Tips for working from home

All VU employees, who are not involved in vital processes, will work from home until at least June 1. For many, such a long period of working from home is not fun, convenient or practical. Working from home, with or without housemates and children around you, requires a new routine, which brings challenges.

In addition to your VU workplace, you also miss daily contact with colleagues during this period. Human contact is very important in your work. Fortunately, this can be done digitally very easily in this day and age. Below you will find tips for working from home and information about the IT facilities you can use from home.

WARNING! Be alert and use the IT facilities consciously. Now’s the time cyber criminals are trying to access your files or our network in creative ways when most people are working from home. The IT department will be stricter with password policy as well as ask you to be aware of the devices and systems you use at home and be alert to suspicious e-mails. Read more.

Attention to new data processing
It is important, also in the situation where we work from home, to ensure that we continue to comply with privacy legislation. Of course, the Privacy Champions are available to help you with this. See VUnet for more information.

Make sure there is enough variation in your working posture and move around regularly. This applies to every workplace, but now that you may be working in a less well-equipped workplace, this applies even more. 

Make sure that you don't work continuously for too long. Take regular breaks: get up and walk around a bit, climb stairs if possible, stretch out or look into the distance for a few minutes.  This differs per person. Pay attention to signs of overexertion, such as stiffness, muscle aches or other pains, a numb feeling or tingling. Try to prevent these symptoms by pausing regularly and changing your posture:

- Get up and walk around whenever you can, e.g. during a telephone consultation

- Call colleagues instead of sending an e-mail

- Grab a drink or a piece of fruit every half hour

- For phone calls, use a headset, or the earphones of your mobile phone

- Plan large breaks between (video) calls 

- If you’re reading material, sit down on the couch or walk around

- Try to spread different types of work over the day. Alternate intensive screen work such as e-mailing with an activity where you can walk around for a while such as a telephone consultation.

- Plan your physical activity: take a walk during lunch or go for a (solo) run, walk or bike tour

Working with monitors

A well-equipped monitor area may not always be possible to realise with your furniture at home. As a frame of reference, here are the rules of thumb for the most optimal settings. Carry them out in the following order:

- Put your feet firmly on the ground

- Place your legs at a 90-degree angle

- Keep a fist space between the front of the seat and the hollow behind your knee

- Provide good support in the lower back

- Make sure the armrests support your forearms while your shoulders are relaxed.

- The table height is just below the armrests

- Place the monitor in front of you at arm's length. Place the top edge at eye level

- Place the mouse and keyboard (feet folded) as close to your body as possible so that you don't have to reach out.

- Use function keys (e.g. Alt-Tab to switch between windows and Page Up and Page Down to scroll through a document) to alternate.

- If you need to write or read from paper, do so at a table that is 4-5 cm taller

Where can I best set up my home office?
If you can, choose a quiet place where you can work in an undisturbed way. Make sure that there is no direct light on your screen and that you do not look directly into the (sun) light. Muted light from the side is ideal.

My table is too high/too low. What can I do?
It is important that you support your body as well as possible and that your legs are not pinched off. Make sure that you don't have to raise your shoulders and that you don't have to reach for the mouse. You may have to improvise. Try to come to the best possible adjustment for yourself:
- Place the screen higher up on e.g. books or a stack of printing paper
- Put your desk or table on bobbins if it's too low
- Use a seat cushion if your chair is too low
- Place a pillow or ottoman under your feet (your legs should be at an angle of about 90 degrees and your knees should not be higher than your pelvis).

How do I work best with a laptop at home?
If you work on a laptop at home, set up your laptop workplace as a normal workplace. The top edge of your monitor is approximately at eye level. If you don’t have a laptop stand, use a crate or a pile of books. Also use a separate keyboard and mouse. If you don’t have you these, you can request a homework set from the IT department (info will follow soon on VUnet) or buy a mouse and/or keyboard yourself. You can claim up to € 75 for the costs of purchasing the set. Make sure to consult your supervisor first.

What's the best way to work at home with a smartphone?
Work as little as possible with a smartphone for e-mail, at least not for long periods of time.  If you use the smartphone, make sure your neck is not bent too much and for too long; keep your phone in front of your face. If necessary, support your forearm and change your posture often.

I don't get my workplace optimally equipped.
In this case, it will be even more important to remain alert to the development of physical complaints and to alternate your activities on a regular basis. See the tips at the top of this page. Consult with your supervisor if your desk workplace is not suitable. We will look for a feasible solution together. Agree to take more frequent breaks, for example.

