Episode 72: Working well – from anywhere! with Dr Katya Miles
Have you ever wondered why you feel so exhausted even if you’ve just been at home all day? If you’re someone who works from home a lot more than ever before, feeling tired is completely understandable. Before the pandemic, ‘work’ and ‘home’ didn’t often go together. But now, working well from home is expected of us.
However, it’s difficult to fulfil that expectation without wearing ourselves out. That’s why it’s important to create healthy boundaries between our work and home life. By doing this, working well from home might just get a bit easier.
In this episode, Dr Katya Miles joins us to discuss how to work well from home by creating healthy boundaries. She shares how to be more productive by using the third space hack and taking breaks. Katya also talks about how to be more active and better connect with people in the workplace.
If you want to learn about working well from home and achieving a better work-life balance, then tune in to this episode.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
- Find out Katya’s top tips for working well from home.
- Discover what the ‘third space’ is and how you can recreate it in your own homes.
- Learn about the importance of taking breaks and being more physically active.
[04:25] The Shift to Working at Home
- It’s helpful to think about the process of how we work.
- Before COVID, people aren’t thinking about how they work.
- Working from home has its costs and benefits both for workers and employers.
- Working from home is now more acceptable than it was before the pandemic.
- You can be more flexible when working at home.
[08:25] Tips for Working Well from Home
- One of the advantages of working from home is flexibility. However, it must be managed because flexibility can easily blur the boundaries between work and home life.
- Working well from home is impossible if you’re not clear about your boundaries. To avoid distractions, tell people where exactly you’re working or assign another adult to be in charge of younger children.
- Being explicit about what you can and can’t do allows you to set expectations and be productive without getting overstretched.
- Visual cues, like putting on work clothes before working, are also helpful. When you wear cosy clothes all day, it sometimes makes it harder to signal yourself that you’re done working.
- Listen to the full episode to learn more about Katya’s tips for performing well from home.
[13:45] The Third Space Hack
- The third space hack is an extension of the mentioned boundary rituals and can also help you work well from home.
- Before the pandemic, people would have a ‘third space’ between work and home. An example of this when you’re in traffic jams.
- Third spaces are where we can prepare ourselves for work or allow ourselves to unwind on the way home. Now that we’re mainly working from home, we don’t have that anymore.
- You can be creative about making a third space for yourself. You can walk around the garden to signal your boundaries to yourself and others.
- Listen to the full episode to learn more about making a third space to work well from home.
[18:22] Being Physically Active and Maximising Your Work Space
- Including physical activities in your day can immensely help in working well from home. You could set timers to get out of your chair or do deskercises (desk exercises).
- You could also have a standing desk or sit in a different way to activate your muscles more.
- Chop up your activity into smaller minutes rather than a whole half hour.
- To correct your posture while sitting, follow the rule of 90 degrees or use a footstool.
- It’s also worth getting a shade to adjust your screen and avoid getting glare. You could also get special glasses for screens.
[25:21] The Importance of Taking Breaks in Working Well From Home
- There’s a lot of evidence that taking breaks improves productivity.
- Guilt is a big factor, especially when working from home. We feel guilty when we think we’re not performing well from home.
- Katya likes using the Pomodoro technique to make taking breaks a discipline.
- If you want to be more creative and productive while working well from home, you have to take breaks.
- Don’t use your phone or any screens at all during your breaks. Instead, try to look out a window or at something natural to perceive data differently.
[31:23] Building Healthy Connections in the Workplace
- It’s important to remember that the people you’re dealing with at work are human beings too.
- Nurture your workplace relationships by having some connections that are not about completing tasks.
- Allow people to look away from the screen and don’t be offended if it happens. You can build more on your empathy by having voice calls instead of video calls.
- Trust is crucial in building healthy relationships within the workplace.
- Listen to the full episode to learn more about making informal connections while working well from home.
[40:17] 3 Take Home Points about Working Well From Home
- Value your boundaries and be clear on them.
- Think about how you can stay active and moving while working from home.
- In working well from home, you need to permit yourself to look after yourself before anything else.
7 Powerful Quotes from the Episode
[14:21, Katya] ‘Again, it’s about being creative, about making that third space hack for yourself, whether it’s changing the clothes, but I think a physical time can help like a mini commute. Hence, walk around the garden or walk around the block to signal to yourself, and again to those you live with, that the transition is now over, I’m now at work or I’m now at home.’
[24:56, Katya] ‘I think all of that stuff is worth just thinking about. And I think sometimes you need to step back and reflect, “How is this? How am I doing this? What is the process I’m using for my work?”’
[29:09, Katya] ‘There’s something I read about if you’re on a break, don’t use your phone. So you literally need to be switching off from that focus mode.’
[31:47, Katya] ‘But now I think we all know, at least intuitively, that we do need to connect socially because we’ve all struggled with lack of connection. I think it’s important to remember that at work, you’re dealing with other human beings too. So it’s about trying to foster that human side of the connection.’
[30:20, Katya] ‘It’s probably better for everybody if you just take the breaks we talked about, and then be productive in your work hours, and then take a proper break.’
[39:39, Katya] ‘And again, it’s about willingness on part of both people to be a little bit vulnerable. I mean, essentially, that’s what it is, isn’t it? That’s what connection is. It’s about being authentic, but you need to be willing.’
[41:00, Katya] ‘As in so many things, if you don’t give yourself permission, you can’t access all these other strategies. You’ve got to notice how you’re doing. Give yourself permission to do what works for you, knowing that it’s going to benefit you and those around you.’
Dr Katya Miles is a well-being trainer and consultant who has broad experience in training healthcare professionals and students. As a trained GP and occupational health physician, Katya has served both civilians and the Armed Forces. She is also a content writer and Deputy Editor at Medic Footprints and has worked with Mayo Clinic, USA.
