Five ways to make the most of your time working from home

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Many of us have had to get used to working from home full-time ever since COVID-19 reached the UK last year. Many home workers appreciate the freedom and improved work-life balance that this new mode of working affords them – and according to Direct Line, 31% particularly enjoy saving money on travel and other related costs. But working from home is not smooth sailing for everyone. It can be challenging to be as productive at home as you would be in an office environment, and the isolation and stress of dealing with COVID-19 at the same time certainly also takes its toll.

So how do home workers make the most of their time, and ensure that they’re productive, effective, and look after their mental health at the same time? 

  1. Separate home and work life

When you’re working from home it can be easy to let your work life permeate your home life – and vice versa, to the detriment of both. Instead of spending your day trying to juggle household chores and your work life at the same time, try to draw clear boundaries between both areas. Try to have a set work schedule, just as if you’re going to the office. 

This is easier said than done, of course, especially for working parents who have to homeschool their children at the same time. But although it may not be possible to entirely separate your home and work life, keeping this goal in mind may help you to carve more periods of productivity out of your hectic day. 

  1. Take breaks

Sometimes the best way to increase your productivity is to take a break. It may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes you can get more work done in less time – if you’re well-rested in the time you do work. Even a short break will refresh your mind and allow you to return to work tasks with increased focus and efficiency. Rather than spending hours piling through work with no breaks, experiment with different lengths of break time throughout your day to find the right balance. 

  1. Get outside

The importance of getting outside cannot be understated. When you’re working – and living – in the same space, it can become quite depressing without a change of scene. We’ve already covered how taking a break gives your mind the space to relax and recharge, but a walk outside will help your body as well as your mind – stretching the legs, getting the blood pumping, and (if you’re lucky) giving you a much-needed dose of vitamin D. The health benefits of exercise are well established, and there’s reason to believe that healthy vitamin D levels play a role in our immune system’s defence against COVID-19. 

  1. Stay social

Zoom chats may be associated with long, boring work meetings, but they can be a fantastic tool for socialising too – either with your colleagues for a quick catch-up in the day, or with friends and family in the evenings. When working from home for extended periods of time we’re cut off from the small, everyday social interactions we might have had when working in an office – from so-called “water cooler” or kitchen chats with colleagues, to friendly interactions in the local cafe for lunch. When we’re tired, or too caught up with work, it can be easy to neglect this aspect of our day. Maintaining social interactions can certainly be a big positive for our mental health

  1. Be kind to yourself

Finally, it’s important to remember that we’re all living through an unprecedented and stressful pandemic. It’s only natural to feel less productive at times, or to experience poor mental health. But piling the pressure onto yourself will only make things worse. Take the pressure off, and treat yourself with the kindness and understanding that you (hopefully) already treat other people with. 

There are many more ways to make the most of your time when working from home, of course – this is only the tip of the iceberg. But hopefully these five aspects will prove useful as you continue your working from home journey. 

Geoff Aldis is a freelance writer
 

 

Spending Review 2020: From health crisis to economic emergency

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The backdrop to the spending plans announced this week is a deeper and longer lasting economic impact than hoped for at the start of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Despite the bad news about the economy there was some good news for low-income families. People earning under £24,000 were exempt from the public-sector pay freeze and the National Minimum Wage was extended to those aged 23 and 24. 

Yet the Spending Review 2020 did nothing to address the nationwide concern around child poverty. Given that 70% of children living in poverty are in a working household, a real boost to the National Minimum Wage would have benefitted poorer families.

Pre-covid this was expected to rise to £9.21 an hour from next April but is now considerably less at an increase of 18p an hour to £8.91 an hour. Due to the tapering away of benefit, people who rely on Universal Credit and who work 35 hours at the minimum wage will see a rise of just £7.25 a month.

With unemployment predicted to rise to 7.5% it was particularly disappointing that no commitment was given to continue the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits or the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor.

Analysis by Policy in Practice showed that these measures increased the average take home income of households in receipt of Universal Credit by over £90 a month and meant that 6% of households who previously could not meet their outgoings were now able to do. Removal of these measures in April 2021 will have a major impact on households already struggling.

Individual advice is essential. Self employed households may be better off moving from legacy benefits to Universal Credit in the short-term but will be worse off if the Minimum Income Floor is introduced in April. 

The Spending Review 2020 outlined additional funds for councils including £1.55 billion for additional Covid expenditure, £762 million to cover uncollected council tax payments, and £670 million to help low-income council tax payers. Councils will need to ensure that their discretionary support is well targeted to support their residents who are most in need.

Alongside better integration with local services, it’s essential that councils have the tools to tackle debt, food and financial worries, so people are in a position to effectively look for work.

Those working at the frontline will hope that the government reconsiders the impact of an income shock caused by the withdrawal of these measures in the Spring budget.

We urge the government to revisit the decision to freeze housing support for private tenants as demand for affordable homes for households in receipt of benefits is soon likely to outstrip supply, risking debt and homelessness. 

The government should also increase the National Minimum Wage to the levels planned pre-Covid. 

