and assignments. Our tutors can also instantly access everything they need to know about the students in their class and the work they’ve completed so far.

  • Regular assignment monitoring

We’ve implemented day to day assignments for certain modules to allow greater insight on student progress, so we can follow-up with appropriate actions. This also enables us to predict exam results at an earlier stage, so we can take the right course of action with each student.

  • Mock exams

We’ve always been advocates of mock exams, and we can now successfully manage these through the assignments function on Teams. Once the student completes their online assignment, it is then viewable by the tutor who can then mark this onscreen and provide feedback quickly.

  • Immediate online student feedback

Using automated feedback forms allows students to submit feedback easily throughout the course, which our administrators can obtain and action swiftly.

We believe our technological solutions not only fall into line with how the qualifications – and indeed the industry as a whole – are moving towards digitalisation, but it also means that our tutors and students can continue to use the same method of teaching when working from home with all assignments automated to minimise changes to how these are delivered and accessed.

Sticking to our service principles

Although various things have changed – and many for the better – we continue to stick to our core service principles that we believe give our students the best possible experience:

Service is student/client-centred – Students / clients are the focus of our service always, and we go the extra mile to understand their individual needs and nurture their success.

Service is reliable and efficient – We provide the right, high quality service first time, every time. We keep our promises and are prompt and punctual with all our communication. Service is conducted with honesty and integrity.

Service is team-based – Our service excellence is a team responsibility. We work together to each person’s strengths, share resources, and support each other to provide the best service.

Systems that work

While many of our students have commented that they miss their trips to our school, we’re pleased to see the majority thriving online, having adapted well to our new setup. Indeed, Zoe Clark recently achieved a Bronze Award from ACCA for her consistently high performance across her strategic level exams in 2020, Lily Gammon achieved first place in her ACA Tax Compliance exam, and William Fowler placed in the top 10 in ICAEW’s annual order of merit in 2020.

We’re thrilled to see so many of our students reaping the benefits of our new way of learning, but we can’t wait to welcome as many as possible back to the Cotswolds as soon as it’s safe.

If you have any questions about our current online learning, please speak to a member of the team, who will be more than happy to assist.

Nurturing student success by prioritising mental health

At Reed Business school, we care about you. We want you to succeed, and in order to do that, we know you have to be well. While we’re unable to welcome students into our restful, beautiful (and extraordinarily well-catered!) Cotswolds location at the moment, we’re trying to look out for and look after you all as best we can, and that includes encouraging you to look out for each other and look after yourselves too.

Simple tips to stay mentally well
While there are some perks to working from home, feeling stressed, bored, anxious and lonely are also completely normal. Alongside this, many of us are worried about our jobs, maintaining relationships and trying to look after kids and other loved ones as well. We get it, we’re doing exactly the same.
But we thought we’d share some of our top tips to help you stay mentally well, and maintain the energy you need to get through the days as productively as possible.
1. Routine, routine, routine
With everything so uncertain, the lines between work, study and personal time can get blurred. But where possible, follow your normal sleep and work patterns, get up at the same time, eat breakfast and get out of your pyjamas. Try scheduling in your “commute time” and spend it exercising, reading or doing something relaxing before logging in.
Stick to your normal working hours as much as possible, taking breaks when you need to. But most importantly, when your workday stops, stop working. Shut down, stop checking emails and focus on your home life. Which leads us on to…
2. Have a dedicated work and study space
If you can, find a quiet space away from people and distractions, or even just have one corner of your room and a specific chair that is your office.
Get everything you need in one place, before you start your work or study session – chargers, pens, notebooks – and even shut the door if you can. While it might be tempting to sit on the sofa, it’s much better to sit at a desk or table. Use the NHS guidelines to set up your workspace correctly, as much as you possibly can.
3. Give yourself a break
Working at home can make us feel like we have to be available all the time. But just being “present” is no use to anyone if your mental health is suffering.
Try to take a proper lunch break and regular screen breaks – go for a walk outside if you can. Working from home means you might be spending a lot more time without moving your body, so if you’re feeling stiff or tense, try doing some light stretching or exercise with a 10-minute home workout. The same applies when you’re studying or revising.
4. Stay connected
We know a lot of you may be feeling quite isolated, while also suffering from Zoom/Teams fatigue. But there are lots of ways to stay in touch with those who matter – boosting their mental wellbeing as well as our own.
If you don’t want to video call, try a text or regular phone call. Say something witty in that WhatsApp group you’ve been ignoring for a while. If you’re struggling with working at home, speak to your colleagues, manager or us about your concerns.
And remember, your colleagues and classmates probably feel the same as you. Ask how they’re doing and whether there are ways you can support each other – schedule in a digital coffee break or Friday online get-together.
5. Be kind to yourself
Remember, this is an unusual situation and things will not feel normal.
Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that you might not be as productive as you usually would be. Relish in those small achievements, and make sure to relax when your work is done. If you want to binge a whole series at the weekend, do it!