Katya enjoys her roles as Associate at Clarity Associates Ltd and as Head of Training at the Joyful Doctor. As the Working Well Doctor, she offers a variety of well-being workshops to high-stress professionals. Her goal is to make these solutions largely accessible, as she is passionate about empowering everyone to work well and thrive in the real world.
If you want to connect with Katya, you can email her at email@example.com or follow her on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn. Visit her website if you want to know more about the Working Well Doctor’s services.
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In today’s high-stress work environment, you may feel like a frog in boiling water. The pan has heated up so slowly that you didn’t notice the feeling of stress and overwhelm becoming the norm. You may feel that it is impossible to survive AND thrive in your work. Working well from home might be a challenge for you.
Frogs generally have only two options — stay and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan. Fortunately, you are not a frog. You have many more options, choices and control than you think.
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Dr Rachel Morris: Do you find that you’re working from home or working virtually a lot more than you used to even if you’re going into work or working on the front line? And have you been wondering why you feel so tired at the end of the day, even if you’ve not moved an inch or gone anywhere? And do you worry about how you’re going to manage if this new virtual way of working becomes the norm going forwards?
In this podcast, I’m joined by Dr Katya Miles, The Working Well Doctor, a GP and Occupational Health doctor turned well-being trainer and coach. We talk about how to work well from home, how to flex your working hours without spending all your time at work, and how to create good boundaries between work and home life. So listen, if you want to find out what the third space is between work and home and how to use it to get a better work life balance, how to maximise your physical working space and set up, and how to give yourself permission to spend time planning how to work well from anywhere.
Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, life hacks for doctors and busy professionals who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Doctor Rachel Morris. I’m a GP turned coach, speaker and specialists in teaching resilience. And I’m interested in how we can wake up and be excited about going to work no matter what. I’ve had 20 years experience working in the NHS, both on the frontline and teaching leadership and resilience. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, worried about making a mistake, and one crisis away from not coping.
2021 promises to be a particularly challenging year. Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been competitive frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, working harder and longer. And the heat has been turned up so slowly that we hardly notice the extra-long days becoming the norm and have got used to the low-grade feelings of stress and exhaustion. Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two choices, stay in the pan and be boiled alive, or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. You have many more options than you think you do. It is possible to be master of your own destiny, and to craft your work in life so that you can thrive even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Through training as an executive and team coach, I discovered some hugely helpful resilience and productivity tools that transformed the way I approached my work. I’ve been teaching these principles over the last few years at the Shapes Toolkit Program, because if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job. In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues, and experts—all have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control to thrive, not just survive, in our work and our lives and love what we do again.
Just to let you know that we’re now taking bookings for our Resilience Training for late spring and summer 2021. During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been delivering our training online and we’ve been able to deliver the Shapes Toolkit to managers and their teams in high stress organisations, to doctors and allied professionals, such as the additional roles in general practice, and also to GP training hubs for practice managers, admin support staff, GP fellow schemes and GP training schemes. We can also help you to set up a peer group support scheme for your organisation. So, do get in touch by booking a call to chat with me about how we can help you and your organisation. Also, don’t forget to sign up for your podcast CPD reflection forms for use in your appraisal. On with the episode.
Rachel: So it’s fantastic to have with me on the podcast today, Dr Katya Miles. Now Katya is otherwise known as The Working Well Doctor, and she’s a GP and occupational health doctor, turned well-being trainer and careers coach. That was quite a big portfolio, Katya.
Dr Katya Miles: Thank you. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Yes, I guess it’s enough to keep me out of trouble, which is the general idea.
Rachel: I was in trouble and working well, hopefully. And I can imagine that actually, how to work well is something that we’re all wondering, right now.
Katya: I think it’s helpful to think about the process of how we work, including how we’re working at the moment, mainly from home or virtually. Some of us are at work, like GPs or clinic hospital doctors, are often at work, often a lot of their consultations are done virtually now.
Rachel: So actually, we’re working virtually even if we are at work. So we’re actually virtually working virtually whether we’re on the frontline or whether we’re at home.
I think it’s interesting what you say this thing about, we need to think about how to do it. Because I think before COVID a lot of us weren’t really thinking about how we’re working. And I have had lots of chats, with people fairly close to me saying, ‘Hey, why can’t you work from home one or two days a week’? or ‘Why can’t you do this? Or that’? And the answers always come back. ‘Oh, couldn’t possibly. Couldn’t possibly because we’ve got clients, and we’ve got this and that’. And actually, they’ve now found out that, oh, we possibly can and it’s actually worked out. And so they’ve gone from, ‘No way. Never because this is the way we’ve always done it’ to ‘Oh, now, what is the possibility and what can be helpful’?
But of course, like you said, there’s good things, and there’s bad things. And what we don’t want to do is throw the baby out with the bathwater and become all virtual, because that’s a bit of a nightmare. But neither will we go back to, I think, all completely face to face like we used to.
Katya: Yeah, I think that’s why I think lots of workplaces and definitely those outside of healthcare as well are thinking that, what’s the longer-term model going to be. There’s obviously a cost-benefit for both workers and employers to having some people working from home. And of course, there’s ecological benefits: less emissions and all that. And from your personal pocket as well, you’re obviously—maybe, if you’re traveling less to work, that’s helpful. So, there are some benefits.
It’s interesting, again, talking about benefits and culture change. So, when I was working in occupational health, before the pandemic, working from home or something, or working virtually, something we would recommend as an adjustment that sometimes it did have to be recommended as a reasonable adjustment by an actual doctor. Like you said, for the manager for the employer to take it on board. And then some adjustments and some planning had to be put in place, whether it’s having an internet connection at home, or whatever. And often we would recommend it for people who had limited mobility. And it was difficult for them to get into work or and so forth.
