Due to being pregnant, I have been strongly advised by the NHS, government and health guidance to avoid patient face-to-face contact for the foreseeable future. Although initially, I was distraught at the prospect of not interacting with my colleagues, my work routines that allow the outworking of my professional identity, and above all having my precious contact with patients, I have since acquiesced, coming to terms that given the risks of coronavirus for pregnant women is currently unknown, it is a threat that I do not wish to experiment with. As an Occupational Therapist, where my job is patient-facing, this surfaces a lot of difficulties as I have been forced to modify my familiar patterns and ways of working. Although technology provides a window to continue with phone assessments and inter-professional working, my job is really not the same and nothing can replace the care and compassion which can be met with a smiling face, or a reassuring squeeze of the hand; as well as making detailed observations and assessments. Like all digital communication, working remotely also brings up the possibility of being misunderstood and my clinical reasoning skewed; this means ensuring clear communication. On top of all of this, there is the loss and familiarity of the mundane: my commute, driving between patients’ homes whilst listening to the radio, getting my morning coffee and gossiping at lunch with my colleagues.
The essence of occupational therapy is delivering a personalised approach to care; this always starts with asking the person what matters to them, exploring what support and assets they have in place and in collaboration, agreeing how they may address any obstacles and barriers in their lives. Since lockdown, I have discovered that this can be achieved virtually and has taught me a lot about what work could possibly look like beyond COVID-19. How can I equip patients through resources and information rather than face-to-face contact? How can I support patients to problem solve some of their difficulties rather than trying to fix it for them? And how can I look for digital solutions to enable me to work remotely with my team?
Although gaining consent and determining risk factors is a constant battle, which requires careful assessment and management, there is some positives to working from home. Such as maximising my work time without distractions, thinking creatively about the future and taking an opportunity to improve existing processes and ways of working and getting on top of my continuing professional development. Nevertheless, there is a constant guilt at play for not working on the front line whilst many of my colleagues face long waiting lists and as priority is given to the most vulnerable, providing care for the riskiest of patients.
I suppose it is taking the time to harness this opportunity to develop my skills, dream about the future, and support my team in any way possible.
With all of this in mind, I have developed some top tips for health professionals working from home:
Start the day washed and dressed
Get out of those pyjamas and baggy tracksuits – I fully believe in look the part, feel the part. Sometimes I will even put on my work shoes! By feeling fresh, I feel more productive.
Adapt your environment
OTs are experts at this already, so I would suggest finding a place with comfortable surroundings which can ensure effective working. This means good lighting, a quiet room, a desk space that is not cluttered, and reducing distractions such as personal phones. Use the opportunity of being in your comfort zone to your advantage by thinking of it as a disruption to your regular routine and set up your work environment as inviting as you want (think fairy lights and cushions). This is an opportunity to use and increase your adaptability, so embrace it!
One of the most important aspects of maintaining correct alignment and posture whilst working from home is your workspace setup. At work, we have fancy spinney chairs, raised desktop computers, and work-place desk assessments. At home, it can feel a bit slapdash and make-do.
As I am in my third trimester, lower back pain (or sometimes all over pain and cramping) has become the norm, therefore it is so important to remain upright and consider my alignment. The NHS have some guidance on avoiding back pain at work which is helpful. Or you could also download an at home yoga app for simple movement breaks and postures. I have found that by continuously moving such as talking whilst I am on the phone, or simply standing to stretch can make such a difference.
Consider all of the lost movement time on commuting, making tea for your colleagues and collecting work from the printer. For every 1 hour sitting, I spend 5 minutes walking… I even have an alarm on my phone to remind me. If I don’t do this, I find myself afterwards with a stiff back and painful joints.
After work, I always plan in a long walk or a run to ensure I get enough exercise in the day, which boosts my mental health too.
Connect with your colleagues
I feel a bit overwhelmed with the sudden number of online meetings I have to keep up with and some of them, I do wonder at their significance. We don’t have to prove we are working hard by scheduling in a meeting. However, I do think connecting with my colleagues (even if it is discussing trivial non-pandemic things) is such a welcome break and helps me process my clinical reasoning better.
Take a proper lunch break
Health professionals are guilty of eating their lunch at their desk because they’re too “busy” to stop for 30 minutes. Well now, we’re in lock down, this is the perfect opportunity to make the most of your lunch break. Share it with your family or sit outside in the sunshine. You don’t win any heroic medals for working through your lunch; in fact, if you do, it will deplete your energy and make you less efficient.
Be kind to yourself
Work is irrevocably not the same and our best efforts may not quite meet our standards, so that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up or compare. Take comfort that you’re trying your best!
Author: Esther Dark
Bio: Esther is a UK-based Occupational Therapist and also one of the leadership members for Beyond Covid.