Looking out for others
We know it’s hard to sometimes look after yourself, but know there’s someone looking out for you – and if you’re able, be that someone for someone else.
– check in say hi, and ask them how they’re really doing
– listen properly and take them seriously
– follow-up on what they say to show you care.
For more advice, try the Time to Change website.
We love you, you’re beautiful, keep going, and we can’t wait to see you again soon.

Managing your Mental Health at Work

We’re here to champion you all in looking after yourselves and your own mental health, by providing some guidance for staying mentally well at work. Many of us are starting to return to work in one way or another, so make sure you’re fully prepared to be at your best. Our tips below are curated from CABA, Mind, and our own practical experiences.

The relationship between work and mental health

Maintaining paid employment is generally considered to be a good thing. As well as earning a living, having a job provides identity, contact and friendship with other people, and a way of can give structure and purpose to your day-to-day life. And while it’s possible to thrive without paid work, unemployment is often linked with poor physical and mental health, and poverty.

However, paid employment brings its own pressures on your mental health. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that every year around 2 million people experience a health problem caused by their current or past work. Stress is the largest cause of work-related illnesses, so our tips today generally focus on that.

If you already have a mental health problem, maintaining paid employment can be a challenge: the pressures of work may sometimes make you feel worse, or you may feel that you can’t be open about your condition to your boss or colleagues. However, with understanding and support from your employer, and a little bit of flexibility, work can be a positive experience.

Dealing with stress at work

While numerous combinations of factors can cause stress, taking action, however small, can improve your life at work or prevent stress developing in the first place. Some things you might be able to do might not need to reference to anyone else, but some things you will need to negotiate, formally or informally, with colleagues or managers.

Taking control yourself

  • Develop helpful relationships with colleagues so you can build up a network of support.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what makes you feel stressed, and say if you need help.
  • Write a list of what needs to be done to help you to prioritise, focus and get things in perspective. It can also feel satisfying to tick items off once they have been done.
  • Take regular breaks and get away from your desk or situation for a few minutes every hour. Get out of the office completely at lunchtime if possible.
  • Keep to regular working hours as much as possible and take all the leave you’re entitled to when you need it.
  • If you are provided with opportunities to have some input, particularly in decisions that may impact you, then take advantage of those opportunities.
  • If you are working from home, make the most of opportunities for contact.
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance – nurture your outside relationships and interests, and skills.
  • Make sure you drink enough water and that you eat during the day to maintain your energy levels.
  • Learn some relaxation techniques.

Working with your employer

  • Work out what you find stressful in the work environment, e.g. unrealistic targets; and what helps you work well, e.g. a quiet space. Then talk to your employer about potential solutions.
  • Discuss your workload with your manager or supervisor and set realistic targets for what you think you can achieve, balancing your health with their expectations.
  • Find out how your goals fit in with the organisation’s overall aims and objectives so that you can see a real purpose to your work.
  • Discuss the possibility of flexible working hours if that will be helpful to you.
  • Make your physical work environment as comfortable to work in and appropriate to your needs as you can. If necessary, seek the help of a health and safety representative.
  • Make use of the support already on offer. Some organisations provide employee assistance programmes, providing free advice and counselling. Others have internal systems such as co-worker support.

If you feel able, please share your best stress management advice via Twitter and Facebook to support your peers and colleagues.

Managing your mental health in difficult times

Following last week’s post about maintaining productivity while working from home, we also think it’s important to share some advice on how to manage your mental health during this difficult time. Many people will find such confinement a real challenge, while others will see their emotions and mindset go up and down while stuck inside for days on end. So, here’s some guidance on staying mentally well through dark days.

Look for meaning, not happiness

When researchers and clinicians look at who copes well in crisis, it’s not those who focus on pursuing happiness to feel better – it’s those who cultivate an attitude of what’s known as “tragic optimism”.

To understand how tragic optimism might serve us during the pandemic, it might help to recall how the country responded to the 7/7 terrorist attacks fifteen years ago. People in London reported increased feelings of fear, anxiety and hopelessness, and these emotions were more debilitating for some than for others. But what set the more resilient Londoners apart was their ability to find the good.

That didn’t mean they denied the tragedy of what happened – they too felt the sadness and stress of the situation. Even in the darkest of places, they saw glimmers of light, and this ultimately sustained them.

But even more than helping people cope, adopting the spirit of tragic optimism enables people to actually grow through adversity.

Growing through trauma

For a long time, many psychologists embraced a victim narrative about trauma, believing that severe stress causes long-lasting and perhaps irreparable damage. Yet only a small percentage of people develop full-blown PTSD while, on average, anywhere from one half to two-thirds of trauma survivors exhibit what’s known as post-traumatic growth.

After a crisis, most people acquire a newfound sense of purpose, develop deeper relationships, have a greater appreciation of life and report other benefits. Those who grow spend a lot of time trying to make sense of what happened and understanding how it changed them. In other words, they search for and find positive meaning.