And I think, obviously, people with caring responsibilities for a long time have tried to do some flexible working or home working because it gives you that flexibility. So as long as it’s planned, you can, in theory, work hours that are different from your standard 9 to 5. I think that’s one of the other advantages of working from home. If you set it up as a task to be done, but you can do it in your own time and fit it around other commitments, whether they’re childcare commitments, or home-schooling, which was just hopefully coming to the end of now.
Rachel: Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed.
Katya: Exactly. Hopefully, by the time this podcast comes out, they will be back at school. But yeah, those are good examples of even prior—pre-pandemic of when home working flexible working was considered. But it was a big, like you said, it felt like a big deal — quite often, not always, but quite often to arrange.
And I think you’re right now, in my view, one of the silver linings of the pandemic is exactly what you said, that there is now a culture shift, where it’s not seen as a big deal. That it’s now people have done it. And managers and processes and clients who interact with workers are much more understanding and they understand people are at home, and there might be a few slight changes. But ultimately, as long as the work gets done, I think that can be a positive situation.
Rachel: I think possibly what has happened is that actually employers don’t often know how to advise people properly about working at home. They’ve got all the health and safety stuff about what to do in the workplace. But actually, how are you going to advise people when everyone’s set up is completely different, and everyone’s lifestyle is completely different. And everyone’s challenges are completely different, depending on the age of your family, or if you live on your own, or if you’re a care—all those sorts of things.
So I think one of the reasons why I wanted to get you to talk is I know you’re a real expert in this. And I know you’ve written an article called, ‘8 Tips for Working for Working from Home’, and I wanted to be able to share this with the listeners. I think it’s really, really important. A lot of it is what I talk about in terms of resilience as well. But I do think we need to be thinking about how we do this virtually, because it is different, isn’t it?
Katya: It is.
Rachel: What are the main differences that you’ve noticed?
Katya: Yeah, I think flexibility, we’ve touched on that’s one of the, I guess you might call, the key advantages. But again, it needs to be managed, because almost the corollary of flexibility is blurring our boundaries. So, I think the next point I’m making in my eBook I’ve written, is exactly that, that flexibility is great, but with it comes a potential blurring of boundaries between your work and your home life. And that can be problematic.
Obviously, for those of us who are working virtually, at work, we have that advantage because we’re going to somewhere else to work and coming home. For those of us who are working from home, it can be quite tricky. If we have, like you said, people living with us children or others, they might interrupt. I think we’ve all had those experiences.
Rachel: We we’re just laughing about it. Just before we started the podcast, I even got a note I put my door say, ‘Podcast. Keep out’! My daughter sings where she is, and it’s very lovely, but it just tends to with webinars and podcasts.
Katya: It’s funny, isn’t it? Or somebody can be using up your bandwidth and you’re like, ‘Excuse me, I need that for my Zoom call’. So I think all of those things, I think we had only touched on those issues before. And I think it’s partly about expectation of the other.
So often, if you’re in a meeting, there’s a cultural shift now isn’t there, where people previously might have been frowned upon, or you would have felt very awkward if you had an interruption on a big business meeting. But now I think people in general are more accepting that you might get interrupted, because it might happen to them, too, whether it’s a pet, or a child, or a significant other wandering in.
So, I think that’s one thing that can happen is that blurring of boundaries. And I think there are ways to manage it. And obviously, the answer is to be clear about boundaries, like you said, you got your notice on the door, and so on. But as you’ve also just pointed out, doesn’t always work. I think it’s worth having a little couple of strategies in your back pocket. So I think when it comes to interruptions, exactly that telling people, ‘This is what I’m working’. And then maybe, for especially if you’ve got younger children, assigning another adult to be in charge. And tell it as long as a child understands, maybe not a tiny baby, just telling the child as well, ‘I am working now. If you need something, go to this other person’. And then obviously, in the teamwork spirit of a family, you might then do the reverse for your partner when they’re working.
I think it is about being explicit, isn’t it? And again, that I think that does get right back to boundaries. I think that’s one theme. I think that’s run through this eBook I’ve written is being explicit about what you can and can’t do, when you can and can’t do it, is really helpful for everybody. Because then it sets expectations, and then it can allow you to be productive without hopefully getting too overstretched because you don’t feel you have to be doing all.
And you touched on guilt, that guilt is such a huge thing, isn’t it? It’s definitely something that we see in the work I do for these thrive workshops and for caring professionals. That guilt they’re not doing enough at work, or guilt, that you’re not doing enough at home. Just everywhere you look, it’s possible to feel guilty and that’s quite draining as well. It is about the labour, the work of thinking about this stuff. Going through this process, being explicit, all that is basically management, isn’t it? It’s management planning for your workplace, except this place happens to be at home.
And I think some things can help actually, visual cues, I think can be quite helpful for you and for those around you. So, I was just saying before we started recording, I always try and put work clothes on before anything like work tasks. So this is a podcast that I think it’s on YouTube as well, but I’ve put my work clothes on and I’ve avoided that—I don’t know if you’ve ever done the pitfall where you wear the posh top on Zoom calls to your Chucky bottoms on, and that right down to like, I don’t know, slippers on your feet. And I used to do that. And I think that’s fine when you’re working because it can sometimes maybe even feel a luxury like, ‘Oh. Lucky me. I’m still being cosy and so forth’. But the snag is when you then finish work and you’re still wearing those slippers or those tracksuit bottoms, it sometimes makes it harder to signal to yourself you’re off work and harder to relax. So, that’s definitely true for me. So, I wear everything including, I’ve got my posh shoes on for you, Rachel. Even though you do not see them—oh okay, there you go. The little snake skin.