With unemployment set to rise to 2.6 million next year frontline organisations are more important than ever. They need to be equipped to provide welfare advice to help people affected by Covid to make decisions that are right for them. 

London Councils’ response to the Spending Review

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Cllr Georgia Gould, Chair of London Councils, said:

“The Spending Review provided some welcome short-term support, but won’t be enough to fully meet boroughs’ costs caused by the pandemic.

“London boroughs still face a funding shortfall of over £500 million this year – even with the support announced by the government. And it can’t be forgotten that the Covid-19 crisis has come after a decade of funding reductions for local authorities, which had already led to unsustainable pressures. We are disappointed that this one-year settlement for local government means we can only plan for the next year and gives us no long term certainty over our finances.

“London boroughs have proven they can deliver results. We’re determined to build back better from this pandemic – including on key challenges like creating jobs, building homes, and tackling inequality and climate change.”

The launch of Restart recognises the huge need to help people adapt to a changing jobs market in the wake of the pandemic.

However, this centralised, top-down programme is an unwelcome reversal of progress made towards employment devolution in London, where the Work and Health Programme is already running with local control and oversight from London boroughs. Thanks to the involvement of local leaders, these programmes are tailored to the unique skills and employment needs of Londoners and the city’s jobs market and are being joined up with other local services.

It is also vital that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) is fully devolved to local areas, as it will focus on people most in need and will be tailored to local communities, and that London gains a fair allocation of UKSPF, given it has seen the largest increases in unemployed people compared to any other region since the pandemic.
 

Annie Dell, The Salvation Army responds to SR20

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The key takeaway for me is how much the Chancellor is prioritising getting people back into work. Looking across the board, the various funding streams create a comprehensive, and thoughtfully designed suite of employment support packages that recognises the challenges of getting people back into work in a difficult labour market.  

For some in the public, the £2.9 billion allocated to the Restart programme may look like an eye-watering amount, so as a sector, it is critical now that we demonstrate just how much impact this funding will have, and the value for money large scale employment programmes have on the economy. I imagine that Restart will look a lot like Work Programme. And despite its rocky start, the Work  Programme was a success, despite what some may say. There’s a lot of good learning in the Work Programme, as well as understanding what could be better. With large scale employment programmes, we will come back to the importance of assessments, to ensure that allocation is more nuanced than by what type of benefit they are on, but rather that it is the right programme, and the right time, for that individual.  

Like many others, I wish that we had gotten more on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. A one year pilot isn’t going to work as a replacement in delivering the same level of ESF outcomes. ESF funds long term, comprehensive programmes for those who need individualised support to move back into the labour market. What are we piloting over a year? If government is piloting who is responsible for the funds, then there is opportunity. But if the plan is to pilot “what works”, I would argue that ESF is a storied programme with decades of evidence base on what works. We will continue to work with local governments to inform the best programmes for those who need it most. 

Annie Dell, The Salvation Army

Progressing the future of in-work progression

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The domestic policy agenda has ground to a near halt in recent months with the B word dominating political discourse in the UK. This has meant that some of the most important societal issues we are facing remain under the radar. One of these issues is in-work poverty. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last year shows that the number of workers in poverty has risen to 4 million; this means roughly one in eight in the economy can now be classified as working poor. While work often has many benefits which go beyond the purely financial, the rise of in-work poverty begins to question the narrative that work is the best route out of poverty.

With this context in mind, Shaw Trust last month hosted a small conference intended to kick start the conversation on the future of in-work progression support. Although the factors behind in-work poverty are wide ranging, in-work progression support clearly has a key role to play in reducing in-work poverty and helping people progress in their careers. I think it is a fair generalisation to say that the employment system in recent years has focused primarily on job entry. This focus has helped reach record employment levels in the UK, yet the welfare bill remains high partly due to low wages. A shift in focus is needed now. There is opportunity for the employment support sector to play a much greater key role in supporting people in low paid employment to achieve greater career and wage progression. This will pay dividends not just for these individuals but employers and the economy.

During the event we hosted last month, guests including representatives from the Greater London Authority, Housing Associations, employers and Local Authorities, heard and discussed some of the in-work progression services Shaw Trust and Prospects are successfully delivering in London.  The team behind the Employment Plus programme, a contract which supports low paid workers in Central, North and East London with the aim of up-skilling participants to progress toward a better future through increased overall income and job security, spoke about how the programme has evolved over the last couple of years. Perhaps notably, while the programme helped more than half of the participant’s get an improved contract or an increased hourly wage, it was also warmly received by many employers as it supported their staff to gain new qualifications and additional training.

The Employment Plus programme is ending later this year and at present there is no like for like replacement lined up. Programmes like this add to the evidence base that dedicated personalised in-work career support is effective. We want to continue the conversation about what the future of in-work progression delivery can and should look like, as we believe done well it can play a vital role in moving more individuals out of poverty and help build more stable futures for the next generation.

We at Shaw trust want to hear your thoughts. So, please do get in touch if you would like to find out more about our in work progression programmes and pilots, or want to share views on what the future of in-work support should look like.

Charlie Garnett is Policy and Public Affairs Officer at Shaw Trust