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As a Major Service Provider (or MSP), Team Downer is an important enabler to the Department of Defence, and an ‘essential service’ to the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group, or CASG. 

Team Downer contractors work alongside uniformed and non-uniformed Commonwealth personnel to deliver the strong capability that CASG requires to fulfill its ambitious acquisition and sustainment agenda. Like all essential services, Team Downer is still working every day to deliver its business as usual services – but in a time when business is anything but usual we have all had to adapt.

Many of you may find themselves working remotely for the first time in your life, and so we thought it timely to provide some tips on how to improve your remote working experience.

You aren’t at work, but you aren’t really ‘at home’ either

One of the most difficult things about remote work is being able to enter into the working mindset while being surrounded by the familiar comforts of home; this is especially difficult if you have children in the household, as many people do at the moment.

A simple thing that you can do to aid you in transitioning into a working state of mind is to have a dedicated workspace set up in your home. By creating a space that you only use while you are working you create a mental demarcation between when you are ‘at home’ and when you are ‘at work’. This also creates a point of reference for others in your household, such as children – ‘When your mother is in that room she is at work, so please don’t bother her.’

A room with a desk and a computer is ideal, but not everyone has the space in their home for this. If all you have is space at your dining table, or kitchen bench top that is OK, but make sure you are mindful of your posture and move regularly to prevent injury. The key is for you to commit to working from this space every day. Somewhere quiet is best, so that you can focus on work tasks.

Ditch the pyjamas

Having a designated workspace goes a long way towards helping you maintain a work mindset during your usual working hours, but the clothes make a difference too. Most people don’t go to work in their pyjamas, or tracksuit bottoms and you shouldn’t either. 

Wearing different clothing when you are working helps set the mood and is another way to delineate between your working day and the rest of your day. It also means you will be ready at the drop of a hat for a webcam meeting without having to get changed first.

It doesn’t have to be a business suit, or a formal blouse or the like – just a pair of jeans and a polo shirt or something similar that you put on before you ‘go to work’ in the morning, and you take off in the afternoon when you are finished.

Work when you can

Usually when people are working from home, or otherwise working remotely, they observe the same hours that they do in the workplace; typically 9am to 5pm.

Of course, we are in the midst of a global pandemic and every aspect of our lives have been disrupted. This means that you need to work when you can to hit your usual work hours, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that those hours will follow their normal pattern. Flexibility is key here. If you need to have a break in the middle of the day and resume working after dinner, that’s fine. You do what you have to make it through this challenging time.

By the same token, while you must have the flexibility to hit your work hours you should also try and enforce a hard limit on yourself for when you will stop working. It is all too easy to go and check your emails after hours and start working again. At the end of the day, try and come up with a schedule that works for you and that you can stick to – the regularity of having a work routine will help you maintain your remote working arrangements for the long haul.

Buy what you need

We don’t know how long it will be until we can return to our usual places of work, and conduct business the way we normally do, so it is worth your time to make your home working setup as comfortable as possible.

One of the most significant downsides of working from home is lacking the resources of a fully stocked and kitted out office. If you are able to you should invest in some quality office technology and furniture to optimise your workspace.

You may wish to purchase items like:

  • An ergonomic computer chair
  • A monitor riser
  • HDMI adaptors to connect your laptop to your monitor
  • A WiFi range extender to boost signal strength in your home
  • A printer / document scanner

And so on. Many of these items can be claimed on tax as they are required for you to work.

The Australian Taxation Office has recently released some guidance about what you can claim if you have to work from home due to COVID-19.

The ATO has varied their usual rules to account for the COVID-19 pandemic, and gives the following advice regarding claiming work expenses from March till June 2020.

‘There are three ways you can choose to calculate your additional running expenses:

  • shortcut method ─ claim a rate of 80 cents per work hour for all additional running expenses
  • fixed rate method ─ claim all of these:
    • a rate of 52 cents per work hour for heating, cooling, lighting, cleaning and the decline in value of office furniture, the work-related portion of your actual costs of phone and internet expenses, computer consumables, stationery, and the work-related portion of the decline in value of a computer, laptop or similar device
  • actual cost method ─ claim the actual work-related portion of all your running expenses, which you need to calculate on a reasonable basis.’

You can find out more here: https://www.ato.gov.au/General/COVID-19/Support-for-individuals-and-employees/Employees-working-from-home/

Try and get some exercise in

When you are working from home things can become a lot more sedentary than usual. In the workplace you are often up and about walking to the printer, going to meetings, and doing any number of things that get you up and away from your desk. Not so at home.

Exercise releases your body’s natural endorphins, making you happier, and warding off fatigue. Try and stretch your legs regularly and step away from your desk so that you can remain happy and productive throughout the day.

Watch your mental health

Isolation can be difficult for anyone. Humans are social creatures, and extended periods of time with restricted access to the outdoors, shops, and other people can feel deeply unnatural for most people.  In times like these (and at all times) it is important to keep an eye on your mental health and reach out to a mental health service if you are struggling. It’s also a good idea to check in with your co-workers regularly to see how they are going.

Give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt

It’s happened to all of us. We’ve sent an email that was not received with the intent we had in mind due to the lack of tone.

This can happen more often during periods of working remotely as we have a much greater reliance on email and chat messaging apps, and fewer conversations with our colleagues. If you receive an email that sounds harsh, consider that it may just be due to the lack of tone and give your co-workers the benefit of the doubt.

Final thoughts

Working remotely can be challenging at the best of times, and we now find ourselves in a situation where a vast number of people are working in this manner who have never done so before.

This blog has covered some of the things you can do to make it easier to get into the swing of things and keep yourself happy, productive and connected so that we can ride out this pandemic together and return to the workplace in the fullness of time.