Rachel: This is obviously for the people watching on YouTube, very nice. Love the snakeskin pants, lovely. Like it.
Katya: Very good. Yeah, no only for work. So, put them on, a certain mindset is adopted, and then take them off again. And you sort of can tell yourself you’re not working. But it also helps for family members because then they just see—you might say like you said to your daughter, but then they might see you walking down the corridor and be like, ‘Oh, look, she’s wearing these work shoes’. Therefore, it’s another cue isn’t it, another nonverbal cue. And a lanyard is another helpful thing you might want to do for those of us who have a lanyard at work. To put it on when you’re working, take it off when you’re not. And again, that helps. Or simple things like walking around the block, walking around your garden, just some activity you do, the beginning and the end of your workplace or work time.
And that gets on to this third space hack, which is basically an extension of these boundary rituals. I think for a lot of us, we just talked about the challenges of the commuting, the beginning didn’t we, with the cost, and so on. But it did have a benefit, which we probably all might not have noticed, you’re struggling in the traffic jams that it was a third space. It wasn’t work or home. So on the way to work, you might be preparing or getting your mind set for work, and on the way home it allow you to unwind. And then we don’t have that anymore, if we’re working from home. It might again happen if you’re working virtually at work, but for those working at home.
So again, it’s about making—being creative about making that third space hack for yourself, whether it’s changing the clothes. But I think a physical time can help, like a mini-commute, or hence walk around the garden or walk around the block, to signal to yourself and again to those you live with, that the transition is now over, ‘I’m now at work’ or ‘I’m now at home’.
I think for those who live alone, there’s different challenges aren’t there? I think the boundaries are potentially more easily blurred and I think it can feel very difficult to switch off from work. So, I recommend people who live alone to try to plan some social connections outside work time. It might just be walking around the block, seeing, going to your local shop, or be with a face mask, you’re still seeing some human beings, or you’re setting up walks with friends. Just so that you’re planning to have the social contact that might otherwise not have required planning pre-pandemic.
Rachel: Yeah, I think doing that in that space that we call the third space is really helpful, isn’t it? Because I talked to lots of people about this third space, I call it the decompression zone. Because what we’re doing on our commute is just reflecting on what’s happened in the day, resting a little bit, perhaps. As long as we’re not sitting, staring at a traffic jam, and then sort of resetting our brains for what we’re going to be coming into when we get home. And when it’s just like, my home life is just outside that door, and say, ‘There’s not a lot of time to do that’.
So I have started going for a run or doing half an hour pilates is something that’s going to demark where I can turn my brain off. And I know lots of people go for walks or take the dog out for a walk or something. And I think if you’ve been working on your own in the evening, that is quite a good time, like you said, to make a connection and have a little debrief from the day. We often just forget to do that, don’t we? And that really, really blurs the boundaries.
Also, the other problem with not having this commute, is that people can’t listen to podcasts.
Katya: That is very true. I now plan my podcast. But luckily, there’s always a fair bit of just general life tidying up. And I try and do that with podcast, plan my podcast while I’m doing washing up. Try and not drop my phone in the water. Yeah, I think you do that.
Again, it’s planning. I think that’s one thing about working from home in the pandemic. It requires a lot more planning, and sometimes the more creativity to basically emulate things that might have happened naturally, when we weren’t working from home.
Rachel: There’s a really good TED talk about this, we’ll post there the link to the TED talk. I think is with Adam Fraser, talking about the third space. Say that some people do some mindfulness, or some people like completely like to change their clothes, or have a shower, or what it’s putting in some rituals, actually. One thing, another thing if I’m not going for one of those, just sitting having a cup of tea with my other half and just having a chat, something to signal the day is gone.
But then the really important thing is to leave one’s phone and leave one’s laptop away. Because sometimes I go to the kitchen and find him sat on his laptop. And it’s very, I’m like, ‘No, this is end of the day stuff. Stop working’. But we do just think, ‘Oh, well, I’m here anyway, I might as well just finish off that email and just do that’.
Katya: That’s really interesting. We’ve got, again, pre-pandemic. We’ve got a very nice—it’s actually a wooden, basically, it’s just a laptop stand that we put in the kitchen. But it’s next the table on the floor. And it has some lovely carpenters written on it, something, ‘No technology at the table’. And it’s basically a place to put everything — laptops, phones. And so again, people do bring them to the table and you’re like, ‘No, put it here, it’s made of wood’. Somehow resonates with the fact that we’re putting things away from the table in a wooden, not a metal stand.
And that, again, is a visual cue. I find that quite helpful for us as a family, just to be like, ‘Nope. Into the stand’. And then obviously, try and promote us all doing the same thing together, like you said, so we’re all having downtime.
Rachel: So the other thing about working from home is the physical aspects of it. And the aspect that we’re just not moving around, like we used to do. So, what sort of hacks do you have for that?
Katya: That’s interesting. I just started using my trusty Fitbit—other tracking devices are available. And that really came home to me. I’ve actually only recently started using it. But it is really evident when you have some activity tracker, how much of the time you’re sedentary.
So I think there’s a few things about that actually. The first is, obviously, move more. It’s pretty simple to say. But I think is that how do you that. So I think there’s simple obvious things like we’ve already said, like walk around the block. You might want to have a run. You might want to build in a yoga online on your lunch break. So you can do all that, and that’s really important. But I think there’s some other evidence about how you move in, just to build it into your day more.