Hope in times of crisis

Of course, some people are naturally more hopeful than others. But the success of psychological interventions like meaning-centered psychotherapy — developed to help terminal patients cope with death — reveals that even the most despairing individuals have the capacity to find meaning in a crisis.

It may seem inappropriate to call on people to seek the good in a crisis of this magnitude, but in study after study of tragedy and disaster, that’s what resilient people do. Heart attack survivors, for example, who found meaning in the weeks after their crisis were, eight years later, more likely to be alive and in better health than those who didn’t.

This doesn’t mean that people should endure adversities with a smiling face: tragic optimism is not the same thing as happiness.

When people are feeling depressed or anxious, they are often advised to do what makes them happy. Much of the pandemic-related mental-health advice channels that message, encouraging people to distract themselves from bad news and difficult feelings, to limit their time on social media and to exercise.

We’re not suggesting those aren’t worthy activities and won’t provide some short-term benefits. But if the goal is coping, they do not penetrate into the psyche as deeply as meaning does.

When people search for meaning, though, they often do not feel happy straight away. The things that make our lives meaningful, like volunteering or working, can be stressful and require effort. But months later, the meaning seekers tend to report fewer negative moods and also feel more enriched and inspired.

Looking around and looking forward

Though it has been only a few weeks since the pandemic started affecting life as we know it, many are embracing meaning during this crisis. People are organising “help groups” to run errands for vulnerable people. They are rallying around struggling small businesses. Many companies and freelancers, nationally and locally, are offering their services free. People are feeling more grateful to the caregivers, teachers, service workers and health care professionals among us. And while this time certainly won’t be remembered as a happy period in the history of the world, it may be remembered as a time of redemptive meaning and hope.

Does any of this mean the pandemic is a good thing? We’re not saying that: it would be far better had the pandemic never occurred. But that’s not the world we live in. That’s why it’s important to learn to suffer well and look for meaning throughout the mayhem.

How to stay productive while working from home

While it was impossible to foresee how quickly and how drastically we would all have to change the way we live and work given the current crisis, adapting to new situations is an important aspect of any business, so this week we’re here to provide some tips on how to maintain your usual levels of productivity as much as possible.

Challenges of home working

For many of you, working from home will be a huge shock to the system, and might be fairly daunting. And importantly, not everyone’s experiences will be the same, so we can’t necessarily provide one-size-fits-all guidance.

You will all, undoubtedly, be in a different environment – depending on where you are, who is at home with you during this time, your level of connectivity to the outside world, and indeed what other pressures you may under. But there are certain practices and attitudes we can all adopt to try and continue with ‘business as normal’.

Use your colleagues

Remote doesn’t mean alone. If you’re working by yourself at home all day, it can get very lonely, so make sure you check in with colleagues, clients, or even friends throughout the day.

Share when things are going well and get support when it’s not. If you’re normally quite a chatty person in the office, check in with your colleagues – either on the phone or via message – especially if there’s someone you think might not be coping particularly well.

Scheduled catch-ups are also a good way to break up the day, and give you something to work towards.

Have a schedule

Speaking of which, giving yourself a schedule is easily the best way to make yourself productive. Many of you may find yourselves with less work than normal, but being organised about it can mean you complete things efficiently, and boost your overall morale.

Set yourself a specific start time (which can be whatever works for your natural body clock), and allocate yourself tasks (or parts of tasks) dependent on your attention span. Hour blocks are normally quite good, with a short break in between.

Organise your day around meetings that you have in the diary – and make sure you prepare for them accordingly. Just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean you can skip the prep work you would normally do!

If you don’t have any online meetings or calls book something in – a catch-up with a colleague or a summary email to send at a specific time, so you have a goal.

Routine

Keep a routine and act as though you’re               going to work. This helps to keep weekends sacred too.

As part of your routine, set your own start and finish times – ideally the same every day if that’s what you would normally do.

Preserve lunch times, or adjust your hours around your other responsibilities. If children              or others you care for disrupt your plans, don’t worry about it. Take everything a day at a time and change your plans if necessary. Everyone understands that things might not go as smoothly as normal at this time.

Bring your whole self to work

If you’re not getting out and about much, you might feel like you’re just a body lurching from one room to the other. But keeping your energy up is very important to being productive, and exercise can definitely help with that.

Try not to sit down for too long – get up and have a pace around at least every hour – it’s easy   to get stuck staring at the screen. Walk and talk too! Several people are proponents of standing up meetings, so why not do this at home? If you don’t need to be typing or referring to lots of documents during an online meeting, then try doing it on the move.

At the end of the day…

It’s hard to switch off from work at the best of times – but this is even more important when it’s in your living space. Make sure you properly ‘Turn off’ at the end of the day – and that means mobile devices as well!  Keeping that separation between work time and personal time is very important, especially for your mental health during this difficult period.