Remote working the Wikimedia UK way

Blog by Sara Thomas, Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Programme Coordinator

Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, it’s likely that more and more of us across the UK are going to be working from home. Here at Wikimedia UK, two of us (one in Scotland, one in Wales) are remote-workers by default, and so with our whole organisation now working remotely we thought that we might be able to share some hints and tips for those of you joining the shortest-commute-club.

I’m Dr Sara Thomas, Scotland Programme Coordinator for Wikimedia UK, and as the only Wikimedia UK employee in Scotland, I always work remotely. Hello, and welcome to the joys of having your cat interrupt your video call.

I work for a few organisations, one of which is Wikimedia UK, and none of which involve office space in Scotland. Most of the time, I’m sat at a desk (dining room table pushed against a wall) in the bay window area of my attic flat in Glasgow which you can see above. The shelf of stuff in front of me has sometimes useful stuff. My partner is an artist, and when he’s not running workshops or at his studio, he’s using the computer set up in our spare room to do digital work. We are a household of home workers. Here’s what I’ve learned over the past few years:

Video conferencing. I do a lot of meetings by Google Hangout / Meet / Skype. I definitely prefer the video option to phone calls; you just don’t get the same rapport with someone when you can’t see their face. My default is now video chat rather than call. Cuts down on travel time, and depending on where this situation goes in terms of social distancing, it might start to be your default too. 

Check ins / Office rapport. I started off wiki-life as a Wikimedian in Residence, and whilst there was a good office culture at my host institution, I often felt distant from the rest of the UK Wikimedia community. For the last year or so, I’ve been running a WhatsApp group that brings Wikimedia UK programmes staff and Wikimedians in Residence across the country together, and it’s been great for swapping tips, support, and ideas about working with Wikimedia. Slack’s pretty good for this kind of stuff too. 

Project & diary management. This is more of a time management thing, but it’s also good for when you’re working across a distributed team. Trello, Basecamp, etc – choose your weapon. Good for to-do lists, assigning tasks, etc. If you’re not used to working without direct supervision it’s really easy for your attention to wander – I find that blocking out my day in my diary really helps.

Don’t get distracted by TV, tempting though it is. Spotify playlists, on the other hand… if your office doesn’t usually allow tunes, now is your opportunity to play Nine Inch Nails very loudly to your heart’s content.  

Organise your workspace. I have a good mouse, laptop stand and a proper chair. DO NOT WORK FROM BED. I know, I know, you can totally answer emails from your phone whilst under a duvet. But you will regret it, not least when your body has decided to associate your bed with work-thoughts, and doesn’t want you to get to sleep at night.

Get dressed. It’s really tempting to stay in your jammies all day but it makes it really hard to get into the headspace for work.

Cook good food.  You’re at home, don’t limit yourself to the packed lunch you’d bring to work, or the disappointing sandwich from the shop round the corner. Slow cooker? Something that needs to marinate but that you’d never have time to do normally? Now’s your chance.

Remember to exercise. In my last office job I’d regularly walk a couple of miles a day; these days it takes less than 20 seconds to get from my bed to my desk.  This is not good for my sleep pattern, waistline or general mental health, to be honest. So take regular breaks from your desk. Get up, move around.  Go for a walk at lunchtime. I’ve seen a few friends decide that they’re not going to use the gym until this whole thing blows over (too much coughing and not wiping down of machines) but running shoes, walking shoes, and doing yoga in your front room are still options. Getting out into nature (if you’ve got any near you) is a good idea, not least because Cabin Fever Really Is A Thing.

If your work isn’t usually remote. One of our partners is considering Wiki-work as an option in the event of a building shutdown. They’d be updating metadata on images, contributing to their areas of interest and expertise, or maybe improving Wikidata. If you’ve any questions about how this might become a stream of work for your organisation, please feel free to drop me a line…

Another good blog I read on this recently is here.