So for example, your GP or hospital doctor, you would have been up and down out of your chair, calling every patient in. That’s quite a lot of getting up and down, which you wouldn’t naturally do otherwise. So there’s lots of things you can do. You could set timers or reminders just to get out of your chair. You could do something called desk exercises, Rachel and I have done this before, where you do a few literally just sitting or standing at our desk exercises. So the idea is it doesn’t take away a huge amount of time from your work, but it’s still getting your body moving. There’s standing desks, we’re both standing at the moment. Or just standing up, I actually don’t have a standing desk—I need to get one—but when I am doing something like this, which is a podcast, I actually don’t need to sit. I can stand up and talk to you. So I think just being a little bit creative, and even having those thoughts cross your mind is helpful.
And then there’s also some evidence about how we sit. There’s some really interesting evidence about the type of sitting. So sitting in a chair is the most restful posture. So if you were to sit in a different way, for example, you might want to kneel or squat. Again, you might want to do that, for example, that’s where a laptop might be helpful. Put your laptop on a coffee table, and just for half an hour, kneel at the laptop and work on it. Those things use that more muscles—or not use up more muscles—they take more muscle and tone to sustain those postures. And that in itself is going to help your metabolic rate.So I think those things are helpful
And also small things. Like you might want to do —I don’t know—eight minutes of Joe Wicks, or a quick bit of HIIT, literally a few minutes of activity rather than a whole half hour.
Rachel: Actually, good one and I’ll post it in the link, there’s a chat called, The Fitness Marshall, have you come across that?
Rachel: Oh, he’s hilarious, does dance routines. So, he’s got a four minute dance routine to Poker Face by Lady Gaga, which often—I made people, in the break, in the Shapes Toolkit. So, I get people to turn off the cameras. Go for a 10-minute break, do this dance on their own. It’s really funny, but it gets you moving. And it just makes you feel so much better. It’s only four minutes, you don’t even break a sweat doing it. It’s quite nice.
Katya: Yeah. So I think those things, exactly that. So again, like you said, having a child who’s singing is sometimes a great thing. They’ll get you remembering, have a sing and a dance around the kitchen. Yeah, if you’re working from home, you get that opportunity…
Rachel: I’ll be singing. And then as soon as I start dancing, they’ll just cringe with embarrassment. ‘Oh, mum! That’s just so awful — you’re dancing’.
Katya: That is what we’re here for. We’re here to embarrass you. It’s okay. It’s cool. There’s a few thoughts there about that. And I also think when it comes to actual sitting, there’s sort of ways to think about that as well. At the very beginning, we all grabbed your laptop and sat on the sofa initially, but I think—I don’t know about you—that was definitely, you get more aches and pains there, don’t you? So, neck ache, eyestrain and again, wrist strain, because actually, the positioning of your wrist on a laptop isn’t ideal.
So, I think this happened to be in the first lockdown because it was summertime then. How you sit and where you sit matters. So I then started thinking about my posture. And I’m pretty short, so I just had a proper sit down and think all basically that is the rule of 90 degrees. Every bit, every joint needs to kind of be 90 degrees—ankle, knee, hip, shoulders, elbows. And if you can try and sit in that way and then find a desk and chair set up that fits that is really helpful.
The health and safety sector, we’ve got a page on there called DSE. So, Health and Safety Executive website Display Screen Equipment, that’s what the DSE stands for. It’s got a whole page, and it’s got a little video, which just really simply maps out what I’ve just described. It’s sometimes helpful to have someone else look at you as well, because you might think you’re sitting kind of roughly square on but you might not be.
And again, if you’re going to be doing it for a long time, it’s worth taking a few minutes to set it up. And then, if you find as I did that, actually, I wasn’t sitting in that posture, you don’t need to get, you can buy some fancy kit. But you can just get a box. So I’ve got a couple of boxes about that big, she says, for those of you on YouTube. It’s just the right size for my short legs. So that sits under my desk, and it’s the perfect footstool. So really simple stuff, doesn’t have to cost any money sometimes.
Also, there’s stuff about the physical environment. Again, just like I said in the summer, yeah, I was downstairs in the kitchen, it was very bright and airy. But actually bright and airy translates to quite a lot of glare, and when you’re working at your screen, and it can be quite hot. And again, few minutes, no big deal. But days and weeks—you can get headaches and glare related issues. So again, it’s not rocket science, but worth getting a shade, a blind, trying to adjust your screen, so you’re not getting glare. Those with varifocal, it’s quite common for people just to tip their chin back a bit in order to read a screen. Because if we think about a varifocal spectacle, the top off the lenses for distance, the bottom half is for reading. There’s actually only a very small part of that lens, which is a computer screen, which is not at reading distance, it’s not a far distance. So, then you might accommodate for that by chipping a timber. Again, not a big deal for a few minutes. But do it over weeks and months, you can get quite a lot of strain or headaches.
Rachel: So, can you get glasses that are specifically for screens?
Katya: You can, you need to go to a practitioner and have it. So, it’s just normal. Again, it’s not rocket science, you just have to think about it and realise that’s the cause. Rather than wondering why you are getting a sore neck.
And yeah, you can go to opticians, do an eye check, tell them what you’re doing and how you’re working. And you can get—I think you can get fixed distance glasses for screens, but you can also get occupational varifocals. So instead of being at the top half of your lens being distance and the bottom being reading distance, I think the bottom part is reading distance and the top part is computer distance. It’s just designed for those two activities you do while working in an office. That’s all possible, but you need to do that planning piece and getting it sorted.
But again, simple stuff but really, really helpful because otherwise what can happen is quite significant migraine, serious back problems. And over time, they can be quite distracting and affect your productivity and your well being. I’m sure, obviously, we’ve been talking about. So I think all of that stuff is worth just thinking about.
