Five tips for further education professionals working from home

After colleges across the country closed their doors on Friday 20 March, only key workers have been permitted to work on-site for the duration of the coronavirus lockdown. The remainder of the further education workforce has joined the rest of the country in working from home. This unprecedented but necessary move is unusual for colleges, so it may be difficult for staff to adapt at the rate they are expected to.

To help you adjust to your new environment, we have some top tips for making your work life as easy as possible during this time.

1. Make the most of the available technology

Technology is a crucial resource which can dramatically enhance the learning and support students receive from their colleges. Now is the perfect time to explore what is available to you and make the most of it, here’s a selection of online tools to get you started:

With Padlet, students can create an online post-it board where they can share text, images, and video links. Through the Padlet link you create, students can use their own device to start adding to the board themselves. Padlet is a particularly useful tool for developing work over a period of time, whether it is for an entire unit or a single lesson.

Google’s Classroom is similar to a Learning Management System (LMS) which enables teachers to manage workflow and communication with their students. With Classroom, educators can create classes, make announcements, share assignments, grade and send feedback, all with the ability to see everything in one place.

Socrative allows you to gather immediate student feedback, assess learning in lessons and create surveys. Through this tool, students can give responses through personal or shared classroom devices with the option of anonymity.

Socrative can also be used for employees, where you can create multiple quizzes, surveys, or mini-competitions to assess employee comprehension and keep track of their learning. From training seminars to customer polls, you can get up to 150 employees involved and actively engaged at any one time.

2. Be approachable

Being approachable is a key thing you can do for your students and employees as it makes it much easier for them to access the support you can provide. This is now all the more important as colleges’ teachers and services are rarely required to work off-site, meaning that schedules and availability suddenly become very ambiguous.

To avoid any issues, it is important to make people aware that you are still available to contact for advice and assistance, whether you are a teacher or a member of the support services. An easy way to do this is to reach out to your colleagues, employees, or students via email to communicate your availability and contact details.

Alternatively, it may be possible to post on the student portal on behalf of yourself or your department to let students know which services you can provide and to answer any questions. This will make it much easier to continue your ongoing support for students during these uncertain times.

3. Connect with others

As vital as it is to focus on the support students receive, it is also important to make sure you feel connected to the outside world. Loneliness and isolation has a substantial effect on our mental health and so it is essential for colleagues to maintain their relationships with each other.

Naturally, you will frequently talk about projects and work but it is important to include time to catch-up on other topics, such as their day-to-day, have they found out anything interesting, and anything else they may usually talk about when you are catching-up in the office.

You can also link up with other professionals through the hashtag #ukfechat. It is a vibrant, supportive community set up via Twitter which is specifically used to share expertise and resources within the further education sector. You can also look for opportunities to connect with groups across the world to create online exchanges using LinkedIn, Twitter or Skype for example.

4. Keep work at work

Usually, it is easier to leave your work stresses and thoughts at the office when you head home every day to wind down, but working from home for extended periods of time can make this increasingly difficult.

To tackle this, there are small things you can do to help separate the two whilst at home. A lot of this centres around proactively creating the same mentality you would usually have when you head to work in the morning. This is achieved by doing all the things you would typically do to prepare for a normal weekday.

Set your alarm, make coffee, get changed out of your bed clothes into your day clothes, and create a designated work space in your home that is not your bed or sofa. Doing so separates 9.00am-5.00pm work with time spent relaxing each evening, increasing your productivity and preparing you for the following day.

5. Plan your day every morning

Being outside of your normal work environment can feel overwhelming and you may feel unsure where to even start. Planning your goals for the day helps create structure and allows you to keep track of the tasks ahead without feeling overwhelmed.

It also adds a sense of satisfaction into your daily routine as you can tick items off your list throughout each day, reinforcing a sense of accomplishment and leaving you to feel motivated for the weeks ahead.

There are a couple of great online tools that can help you stay focused:

Microsoft To Do is a useful free tool that allows you to organise your tasks effectively, with intelligent and personalised suggestions to update your daily to-do list. You can even share your lists with colleagues to help you stay connected with others.

Google’s Calendar allows you to stay on schedule throughout the day by segmenting what you will do and when. It will even tell you when to you need to start new tasks, making it much easier to change focus and manage your time.

Despite the challenges you may face, it is important to remember the necessity of working from home to help delay the spread of COVID-19. Although it can be difficult for many further education professionals, especially those who are usually unable to work anywhere other than on-site, we hope our five tips can help you to get started and work effectively through the weeks ahead.

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