21 July 2020
The highs and lows of home working

Leon Hinton

Working from home might feel like a welcome relief to many. It might mean an extra hour in bed, time for a run, no stressful commute to and from work, your posh coffee in your favourite mug and generally you can remain productive and well while continuing to work.

Those are the highs. The lows are when working from home is a struggle and frankly the recent change to your routine is unwelcome. Kids are running around because childcare  are no longer available,  all they want to do is watch  Disney+ while you’re trying to have a meeting on MS Teams, your Wi-Fi keeps dropping when you try to send an email, and you’re finding it really tough to stay totally connected to your team during the day and your working week.

While a lot of our patient-facing work is not practicable from home, the advent of digital technologies makes it possible for the hospital to remain productive and operational with many of our teams not with us on site: administrative work, booking and scheduling, call handling, writing papers and business cases, conducting analysis, training – I could go on.

Across the country, lockdown is forcing us all to gain comfort with home working more quickly than we ever would have otherwise, and it’s fair to say there have been some teething issues (“Martin, you’re on mute!”).

That said, at Medway we are committed to seizing this as an opportunity to become a more progressive employer for all of our staff and to realise the benefits of home working from the perspective of welfare, inclusion and productivity.

We want home-working to be a part of our future, and we are working hard to make sure our guidelines and technologies keep pace with the national ‘stay at home’ expectations. We can envisage a future where we talk more about outputs and impact.

In the next few weeks we will share much more in terms of risk assessments, policies, guidance and training to support staff and line managers adapt to the ‘new normal’ of home working. We’ll be sharing a toolkit to provide all of these considerations into one process.

In the meantime, here are five things we all can do personally when working remotely to help ourselves, our colleagues and ultimately our patients.

  1. Brush up on your training – when you’re busy, statutory and mandatory training can be that last item on your to-do list that keeps getting pushed to tomorrow. Working at home can give you the time and headspace to get your training completed. It’s essential that we are compliant with the basics of statutory training – and sometimes we’re not –  but there is also a wealth of other training resource and materials available to you, if you have the time to brush up on a couple of things:
  2. Give some time to the HR essentials – Finding the time for reflecting on our performance (in the form of objective-setting and writing our Personal Development Plans) can be a challenge. Working at home can give you the time and headspace to really put the time into this to further your own development and the development of those around you. There are heaps of resources available to you on the Intranet, also provided here for ease:
  3. Work on an improvement project – Consider that pathway that you think could be improved to our patients’ experience. Consider why that recent Serious Incident was allowed to happen and what, if anything, we truly learnt from its investigation. Consider the NICE guidelines and GIRFT recommendations for your service and where perhaps your service is not compliant with evidence-based practices and basic standards. Consider that niggling issue that your team is constantly reporting, but is never being resolved. COVID-19 taught us that with nimble decision-making, the right people in the room at the right time, and with a healthy dose of ‘permission to fail’, we were able to cope well with the unprecedented level of pressure the hospital came under. We should be taking forward these cultural principles in the way we innovate and improve services here at Medway. With the time and headspace you have working remotely, why not do the following:
    • Set up a virtual meeting with colleagues to reflect on your area’s write up in the CQC report. Think about two or three practical things you can do to improve the safety and quality of your service or department;
    • Get some time on that business case that you might need to develop in three months or that Quality Impact Assessment that you know you’re going to have to write;
    • And if you’re sitting on a bright idea that just needs some support to get off the ground, visit the Medway Innovation Institute at www.medwayinnovationinstitute.com to register your project idea – once you’ve articulated your idea (its aims, what you’ll measure to know a change has been a success, and the specific things you want to change) you’ll be responded to quickly and put in touch with your Coach to take your idea forward.
  4. Look after yourself – All the evidence shows that if you look after your physical and mental health, performance and happiness at work improves. When you spend your days caring for others, it can be really easy to neglect your own health, especially in the midst of a busy routine that now includes a procession of MS Teams calls. For those working at home, it’s trickier than ever to unplug and switch off from the day as the line between work and home is a blurry one. The likelihood is that home working is going to become a part of working life for the foreseeable future – so here are a couple of top tips:
    • Force yourself to get into good habits that make you take breaks from your screen;
    • Have the occasional conversation with colleagues over a remote coffee break;
    • Preserve your ‘red lines’ in terms of how you will keep your family time sacred and discuss this with your colleagues; and,
    • Schedule time to get some physical activity and some fresh air.
  5. Look after your colleagues – With many of us working remotely, not being physically present with our colleagues can mean we don’t spot the signs when colleague may be struggling or who may be unwell. We all have a responsibility to look after one another – more than ever at a time when our NHS is the glue holding our society together and there have been so many tragic losses attributed to COVID-19. Why not try the following?
    • Build into your team or department’s routine the opportunity just to check in;
    • Take the time to ask your colleagues: ‘How are you?’ and really listen;
    • When someone isn’t okay, make the extra effort to rally around them and get them back to their best.

Home-working is a part of our future and we have a responsibility as an employer to look after you regardless of where you are geographically. Please feel free to get in touch with me to make suggestions or provide any feedback, it would be great to hear from you.

To finish, here’s a message from the Canadian Federal Government that gets it spot on: ‘Be kind to yourself.’

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