And I think sometimes you need to step back and reflect, ‘How is this—how am I doing this’? ‘What is the process I’m using for my work’? And thinking about in those terms, rather than just again, jumping on the sofa with a laptop.
Rachel: So, there’s movement breaks, there’s making sure you’re set up is properly okay. And then I noticed one of your hacks is also taking breaks.
Katya: Yes, yeah, it’s interesting. I love taking a break. I think our breaks are important, aren’t they? Because I think there’s a lot of evidence they really help productivity. And I’ve done some really interesting studies with surgeons, where they had a surgeon do—two surgeons do the same surgery. One took no break, one made the patient safe and midway through surgery took a short break, didn’t separate from the patient, but just literally took a break and looked out the window, essentially, for a minute or two. And the third, and the operations are the same length, which shows that the function or the performance of the surgeon who took the break was better after the break, which I think might help people feel a bit less guilty.
I think guilt is a factor—quite a big factor, I think. When we are working from home in particular, we feel that we can’t take a break. We need to demonstrate we’re working because there’s no one actually physically seeing us. So, talk about that, we could talk a bit more about workplace trust.
Rachel: Interesting with breaks. I also read something about the fact that they looked at parole board judges in the US, and they looked at how lenient they were with prisoners coming up on parole. And whether it was related to the nature of the prisoners’ crimes and any unconscious biases that they had, anything like that. And they found that the one thing that decided if a judge was going to be lenient with someone, let them out of prison or put them back in prison for another nine months or so, was the time that had elapsed between the nearest snack. How long had they had some sugar? And if they had a snack in the—very recently, they were really lenient. And if they were hungry, they were horrible. It’s amazing. Oh, hang on a sec. What does that mean for me when I’m with my kids, or people with patients? Really makes a difference, isn’t it?
Katya: Makes a massive difference. I think that’s really interesting, isn’t it. I’ve actually started using the Pomodoro technique, which you probably know about where you have your four 30-or25-minute breaks with a 5-minute break in between and then at the end of that four, you have a longer break. And it makes a massive difference to me because again, it makes me—it’s a discipline—makes you take that break at the end of half an hour.
I actually have—for those on YouTube, stand timer because I thought I’m a bit too classy for Pomodoro. For those who don’t know how, Pomodoro is…
Rachel: It’s a 25-minute timer.
Katya: It’s a 25-minute timer, yeah. And the Pomodoro Technique was using a tomato shaped kitchen timer from—I think it was an Italian university students just sort of worked out a couple of years ago. But I thought, yeah, ‘I’m yeah, I’m going to go for the egg timer, sandwich timer, and also kitchen timer’. But yeah, I looked for one for exactly that time, 25 minutes. So then it finishes. And it gives you a visual cue as you work through your time, how much more time until the next break, which I think is a motivational thing as well.
And then it helps you work on your productivity by—it’s quite helpful to plan how many Pomodoros, how many 30-minute spans of time do you think your task will take, and then how long it actually did take, which then can aid future planning and productivity. So, I think there’s quite a lot of ways you can use breaks in planning and segments to help.
Rachel: I think that Pomodoro Technique, they did work out, didn’t there. That 25 minutes was the optimal time to concentrate until you just need to switch your brain off. And there is good reason to switch your brain off. I learned this from a book that got sent out from my son’s school about how to learn. Kids, when you’re learning your brain is in focus mode. You’re really concentrating, linear brainwaves. But when you take a break, you start wandering around and your brain flips over to diffuse mode. Your brainwaves are crossing both cerebral hemispheres and you’re solving problems and you’re being creative. If you want to be creative and solve problems and be more productive, you’ve got to take those breaks to put your brain into that diffuse mode.
Katya: It’s interesting, isn’t it?
Rachel: That’s something I never learned about at medical school. I tell you.
Katya: That’s very true. Now is interesting, and—yeah, I wonder about that. There’s something I read about, ‘If you’re on a break, don’t use your phone’. So you literally need to be switching off from that focus mode. So, no screens at all on your break. And even some evidence that just looking out the window, yah, assuming you’re looking at something natural versus other sort of concrete buildings, that can be beneficial.
Again, for that same reason that it’s encouraging you to look in a different way and think, perceive data in a different way. Yeah, really interesting stuff. I know one of our previous podcasts had a really lovely talk about how when you take your exercise you can grow—is it brain growth factor?
Katya: And I was like, ‘That’s another reason to take a break’.
Rachel: It sparks your dendrites when you do that, and you take some exercise, yeah.
Katya: Another reason just to get—help your cognition by taking a break. Yeah, really interesting stuff actually.
And they did something in 2014, the WHO did a paper on the social determinants of health. It’s quite a big paper, but there’s a small nugget in there about having a pot plant in your office was beneficial. So again, nature is beneficial. But even if you can’t get to nature, just having a pot plant, looking at the pot plant on your break and watering the pot plant, whatever it is. That is linked to, I think it was improved mood and improved performance in office workers. And really simple things to do on your breaks that are not screen related.
Rachel: So I’ve got a pot plant in the corner. Will that count?
Katya: Yes, I’ve got a pot plant here.
Rachel: Will my plant count, even though it’s fake?
Katya: I’ve got a plastic because I had normal plants and I forgot to water them and then they died.
Rachel: No one will ever know. Apart from me, if you talk about it on your podcast.
Katya: I didn’t know. Yeah, you blowed your cover there.
Rachel: I’ve blown it. Sorry, everyone, but I like my fern.
Katya: It’s very nice. Yeah, it looks quite healthy.
Rachel: It’s really healthy.
Katya: So I did something with the live one, and then it died, which isn’t good.