How do I prevent psycho-social workload when working from home?
If you can work at home, you have to work from home. The Netherlands has listened to this. It's fine to work from home, but you have to watch out for social impoverishment.

If it takes too long, productivity may decrease and there may also be an alienating effect. You have fewer social encounters and less spontaneous conversations at the coffee machine.

Human contact is very important in employment relationships. As face-to-face contact is not possible at the moment, digital tools offer an alternative. It is important to continue to meet your colleagues on a regular basis, even if not in person. Here’s a few more tips.

Accept that working from home is not the same as working at VU Amsterdam
Don't set the bar unrealistically high for yourself or your colleagues. Especially if you are at home with several people, you will have to be accommodating with your daily schedule and agenda. It is probably less easy to work in a concentrated way. You don't have all the things you need at hand. It's a bit like camping. Focus on the things that work, and - just like camping - practice makes perfect.

Try to work together and maintain contact with your colleagues
Send a spontaneous email with compliments, make a phone call to catch up and use group apps with colleagues. Be aware that it's nice to have (informal) contact with each other sometimes. 

Make sure your workplace is peaceful and orderly
Make arrangements at home. For example, arrange times when you don't want to be disturbed or when you’re on the phone.

Make sure you have a good work plan
At the office you can see what colleagues do and when they arrive and leave. You don't have that at home. Make sure you set up clear tasks, make a distinction between 'regular' and 'necessary', and demarcate your time. If necessary, make priorities for work in consultation with your supervisor. Also keep in close contact with your colleagues to fine-tune your work.

Take regular breaks and use time management
The advantage of working from home is that you have less distractions from colleagues. You can work more effectively. The downside of having no distractions at all is that a decent break and sufficient variety are missing. So, take a break between calls, take a break for tea/coffee, have lunch somewhere else in the house and walk away from your workplace every hour. Or take the GoodHabitz Time management course. 

Ensure a good balance between work and private tasks
When working from home, it is tempting to do private tasks in between. Playing with the children, vacuuming, cooking food. You figure you can catch up with work later. Before you know it, you are also busy in the evenings, and work and private life are mixed. Homeworkers usually make more hours. If they do something during the day that is not directly work-oriented, they tend to compensate for those hours more than office workers. Employees also often work longer hours at home because they do not want to damage the employer's trust. As a result, it can be more difficult to get away from work. For this reason, devote sufficient attention at planned times to, for example, your children's home schooling. Plan for this and (if possible) make agreements with housemates about the care for children: alternate this.

Make sure you keep the usual work routine
If you start work at 8:00, do the same at home. That'll give you structure. Also end your workday clearly and make a plan for the next day. If something didn’t get finished, plan it again to ensure a healthy workload. Make sure there is a good balance between work and private tasks: When working from home, it will be tempting to, for example, do domestic tasks in between or play with the children. The ability to concentrate quickly decreases as a result of distractions and interruptions. It appears to take about eight minutes each time before you return to the same level of concentration.

Make sure you keep sufficient contact with your colleagues and supervisor
(digital) technology offers many possibilities to stay in touch with each other. For supervisors: organise moments for consultation and let employees clearly known when this will take place, for peace and clarity.

Take good care of yourself
It seems that we often take better care of ourselves at work than at home. This is a unique opportunity to make the best of the situation. Experiment with the work routine and working hours where possible and drink your own coffee. If you pay close attention to this, it will be easier to get through this period of working from home.

Can I pick up my VU office chair?
No. Unfortunately, it is not feasible to allow employees to collect their office chair. Exceptions are employees for whom a custom-made chair has been purchased on the advice of the Health & Safety Service. (see below)

I use an office chair that has been recommended by the Health & Safety Service, can I use it at home?
If you use a chair recommended by the Occupational Health and Safety Service, you can discuss with your supervisor whether you can temporarily transport it (or have it transported) to your home.

What if I need a mouse or keyboard to work with a laptop at home?
The IT service will offer homework sets. Information about this will soon follow on VUnet. If you can't wait for this, you can purchase and claim a mouse and/or keyboard yourself. VU Amsterdam will reimburse a maximum of 75 euros for extra supplies such as a keyboard or mouse for working from home.

How can I get advice on how to set up my home office?
Take a picture of your workplace and send it to one of the health and safety advisers with your question:
Helma Windt: [email protected]
Marielle Rozemond: [email protected]

Technical support is very important when working from home. You can make use of IT facilities at home in various ways. Think about reading your email, starting an online meeting, retrieving files from the H:Disk and G:Disk and working with VU software. You will find more information about the IT facilities you can use from home on VUnet. For teachers there is a page on Canvas with supporting material about the use of various online tools to implement online teaching.