Rachel: I kill plants, I’m really bad. But I love looking at them. So hence, if anyone’s got any plant, good fake plant websites, please send it to me.
Katya: I would recommend a succulent for that reason.
Rachel: They’re quite difficult to kill, aren’t they?
Katya: They’re very difficult to kill.
Rachel: Right. And we have a succulent, put it on my windowsill over there, so it can fit.
So, we haven’t got huge amounts of time left. But I did want to just touch on your last couple of tips for working well from home. And these are thinking to link really, about connecting with people and trust within the workplace. Now, we’ve already talked about the importance, particularly if you’re living on your own, but why is connecting so important?
Katya: Yeah. It’s interesting, isn’t it? Again, pre-pandemic, it was something that we might have had to think… The scene’s odd. But now I think we all know, at least intuitively, that we do need to connect socially because we’ve all struggled with lack of connection.
But I think at work—I think it’s important to remember that at work, you’re dealing with other human beings too. So it’s about trying to foster that human side of the connection. So you might be having Zoom calls, emailing your colleagues and maybe more of that than hitherto, but I think it’s about remembering the human side. Because like we said about the emotional labour, I think workplace relationships require building and fostering and nurturing, that’s how teams grow and develop and thrive. So you need to think about those non-work contacts. They don’t have to take a lot of time, but you may be just allowing a bit of non-work chat at the beginning of a Zoom call, maybe having some Zoom work drinks. Some connections that are work-related that are not about completing tasks. So, an away day or Christmas drinks would have been an example. It’s about doing those things virtually.
And also, screens, I think, as we just said, take up a lot of cognitive, it takes up a lot of your brain space to look at a screen. So, I think allowing people to look away from the screen and not being offended if that happens. Maybe just using an old-fashioned phone. Because I think sometimes, we’re more familiar, it can actually feel a bit more intimate—you listen to people’s tone of voice, and I think you might connect better. Maybe a walk and talk phone call, maybe for a brainstorming meeting, when you both put your headphones in and walk out.
And then yeah, maybe for some types of work, and definitely for non-work relationships, like posts. Send people something actually physical they can touch and handle, which is helpful, or thank you card and bits like that. So, I think those things are quite helpful and we need to build that in. And now we’ve kind of allowed to go for a walk, isn’t it? Or walk with one person and so forth. Try and to build that in. And it can be a work colleague as well, you can do that, have some exercise together. Just trying to be creative, to build and foster those human connections, because they are really the glue that sticks the workplace together.
Rachel: I’m such a big fan of the ‘get on the phone and walk and talk’. So, get a decent pair of headphones, your phone, and I completely agree. And I’ve read an article recently about the fact that we are so much more empathic on the phone than we are on a virtual thing. That was really interesting to me because you think you can still hear people’s sense of voice on video, because you’re looking at them as well. But the problem is the cues you’re getting, they’re not the same. Because 2D’s never the same. I’m now looking at you. I’m not looking at you, you’re looking at my camera. And it feels like you’re looking at you. But most people look at you. And then, now it feels like I’m not looking and you look a bit disengaged, and all that sort of stuff.
Katya: That’s really interesting. That’s right, of course. Yeah. I think that might be a large part of it, actually. Yeah, I think it’s we’re more familiar, aren’t we? We’ve been on the phone for years and years. I think we’ve just been better at it. We’re better at making, listening to the cues and so on. And I think you do pay more attention to tone of voice when you don’t have the vision included. And I think it’s even worse if you’re on a meeting. So you’ve got lots of little scores of people, it’s very difficult to connect with all of those people. I think a one-on-one is easier. So I think, yeah, those are all quite important factors, I think.
And then those feed into the last point about trust, isn’t it. So I think we touched on this before. I think there’s a bit of—I think maybe from both sides, but this isn’t—maybe less if you’re self-employed, more if you have a manager. That you might feel you have to prove you’re working, because they’re not there witnessing you. So you might, ‘I need to send that email at 11pm to prove I’m working so hard’. But usually, that just is essentially a form of presenteeism. When you’re at work, but you’re not being very productive. It’s probably better for everybody, if you just take the breaks we talked about, and then be productive in your work hours, and then take a proper break.
But the thing that hinges on is trust. So from both—it’s a two way thing, between you and your manager. And it’s about setting expectations, being clear, as we’ve said, and explicit. That there isn’t I think it needs to be understood on both sides that working from home is not the same as working at work. You won’t be available in the same way, people literally can’t walk down the corridor and open your door, and you’re there. They have to call you, you might not answer. There’s maybe a bit more planning for meetings. And that’s just the way it is at the moment. So, I think it’s about understanding and accepting and working together on those things.
And I’ve noticed that relationships that started pre-pandemic, they’re teams that were formed and work together in quite real life, I think some of them found it easier to transition to home working. And tech companies and so on we’re doing this a lot anyway. People who’ve started a new role in lockdown and started working with colleagues who they’ve never met, or they might only see on Zoom, or some people, they might only hear them on the phone and never see their face. I think those relationships are harder to build, and teams are harder to build. And again, gets back to the previous point trying to build that connection to offset those challenges.
Rachel: Yeah, that is really tricky. And I’ve certainly got quite a few people that I’ve been working with who have started in their roles during the pandemic, who never met people face to face. And it’s something we talk about a lot in my Resilience Team Academy, it’s about how do you have these informal connections? Because you’ve got to make them formal, because you’ve got to arrange a time to happen. So, whereas before, you’d just be wondering about why the coffee machine or the water dispenser and you’d be able to just go ‘Oh, hi, how are you’? And you’d solve a problem. How do you actually schedule those in?
And there’s quite a few people that have slightly allergic to the virtual coffee break, because it’s a bit awkward, right? And you get on and no one knows what to say. But I always say to people, firstly, don’t try to do it in a massive group, because small talk with a big group is really hard. Do in like twos or threes, or even fours max. And then secondly, give yourself something to talk about. So, say, ‘Right, we’re going to talk about right, what’s your biggest challenge? What’s your biggest challenge’? Make it useful, solve a problem together. And you also, I think, get over this, what do I talk about, you then get over the ‘It’s a waste of my time doing it’. And actually, it becomes really, really helpful. So I think we need to get a little bit more creative about what we’re actually doing.
Katya: Yeah, that’s interesting. There’s a tech company who used to do this, and I think that it’s been adopted more broadly. Exactly that, they actually would set up—I think they got people out of the hat. So these people who are working virtually anyway, pre-pandemic, and they pull names out of a hat set two pairs of people who never met each other before, into a virtual Zoom room. And just—I think they had to talk about a hobby or something on work related. And then that was it, that was the whole task.
But those things gradually ended up being glued, because then when—I know, Bob and Jane have a meeting, and then later on, they actually have a work meeting. And ‘Oh. I remember, you love skiing’. And it’s all those small things, like what you said, that would have naturally arisen. And it’s about trying to plan them without it feeling too awkward. But they still kind of need to be done, don’t they? Because they are the glue that sticks it together.
Rachel: There’s a lovely podcast called, WorkLife with Adam Grant, and it’s fantastic. And they were talking about how you build up connections in the workplace. And the one thing they realised, really—they basically got a load of strangers, put them into twos. And said, ‘Right, your task in three minutes is to make a deep connection’, or maybe more than three minutes. And they listened to what they talked about. And actually what they really tried, ‘What book has influenced you the most in the last year’? ‘What significant things happened to you’? That worked really nicely. But then they said to these pairs of strangers, ‘I now want you to give each other feedback on how that was for you’. And they became, ‘Oh, well, I was initially a bit awkward, but then it was quite good. And I thought, well, we could connect on this’. And it was that self-disclosure of giving the feedback that really formed the deep connection. They came up with this fact it only takes apparently 40 seconds to make a deep connection with someone.
Rachel: That’s brilliant. It actually doesn’t take too long. But if there’s a bit of self-disclosure, and the other thing was finding uncommon commonality. Like, ‘Oh, we both love making model boats’. Or something, ‘Let’s find something that’s common to us that not to isn’t anyone else’. That really does help. So, I think it’s just knowing that can be really helpful.
Katya: That is interesting, isn’t it? And again, it’s about willingness on part of both people to be a little bit vulnerable. I mean, essentially, that’s what it is, isn’t it? That’s what connection is. It’s about being authentic, but you need to be willing. And if there’s a barrier-like screen, then I think you need to just be a little bit more willing to overcome those barriers. Then you might be—a bit around, like you said around the coffee machine.
Rachel: Willing and creative. And don’t forget that work drinks late in the evening and is not going to suit a lot of people. And what can you do? And if possible, do a task together that forges connections quicker than anything else?
Katya: Games, playing games, all those kinds of things.
Rachel: Yeah, really important. So, Katya, we’ve covered an awful lot there. If you wanted to give people sort of three main take home messages about how to work virtually really well, what would they be?
Katya: Golly. Three top tips. I think boundaries are really important and all the different things we’ve discussed about boundaries. I think moving is really important. Because we didn’t that—of course, that falls the topic of breaks as well. So, think about the boundaries, think about how you’re going to move. And then I think the third thing is one of my favourites, which is about permission: giving yourself permission to look after yourself, giving yourself permission to think about these and implement these things. Giving yourself permission to have the break, do the movement, speak to your boss about what’s realistic. I think, again, as in so many things, if you don’t give yourself permission, you can’t access all these other strategies. You’ve got to notice how you’re doing. Give yourself permission to do what works for you, knowing that it’s going to benefit you and those around you. Yeah, I think that’s been my three.
Rachel: So for me, out of all of that, it’s that planning piece. It’s you can’t just sit down and work from home and expect it to happen really well. You got to think about, ‘What do I need’? ‘What’s going to work for me physically’? ‘What’s going to work for me emotionally’? ‘What’s going to work for the team’? ‘And what changes do I need to make it work’? And it may be spending a little bit money on a decent pair of glasses or a standing desk, or some equipment that you need. Or a subscription to some sort of gym app that makes me do—I don’t know, but what is it? A bit of investment in yourself. Really important.
Katya: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think you’re right, it’s about again and again, permission to do that, looking after yourself, investing in yourself. Because knowing it will be alright, help others as well as yourself. Definitely.
Rachel: Katya, thank you so much. That’s been really super helpful. If people wanted to contact you, how can they find you?
Katya: Oh, yes. Website’s workingwelldoctor.com. If you would like this eBook, there is actually a tab on the top which says, ‘Free eBook’. So you could go to the website and sort of click on the link to get that. Yeah, my email, firstname.lastname@example.org, just write me anything. And I hang out on social media, as they say. So, I’m on Instagram, @working_well_doctor. I think I’m Katya Miles Working Well on Facebook, and I’m on LinkedIn. Be lovely to see you guys anywhere, any of those places.
Rachel: Great. Thank you so much, Katya. And we’ll have to get you back another time, because there’s loads more we can talk about this.
Katya: Yeah, absolutely. It’ll be good fun.
Rachel: Brilliant. See you soon.
Katya: See you!
Rachel: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Please subscribe to my You Are Not A Frog email list and subscribe to the podcast. And if you have enjoyed it, then please leave me a rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. So, keep well everyone. You’re doing a great job. You got this.